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I rented this movie because the Martin Cruz Smith book had recently come my way and I found it quite good. The movie is not unfaithful to the book, though it does suffer in comparison in the strength of the characterizations - in the book we learn why Youngman Duran, Mancuso's character, is so tortured which, of course, makes his ordeal much more significant and meaningful. I'm writing mainly to defend David Warner whom another reviewer characterized as as "bad actor". Warner is a terrific character actor who can presently be heard doing a rich villiany voice on the Saturday morning "Men in Black" cartoon (which is better than the movie, in my opinion). It seems Americans have trouble with classically trained English actors whose diction and style may seem too broad if your only frame of reference is Brad Pitt. Recently went to "Peeping Tom" and sat next to a group of teenagers who laughed all the way through, completely oblivious to the historical context of the film and its quality. So "Nightwing" is pretty good - good character acting (also love Strother Martin), lovely cinematography, nice Mancini score. Blood and gore special effects quite restrained a la 1979 technology, so if that's your thing this isn't your movie.
******SPOILERS****** One of the main reasons that I like "Nightwing" is
that the movie educates the audience about the subject matter in it.
You learn more about Vampire Bats in just a five minute conversation
between Phillip Payne, David Warner, the Bat investigator and Walker
Chee, Stephan Macht, the Indian official then you learned about the
same subject in all the movies that Hollywood made about Bats put
The movie also gives you an interesting look about what I think is it's main subject; the mystical and religious as well as the cultural customs of the American Indians of the American South-West. The movie "Nightwing" has a dual story in it. Deadly Vampire Bat attacks on people and livestock in the South-West, the state of Arizona. There's an attempt by a big oil conglomerate, Peabody Mining, to buy up and strip mine a large section of two Indian Reservations, the Pahana & Maskie. This is being done with the help of a corrupt top Indian official, Walker Chee, in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
A number of cows and horses are found dead and the local farmers as well as government officials are left confused and baffled by what caused it. These incidents have attracted Phillip Payne who's a bat researcher or as he calls himself "The Exterminating Angel" to the area. Payne has been tracking down the migration of Vampire Bats since 1973 from South America Mexico and now to the southern part of the United States and he thinks that a large colony of Vampire Bats are responsible for whats been happening in the places effected with dead livestock and now people. There has also developed a number of deaths due to Bubonic Plague which Payne feel that the Bats are transmitting to both people as well as animals. Both the Peabody Mining Corp. and Walker Chee want to keep all this out of the news in order to protect their attempted land grab in the area.
With nothing able to stop the "Killer Bats" advance as they attack and kill people and cattle almost undeterred as a last resort Indian Police Sheriff Youngman Duran, Nick Mancuso,tries something new to stop the killer bats. With the help of ancient Indian Mysticism that Duran learned from his friend and Maskie Indian High Priest Abner Tasupi, George Clutsei, he's able to stem the tide of the Vampire Bat invasion.
Defiantly better then most of the movies about the same subject with it's focus on detail science and history instead of horror shock and gore. The rivalry between the upright and honest Indian Sheriff Youngman Duran and the corrupt and deceiving Indian official Walker Chee alone makes the movie interesting all by itself.
The Bat menace in the movie was intelligently handled and the film tried as much as possible to keep the supernatural and mystical angle in check making it more real as well as effective. The final sequence of "Nightwing" in the deadly "Bat Cave" as Duran Payne and Duran's girlfriend Anne Dillion, Kathryn Harrold, were working against the clock, or better yet the night, to destroy the giant Vampire Bat colony before it woke up was nail biting and very effectively done. The scenes of the Bat attacks in the movie, there were only three, were believable as well as shocking even though the special effects back then, in 1979, were primitive to what they are in movies today.
All and all "Nightwing"is one of the most unknown, it's almost impossible to find it on VHS today and it's never been released on DVD, and at the same time best movies about "Killer Bats" that you'll ever see.
I liked this movie so much that it prompted me to take a trip to New
Mexico and to eventually move there!! Unfortunately, due to medical
problems, I was forced to come back to Kansas, but I will never regret
moving to the Southwest.
Okay, so Nick Mancuso, who played Duran, sounded like he was from the Bronx occasionally and the tribes were renamed, but I purchased the VHS tape many years ago and check out every DVD web site hoping to find it there. It is probably the only reason I still have a VCR.++++++
The book was written by Martin Cruz Smith, an accomplished author, it was directed by Arthur Hiller, and the musical score done by Henry Mancini. Just how bad could it be?? If it is a horror movie you are looking for, this is not going to satisfy you. But a movie about the hardships and superstitions that still persist on the Navajo and Hopi reservations is as relevant as it was when Nightwing was made back in the 70s. I think that if the movie had not been billed as a "horror" flick, it would have gained much more of a following. I find it quite amusing that although it has never been made as a DVD, it is still found almost every other month on one of the pay movie channels. So I guess I'm not the only one who thinks that Nightwing is worth watching!
