Nightwing / Shadow of the Hawk: Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Mill Creek Entertainment
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Written by Steve Shagan, Bud Shrake and Martin Cruz Smith
1979, 105 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on October 23rd, 2018
Nick Mancuso as Youngman Duran
David Warner as Phillip Payne
Kathryn Harrold as Anne Dillon
Stephen Macht as Walker Chee
Strother Martin as Selwyn
Ben Piazza as Roger Piggott
Donal Hotton as John Franklin
George Clutesi as Abner Tasupi
Nightwing is an eco-horror picture from the 1970s that blends Native American spirituality with a healthy side of angry vampire bats.
The tribal leaders disagree on what to do with the rich oil supply found under sacred land and Walker Chee and Deputy Youngman Duran are close to coming to blows over the issue before a new threat emerges. At first no one can guess what is killing the local livestock and leaving the animals covered in strange bite marks coupled with a strong smell of ammonia. The eccentric Phillip Payne arrives on the scene and tells them he is pursuing a colony of aggressive bats. Duran is reluctant to work with him, but when his girlfriend is caught up in an attack, he has little choice. Payne is working against the clock before this menace migrates any further into the country.
Western values come into direct conflict with Native American tradition in this entertaining thriller. Directed by Arthur Hiller (Silver Streak), the story unfolds at a steady pace that slowly builds tension as the bat activity grows more intense. The bats carry the bubonic plague virus and this provides an immediate danger to the community that pulls the opposing facets together. The screenplay was written by Steve Shagan, Bud Shrake and Martin Cruz Smith (based on his novel), and balances science vs. mysticism in a compelling manner. The characters are given solid motivations and the story is better for it. That being said, there is some heavy-handed theological discussion that drags the film’s second act down a peg.
Nick Mancuso (Black Christmas) stars as Deputy Youngman Duran, the man struggling to do what is best for his people. He is devoted to his history and respects the land and his ancestors. His main rival is Walker Chee (Stephen Macht, Trancers III), a fellow Native American determined to bring better living conditions to the reservation by selling the oil rights to the white man. Both men make valid arguments and are dedicated in their beliefs and the intensity between the two is growing by the day. David Warner (The Island) is Phillip Payne, the bat exterminator, played with a dedication that speaks to his talent as an actor. If Nightwing follows in the tradition of Jaws, Payne is this story’s Quint character. He is given some wonderful dialogue and at least one great monologue. Playing Duran’s love interest is Kathryn Harrold (The Sender) as Anne Dillon, a white liaison to the tribe and guide for tourists in the vicinity. She is a no-nonsense survivor who doesn’t crack under pressure, proving resourceful once stranded in the desert territory. Veteran character actor Strother Martin (Sssssss) appears in a small supporting role of a shopkeeper with close ties to the community.
The film slowly builds to its undeniable highlight, a bat attack sequence that lands forty-five minutes into the picture. As a kid I found this sequence frightening, but I can now see the goofy presentation for what it is. The scene may suffer from poor special effects but remains entertaining in its over-the-top execution. What follows is a fairly by-the-numbers pursuit picture as Payne tracks the colony through the canyon for an epic showdown. Nightwing came out during the wave of Man vs. Nature horror films of the era and is better than most as it relies more on story than spectacle. I hadn’t seen it in many years, but still enjoyed the hell out of it and think you will too.
Shadow of the Hawk
Directed by George McCowan
Written by Norman Thaddeus Vane and Herbert Wright
1976, 92 minutes, Rated PG
Jan-Michael Vincent as Mike
Chief Dan George as Old Man Hawk
Marilyn Hassett as Maureen
Marianne Jones as Dsnonqua
Pia Shandel as Faye
Old Man Hawk is an aging tribal leader in spiritual battle with the ghost of a witch named Dsonoqua, who was executed two centuries ago by his ancestors. It appears she is back and looking for revenge. The chief suspects she is trying to take his power and ruin his village. Old Man Hawk reaches out to his grandson Mike, a successful computer whiz living in the big city, hoping to pass on his wisdom. Along the way he falls victim to Dsonoqua’s evil magic and ends up in the hospital where he meets a kind-hearted journalist named Maureen. He convinces her to give him a ride and together they track down his family. Mike has been plagued by nightmares and visions of the witch, but has no knowledge of the meaning. He reluctantly agrees to take his grandfather back to his village and it is here that our story gets under way.
Their journey is full of adventure as the powers of darkness work against them, first in the form of a mysterious black car that runs them off the road. They find themselves on foot hiking through the woods where additional dangers await. A devilish snake makes itself a nuisance and a vicious bear attacks out of nowhere. A rickety suspension bridge must be crossed during high gusts of wind that make things even more treacherous. The witch knows no limits to her wrath and continues placing obstacles in their path. Old Man Hawk prepares Mike for the inevitable face off with Dsonoqua through a series of spiritual rituals and tests. Let’s hope he’s up for the challenge and not completely in over his head against an ancient evil.
Jan-Michael Vincent (Damnation Alley) and Chief Dan George (The Outlaw Josey Wales) star as Mike and Old Man Hawk, respectively. George is particularly endearing as the aging shaman and carries the picture through many of its clunkier moments. Vincent does a fine job as Mike, a man who has left his heritage behind but never talks down to his grandfather. The two work really well together and convincingly play family members living worlds apart. Marilyn Hassett (Messenger of Death) is along for the ride as Maureen, but remains largely relegated to the back seat of the plot. Her presence is a welcome addition, but she really offers nothing to the proceedings other than as a potential love interest. Directed by George McCowan (Frogs), Shadow of the Hawk is a fun movie full of suspenseful set-pieces coupled with some beautiful natural locations.
This movie scared me as a kid and as an adult I am not really sure why - probably the witch mask. The spectral figure appears to Mike in his nightmares, at one point floating outside his window. The costume is all white and really stands out against the lush, green woods. The witch herself is a shape-shifter but doesn’t really do much leading to an anticlimactic battle. The highlight of their adventure is the rickety bridge in a windstorm, as the stunt work is harrowing at times. A close runner-up is the bear attack, which mixes footage of a real bear tussling with a stuntman in a bad wig, with shots of Jan-Michael Vincent battling a man in an unconvincing bear costume. Come to think of it, there really is a lot to like in this movie, but it moves at a less-than-rapid pace. Shadow of the Hawk reminds me of a TV Movie of the Week in terms of tone, but manages to hold up fairly well over forty years later.
Mill Creek presents these two 1970s Native American-themed horror flicks in a nifty new double feature that comes with a low price that makes the package even more appealing.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the transfers on both films are strong and colorful. These movies do not look their age as the negatives have held up very well.
The LPCM 2.0 audio track provided on both titles is respectable and gets the job done. Dialogue is clear and free from distortion and music cues are well-balanced.
There are no special features on this disc.