The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - NIGHTWING / SHADOW OF THE HAWK | The Movie Waffler

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Blu-Ray Review - NIGHTWING / SHADOW OF THE HAWK

nightwing shadow of the hawk bluray review
Double bill of 1970s Native American themed horror movies.

Review by Eric Hillis

nightwing shadow of the hawk bluray

Eureka Entertainment's latest blu-ray double feature gives us a pair of horror flicks with Native American themes - Arthur Hiller's 1979 creature feature Nightwing and George McCowan's 1976 supernatural chase thriller Shadow of the Hawk. Both films are making their UK blu-ray debuts.



Nightwing

Directed by: Arthur Hiller

Starring: Nick Mancuso, David Warner, Kathryn Harrold, Stephen Macht, George Clutesi

This 1979 Arthur Hiller directed adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith's novel of the same name bridges the gap between the Animal Attacks thrillers that were rushed out in the aftermath of Jaws and the later eco-horror thrillers spearheaded by the John Sayles' scripted Piranha and Alligator. It's a serviceable enough Jaws knockoff, but it bites off more than it can chew when it attempts to add a political subtext to proceedings.

In classic liberal Hollywood fashion, the movie purports to care about Native American issues yet casts a Caucasian, Nick Mancuso, in the lead role of deputy Duran, a young lawman overseeing a Meskwaki reservation. When a local farmer's livestock are butchered by a mysterious killer, Duran finds himself at odds with the social climbing Chee (Stephen Macht), a fellow Native who is in bed with Big Oil and wants the trouble hushed up so as not to dissuade potential investors from buying up the land.

nightwing review

Arriving on the scene is Philip Payne (David Warner), a blunt Brit who has devoted his life to hunting down colonies of vampire bats, which he has tracked to the immediate vicinity. After initially rubbing Duran up the wrong way by desecrating the corpse of witch-doctor Abner (George Clutesi), Payne convinces the deputy to help him locate the cave housing the colony before they spread out to the nearby cities. Before you can say "To the bat-cave!", Payne, Duran and the latter's doctor girlfriend Anne (Kathryn Harrold) are off on a quest to kill some fanged flying rodents.

Nightwing works best when it sticks closely to the well-worn Jaws template. Duran is essentially Chief Brody, the local cop trying to do what's best for his community, while Chee is the movie's Mayor figure, more concerned with losing out on a business deal than the threat posed to his people. In Warner's straight-talking Payne we get Quint and Hooper rolled into one, a man of science who also happens to be a badass with a line in monologues about how much he hates vampire bats. Payne speaks about the creatures the way Donald Pleasence talks about Michael Myers in Halloween, even going so far as to describe them as the manifestation of evil.

nightwing review

It's when the script – which sees Smith adapting his book with the aid of Steve Shagan and Bud Shrake – tries to add a line of environmentalism that the movie falls apart. In most eco-horror movies, particularly the aforementioned Sayles scripted thrillers, the rampaging animals are a direct result of man's mistreatment of the environment. That's not the case here, as for all of the talk of Chee teaming up with Big Oil, no tampering with nature has actually taken place on their part. It's never quite established what brings the bats to this corner of New Mexico, but the climax implies it was the supernatural powers of Abner, who before his death invoked a spell intent on ending the world. After the movie playing its drama with such a straight face, this revelation comes out of left field.

That straight faced approach is Nightwing's ultimate downfall. Hiller and his writers take a silly premise and turn it into a rather dull drama occasionally enlivened by the odd schlocky set-piece and Warner's hammy monologuing. Sorry to keep harping on about Sayles, but with Piranha and especially Alligator, he showed that you can deliver an environmental message while also having fun with what is essentially a monster movie. Hiller is best known for his work in the comedy genre, so it's a shame he couldn't inject some much needed humour into this project.




Shadow of the Hawk

Directed by: George McCowan

Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Marilyn Hassett, Chief Dan George, Pia Shandel, Marianne Jones

Part wilderness adventure, part horror movie, part chase thriller, director George McCowan's Shadow of the Hawk plays a lot like an American riff on Hammer's The Devil Rides Out. The Celtic mysticism has been swapped out for its Native American cousin, but the template remains in place, right down to a climax involving a circle drawn to protect our hero from the forces of evil.

Chief Dan George, owner of one of the most endearing faces in cinema history, plays Old Man Hawk, a medicine man who travels to the big city hoping to convince his yuppie grandson Mike (Jan-Michael Vincent) to return home to their village and help him defeat said forces of evil, which manifest in the form of a black Pontiac, a possessed grizzly and various angry warrior types.

Shadow of the Hawk review

Mike initially gives the old man the brushoff, dropping him off at the bus terminal, but he has a change of heart when he realises he might have a chance of bedding Maureen (Marilyn Hassett), a reporter who stumbled across Old Man Hawk earlier and much like Jamie Lee Curtis in The Fog, has decided to hang around for no particular reason but to inject a little bit of sex appeal to the story.

What follows is a muddled chase thriller that never quite sets out its stall. Old Man Hawk isn't the most talkative, and so neither Mike nor the audience are entirely sure why or what is chasing them. But George, Vincent and Hassett make for such a likeable trio that it's easy to just go with the flow and join them on their ambiguous adventure.

Shadow of the Hawk review

That adventure delivers set-pieces that vary from unintentionally laughable (Mike fighting a man in an unconvincing bear suit) to the technically awe-inspiring (a scene in which a car crashes into an invisible wall is a classic "how did they do that in 1976?" moment).

It's all very silly in that '70s way that suggests the script may have been written in a haze of marijuana smoke. But with three engaging actors making the most of their paper thin characters, a glorious wilderness backdrop and the odd impressive set-piece, Shadow of the Hawk is worthy of rediscovery by fans of this unprecedented era of schlock.

Extras:

A new audio commentary on Nightwing by film historians Lee Gambin and Amanda Reyes; a new Shadow of the Hawk audio commentary with film writer Mike McPadden and Ben Reiser; trailers; and an audio essay by John Edgar Browning. The first 2000 copies come with a limited edition slipcase and collector’s booklet featuring essays by film historian Lee Gambin and film scholar and author Craig Ian Mann.

Nightwing / Shadow of the Hawk is on blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment on March 15th.