A group of vampire bats descend upon two Indian reservations that stand as the ground for a feud between honest Deputy Duran (Nick Mancuso) and money hungry Walker (Stephen Macht). Also cruising around the desert is Phillip Rayne (David Warner), a guy who hunts vampire bats. What the heck is going on with this film? What should have been a straightforward "JAWS with wings" gets turned into a bizarre commentary on Indian mysticism, politics and environmentalism. But PROPHECY (1980) this ain't. Anyway, I dig someone trying to do something original and all this would be fine if the film wasn't so boring. The few moments there are bat attacks are so poorly handled by director Arthur Hiller, that you can only dream of how someone with a sense of suspense could have pulled them off. All of the actors are fine, but their motivations are paper thin. "I kill them because they are evil," is how Warner justifies his ridiculous supporting turn as the vampire bat hunter with a state-of- the-art van and no means for financing. On the plus side, there are some stunning locations in New Mexico and a great score by Henry Mancini.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I absolutely loved this movie. A young, Hot Nick Mancuso was definitely a bonus! :-) I liked how it delved into Native American lore...the visions inside the cave were awesome. The familiar faces of Stephen Macht and David Warner were also a plus. I can't believe I haven't seen this movie until yesterday. True, the story line could have been a bit better, but remember, this was made in 1979. They didn't have the tricks of the trade that the movie makers have now-a-days. The bats looked true to life enough to be convincing. The methods of the vampire bat hunter were a bit weak and..a bit silly. Would you lean over the top of a cave without being secured to something safe? YIKES! The music was great. Mancini scores always are. :-)
This movie's fun, if based on a questionable premise. We have the
stereotypical Menace -- in this case, vampire bats -- who have to be
exterminated before they Get Us All, and the pivotal character is an
American Indian cop.
A tribal elder on a reservation is apparently behind the appearance of the bats, as he apparently shamanistically summoned them to "end the world." This because sacred grounds are being threatened by an industrialist, who wants to exploit resources.
Now, a word of reality here: movies to the contrary, real Vampire Bats don't suck blood. They evolved from fruit bats, and they nip their sleeping victims and lap the blood. The astonishing thing is that they do this without waking their victims. Their bite and anticoagulant saliva are being studied by medical institutions for new technological advances (in surgery and anesthesiology). They're neither aggressive nor dangerous.
Nonetheless, the movie bats are a menace, and a force of nature. The film reaches a satisfactory ending, which solved the problem set up by the industrialist, too. Fun, but not to be taken seriously.
This adaptation of the Martin Cruz Smith novel (scripted by Steve
Shagan, Bud Shrake, and Smith himself) is actually pretty faithful to
the source material. Ultimately, it's not quite as satisfying as
Smiths' story, where the characters were given more depth. But it's
still a striking and interesting (if not great) film, an unusual mix of
animal horror, human drama, and Indian mysticism. The actors in all of
the major roles are pretty good, and director Arthur Hiller - a man
known more for mainstream comedies and dramas such as "Love Story" -
does his best working within a different genre. It's true that the film
doesn't have very much suspense, but the animal attacks are NOT that
badly done, despite the presence of some chintzy effects. At the very
least, what "Nightwing" has to recommend it is beautiful New Mexico
scenery and a solid score by Henry Mancini.
Nick Mancuso stars as Maskai policeman Youngman Duran, faced with sudden and mysterious deaths of animals and humans alike. An Englishman named Phillip Payne (David Warner) knows the score: the culprits are vampire bats, and he's the man to take care of the problem. Apparently eradicating this species is his life's work (one would think that animal rights activists would take exception to such a pursuit), because he believes that they embody evil. Yeah, I know, pretty thin for a motivation. Making life difficult for Duran is local mover and shaker Walker Chee (Stephen Macht), a man who's made it *his* mission to acclimate himself to the white man's world, and who's giving an assist to a mining company.
Overall, this isn't bad, even if lacking in style. It's fundamentally a decent story that's capably told. Mancuso is engaging in the lead, and Warner delivers his lines with total conviction, no matter how silly his character may be; the film benefits from his presence. The lovely Kathryn Harrold is appealing as Youngman's white love interest Anne Dillon, George Clutesi (who was in another Indian themed horror film from the same year, "Prophecy") is memorable in the small part of old priest Abner, and the great Strother Martin, in one of his final film roles, is a joy to watch as always as the bigoted trading post operator Selwyn. Among the supporting cast are character players Ben Piazza, Donald Hotton, Charles Hallahan, Alice Hirson, and Pat Corley.
