GORE IN THE STORE
NIGHTWING & SHADOW OF THE HAWK ***
Directed by Arthur Hiller & George McCowan.
Starring Nick Mancuso, David Warner, Jan-Michael Vincent, Chief Dan George.
Horror, US, 197 minutes, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Eureka Entertainment on 15th March. RRP £24.99
During the 1970’s there was a wave of ecologically themed horror movies. Nature struck back in the guise of ants in the trippy PHASE IV, giant rabbits ran rampant in NIGHT OF THE LEPUS and even frogs struck a blow against mankind in the imaginatively titled FROGS. This trend is recalled with this double bill release of the similarly themed but quite different films NIGHTWING, where a Native American reservation comes under attack from vampire bats, and SHADOW OF THE HAWK where city slicker Jan-Michael Vincent is forced to confront his own Native American heritage to tackle a malevolent spirit in the forests of British Columbia.
NIGHTWING features Native American policeman Youngman Duran investigating a spate of animal deaths where the bodies of horses and cattle are covered in mysterious bites accompanied by the smell of ammonia. Enter David Warner, as vampire bat hunter whose warnings of a potential plague caused by this rare breed of flying rodent fall on the deaf ears of the local tribal councilman who is far more interested in draining the area for oil and the money it will bring in. Duran comes to realise that the bats may have been brought on by the death of the elder medicine man Abner, who wanted the world to return to the old ways with the help of his own mysterious rituals.
Directed by Arthur Hiller, who was more well known for the likes of LOVE STORY, NIGHTWING is a slight entry in the genre displaying Hiller as a director more suited to the light entertainments he was more well known for. One night-time attack by a vast swarm on a small group of missionaries displays a complete lack of atmosphere or how to convincingly exhibit the otherwise detailed special effects work of Carlo Rambaldi in a sequence that comes across more amusing than it ought to. Hiller does however know how to make his locations work, complimenting them with some impressive aerial camera work
Where the film succeeds is with the performances; Mancuso makes for an interesting protagonist with one foot in the present, displayed mainly by his mixed-race romantic relationship with Kathryn Harrold’s resourceful and capable Anne, and the other in his past which soon raises its head again due to Abner’s mystical practices. David Warner more than proves his worth here spouting what should be nonsensical and camp dialogue about vampire bats but instead conveying it in such a serious and entertainingly convincing manner that brings a real spark to an otherwise pedestrian film.
SHADOW OF THE HAWK is a less accomplished and slick affair but all the more atmospheric for it. To add to the storyline described above we first meet another elderly Native American figure, Old Man Hawk played by Chief Dan George, famous then for his performances in revisionist Western classics LITTLE BIG MAN and THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Old Man Hawk travels to Seattle to track down his grandson Mike, a young businessman who has turned his back on his heritage but who has recently been menaced by an eerie spirit. What follows is a chase movie punctuated by moments of unsettling moments of cinematic weirdness; the white masked spirit that regularly appears feels like it stepped straight out of the Japanese ghost story cinema of the nineteen fifties and sixties and is used effectively. At times it suffers from the same problems as NIGHTWING with its sometimes-lackadaisical direction from George McCowan who also directed the above-mentioned FROGS. At times the film whips from one extreme of quality to the other, sometimes in the same scene. The best example here being when Mike has to fight a grizzly bear, half of the shots are a painfully obvious man in a cheap looking bear costume while the other half show Jan-Michael Vincent’s stuntman wrestling an actual, and angry looking, bear to the ground.
These are two otherwise near obscure features that neatly complement each other in this nicely presented double bill. The remastered picture quality is excellent on both films; the warm, dry atmosphere of the desert coming across crystal clear on NIGHTWING while the chilly, damp atmosphere of 70’s Seattle and the North American landscape outside it is captured in the distinctive sheen of that period on SHADOW OF THE HAWK. The extras consisting mainly of commentaries for each film by enthusiastic fans and scholars for each film provide valuable, entertaining and educational cultural and geopolitical context in the terms of the ecologically minded films of this period aided by the absorbing booklet also provided here with the first 2000 copies. Mainly aimed at completists it may be a less than essential purchase but should provide enough entertainment for those curious enough to seek them out.