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A colony of vampire bats terrorize a small Indian community in New Mexico. Standard "Nature goes berserk" plot turns extra hokey toward the end when supernatural forces are discovered working through the bats. Written by
I rather enjoyed this mediocre horror film. It succeeds at doing what it sets out to do -- ratchet up the suspense and provide the viewer with reckless and unthinking entertainment. And on top of that, there is some wonderful New Mexico location shooting, which can't be dismissed out of hand. You have never seen such vast expanses of rugged buttes, sandstone canyons, and pink dunes, all carefully accessorized by the occasional pale green of a shrub.
"King Kong," which set the rules for this genre, featured a gorilla doll that was about two feet tall and contained an armature, which is a brass skeleton of sorts with flexible joints, around which the flesh and hair are modeled.
Narratives in the genre have a kind of metaphorical armature that follows the structure of "King Kong" the movie. At first, everything is innocent and peaceful. Complications are present, yes, but they haven't erupted. But then there are intimations that something is up. The natives kidnap Fay Wray, but for what purpose? A sea gull thumps against a closed door or strikes a pretty blond out of the blue. Cattle and horses are found dead for some mysterious reason. And what ever happened to those two miners with their mule? Suddenly the cause of the disaster is revealed -- crashing out of the forest or striking en masse from the skies or swimming sneakily into the lagoon, it doesn't matter how. Here, there is utter silence while the investigators wait for an attack -- then a cut to a close up of a vampire bat's hideous face zooming into the camera with a piercing shriek. Well, it may be homocentric to describe a bat's face as ugly. After all, they probably find us unattractive too, and they must find each other appealing enough to mate with. I call it bad taste but a vampire bat wouldn't.
The hero is a lawman (Mancuso) representing the tribal council of the fictitious Maski tribe, although the real power brokers seem to be the dozen or so priests who run the reservation. The succulent Kathryn Harrold is his girl friend, a nurse. She was my supporting player in that bright star in the cinematic sky, the sublime and poetically executed "Raw Deal." David Warner plays roughly the same role he did in "The Omen," the researcher who does the leg work and tells the hero what's up. Stephen Macht is the leader of the equally fictional neighboring Pohana tribe, the dilatory unbeliever who wants to sell out the reservation for money. I always enjoy Stephen Macht. Mancuso, the nominal hero, is handsome in the way a TV star is handsome, but Macht's features have character. He could never be mistaken for anybody else. Plus he has a doctorate in dramatic arts and gave up a tenured position to become an actor, which is a pretty dicey thing to do.
The script has its weaknesses, even given any low expectations we might have regarding the movie. Macht's politician claims at one point that half the time the priests go around stoned on Datura williamsii or Jimson weed. They wouldn't do that. Datura isn't a mellow high. It was used in some Southwestern ordeals and initiation rites. It induces often frightening and chaotic hallucinations. It's unclear why Mancuso seems to run around chewing on it and having long conversations with a ghost. One of those conversations interrupts his attempt to save the lives of himself, Harrold, and Warner, just as the plague-ridden vampire bats are about to attack him. He stops his rescue attempts and begins a foggy theological argument with a ghost while the bats whirl around his head. El momento de la verdad -- and he's telling a phantom where to get off.
The visual effects are adequate, no more than that. Arthur Hiller, the director, might profitably have watched some of Val Lewton's psychological horror movies to learn how to scare the wits out of people while keeping the monster's appearances to a minimum. Still, there is all that majestic scenery, including Kathryn Harrold.
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