"Nightwing" is definitely worth a look for the curious.
Seven out of 10.
In case you were hoping to sit back and enjoy a schlocky, over-the-top and typically 70's "nature gone wild" creature feature (in the same trend as "Frogs", "Squirm", "Grizzly", "Night of the Lepus" or "Day of the Animals"), don't even bother to watch "Nightwing"! Yes, this movie basically handles about killer bats and features one or two virulent animal-attack sequences, but primarily this is more of a talkative and wannabe-ambitious slice of eco-horror full of pro-Indian gibberish and moralistic messages. It's actually very reminiscent to that other 1979 eco-horror flick "Prophecy", and that wasn't any good either. In an enormous and remote New Mexican reservation, traditional Indian Youngman Duran argues non-stop with progressive Indian Walker Chee. For you see, a lot of severely mutilated cattle cadavers have been discovered lately, but Chee denies the obvious infestation of vampire bats because this negatively impacts his business negotiations with a large shale-oil corporation (indeed, the "Jaws" influences are never far away in horror cinema). So instead, Duran teams up with the rather eccentric professional bat-exterminator Philip Payne. Together they attempt to track down the bats' hideout cave as well as the whereabouts of a local beauty that went missing during a Christian camping trip. My movie-buddy warned me that this wasn't going to be a light-headed trash flick, but alas I didn't listen. Arthur Hiller's direction is more than competent, but the screenplay adaptation deep dives too much into Indian folklore and tribal rivalries, while it stupidly neglects the creature-feature potential. A terrible shame, since the nauseating bat critters, partially from the hand of Carlo Rambaldi ("Alien", "Deep Red"), come across as rather menacing when shown in close-up. "Nightwing" isn't at all worthless and features two memorable elements: a grisly attack on a group of campers sitting around a campfire and the performance of David Warner as the skeptical bat hunter. His long speeches about how vampire bats are the embodiment of evil and how this species contribute absolutely nothing to the functioning of the environment are the undeniable highlights of the movie. He sure hates the bats with a passion!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Nightwing" is two movies crammed together into one. Or story begins at an
Indian Reservation where two factions are butting heads over the future of
the tribe. One set of characters wants to preserve the ancient rituals and
religion of the community, while others want to build new schools and
hospitals to bring the tribe up to date with the rest of the country (One
thing all the characters have in common, though, is their terrible
haircuts). The controversy is centered over a mine where oil has been
discovered- should they allow the oil to be tapped to provide precious funds
to the struggling Native Americans, or should it lay undisturbed, as it
holds some sort of relevance to the Indian priests in the
All this seems to be fodder for a satisfying drama, but suddenly Englishman David Warner shows up and warns everybody of a vampire bat invasion (Although Warner is a stranger to the vicinity, he can relate to it's people because he too has a terrible haircut. Warner would go on to sport even worse hair in "Quest of the Delta Knights"). So now we've got a standard nature-gone-wild thriller in the middle of our technology-vs.-tradition drama. The two stories are tied together thusly: Apparently an old Indian mystic named Uncle Abner has summoned the bats to stop the oil drilling. Actually, he claims his plan is to kill everyone in the world, but he might a little overzealous. What do you expect of a mystic named Uncle Abner?
Anyway, the bats go around infecting people with Bubonic Plague, and we're treated to some hilarious bat attack scenes. One stand-out sequence has the bats attacking some goofy campers. One nerdy guy panics and locks himself in his van. Another panicky nerd climbs under the van for safety just as nerd # 1 starts to drive away- splat!
David Warner eventually locates the bats in scenes that were later copied frame-for-frame by the Lou Diamond Phillips' stinker "Bats". It turns out that their hideout is in the same cave where the oil is- D'oh! David's plan is to kill them with cyanide gas, but he fumbles around, drops it in the oil, and ends up hanging from a rope for a couple of hours, so the beefy sheriff with the worst hair cut of all saves the day by [spoiler ahead!!] lighting the oil on fire. This kills the bats and also somehow renders the oil source unusable for the developers, which begs the question: Why didn't Uncle Abner just light it on fire himself instead of going through the trouble of summoning killer bats?
The movie ends with the mountain looking like an L. Ron Hubbard book cover and the initial conflict isn't really resolved, so I envision a sequel in which the ambitious Native American's build a casino which is invaded by vampire prairie dogs.
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