I’ve got to send out some fresh positive psychic vibes to MILL CREEK who just released a favorite flick from my adolescence on Blu-ray. I’m talking about ARTHUR HILLER’s 1979 bonkers bat bonanza NIGHTWING! To make it even more irresistible it comes joined at the hip with the thematically similar SHADOW OF THE HAWK (1976). Both flicks are guilty of casting non-Native Americans as Native American leads but I’ll give them a pass because such were the times and at least both characters are portrayed as honorable heroes. I’ll vouch for these two flicks because they have their hearts in the right place and a healthy concern for the preservation of the environment and its animal inhabitants. Sure, NIGHTWING very wrongly asserts at times that bats are dangerous, even “Evil” (wha?) but the bigger message is about how mankind’s greed is destroying the planet (which is still true today). Sure, I may have to do some mental gymnastics to defend NIGHTWING but the thing is, even though it is questionable PR for the misunderstood creatures, it still ignited my ongoing love for them. Bats are beautiful even when they are starring in a horror movie. I can’t help it, the unintentionally adorable close-ups of the flapping critters in this movie still fill my heart with glee and affection. I even Googled “bats as pets” –turns out it’s not a great idea.
I’ve swooned over NIGHTWING before when it appeared in MILL CREEK’s earlier ANIMAL APOCALYPSE collection HERE. I was thrilled to view the movie in widescreen for the first time in a long while and take in its gorgeous cinematography. Of course, it’s even more impressive in rich and sharp HD. I know not everyone enjoys this movie as much as I do but in my head, it co-exists alongside two other post-JAWS flicks: THE ISLAND (1980) and PROPHECY (1979) as memorably epic early film-going experiences for me personally. The trio represents a specific period when my whole family was finally of the age to experience a horror flick together. These flicks stand in a little bubble of time before slasher movies completely took over my mind. Maybe I’m being slightly coerced by nostalgia but having watched the film again, I have to say I don’t get the shrug off it sometimes inspires in others. The movie is stunning to look at, I’m totally enthralled by the two main leads (NICK MANCUSO and THE SENDER’s KATHRYN HARROLD), the score by HENRY MANCINI is lovely and there are at least two highly thrilling bat attack set pieces. The campfire scene! Allow me to quote myself from an earlier review…
“Right smack in the middle of the film, surrounded by all that ponderous dialogue is NIGHTWING‘s crown jewel, a campfire attack to end all campfire attacks. The special effects may be a tad crappy by today’s standards, but the set-up and surprisingly sadistic tone more than make up for it. Watching co-eds meet the business end of gardening equipment may be fun, but you have not lived until you have observed stuffy, prissy middle-agers running about pell-mell with bats chomping on them from head to foot. What’s remarkably hilarious is just how cowardly the male campers are (keep an eye peeled for CHARLES HALLAHAN whose head will later sprout spider legs in J.C’s THE THING), they leave one woman to fall into the actual fire pit and catch aflame, and the other one is refused access to the safety of a nearby van. When the poor woman seeks refuge under the vehicle, her husband nonchalantly drives over her head!”
Oddly, the review I snatched that paragraph from is a lot more critical then one I would write today. Ten years ago I was complaining that NIGHTWING was “fatally dry and about three times more talky then it needs to be.” Meanwhile, during my recent watch, I found its talkative nature a relief compared to overly busy modern fare. Either I’ve become less critical in my old age or I’ve learned to savor good old-fashioned quiet build-ups before a cinematic storm. That fondness for the less brash seventies came in handy while checking out the second feature on this disc, SHADOW OF THE HAWK. This movie sports a misleading mellow vibe that progressively turns downright eerie. A young JAN MICHAEL VINCENT stars as the grandson of a powerful shaman (CHIEF DAN GEORGE) who sees him as the heir to his mystical skills and enlists him to aid him in the destruction of evil forces. We’re again in the PG-rated zone but don’t worry, there’s something genuinely creepy going on here especially whenever a seriously alarming white-masked ghost demon materializes.
Like NIGHTWING, CURSE showcases incredibly alluring location photography. Take my word or it, cinematographer JOHN HOLBROOK (GHOSTKEEPER) takes full advantage of the majestic mountains and forests of British Columbia. This is mostly a laid-back affair but the characters are truly likable and it’s hard to not enjoy a movie that features a phantom black car, a man wrestling a bear and an exploding owl apparition. I only wish I had caught it on on TV back in the day, having no idea of just how deep into the trippy supernatural it ultimately ends up going. Having missed out on that, I can happily say it’s a great fit with good old NIGHTWING. Both of these movies deserve a lot more appreciation than they’ve received in the past and hopefully by joining forces on a double feature disc they will receive it. If NIGHTWING has taught me anything, it’s that there’s strength in numbers.