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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!
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.
"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.
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.
But it has some redeeming qualities. It's set on a beautiful southwestern Indian reservation, and our hero is a likeable tribal cop like my fave rave Jim Chee (and a stud). The location photography is nice to look at, most of the acting is decent, and the finale is worth a look. How do you kill off a whole cave full of vampire bats at once? I like their method...
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 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.
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.
Released at the tail-end of the first wave of "social consciousness" in the 1970s, "Nightwing" is a wicker basket full of that decade's mumbo-jumbo curios: fetishistic treatment of Native-Americans, kneejerk "environmental" shortsightedness and a relentless anti-Christian slant. In short, this pow-wow is drummed up straight from the Hollywood Hills stronghold; it so reeks of tapas-bar manifesto, the air around it practically bends light waves. The most amusing aspect is its application of what can only be called Carlos Casteneda Forensics: The tribal cop ingests some hallucinogenic roots to break the case. Cool! If this crap mindset didn't still blinker us so relentlessly, this nonsense would be amusing, as is the idea of "protecting" native lands from voracious oil exploration (and... gosh... tribal employment) by setting the canyons afire! Sometimes the most progressive ideas are the most bust-out stupid.
Best scene: Some cardboard evil/cowardly honkies drive campers over their own to escape the hysterically funny mechanical bats.
What makes Nightwing so embarrassing is that it's so very watchable. You can get your fill of angelic Indians, stupid (and soon-to-be-dead) Christian missionaries, and maybe the single worst performance in Kathryn Herrold's career (boy, she turned out to be a big star, didn't she?).
It's a hoot (or a high-pitched sonar squeal) and I can't think of a better movie to recommend for your weekend living room movie festival, capping off the great cheapjack monster flicks of the 1970's (you'd better have Prophesy, Manitou, and Motel Hell along for the ride!).
It's a shame, because that attack is a lot of fun – almost as fun as the fiery climax, in which David Warner is strung up on a rope and Native American hero Nick Mancuso goes crazy after chewing on some mystical root. These scenes have vitality and tension, which isn't spoiled by the crudity of the special effects – the bats here are a mixture of stock footage, silly rubber puppets (looking virtually the same as the ones in SCARS OF Dracula) and hand-drawn effects. Still, the inclusion of Warner is a welcome delight and he looks to be having a ball with his role here. I'm not sure how plausible Nick Mancuso is as a Native American, and I was put off by his dodgy wig for the most part; he's less annoying than Kathryn Harrold, though, who starts off as a feisty sidekick and before long becomes stupid-woman-in-peril.
Some good moments, such as the one where a corpse starts bleeding or another where our heroes are separated from violent death by a flimsy chain-link fence, make NIGHTWING better than it has any right to be. I still don't think it's a very good film, as it's pretty boring, but you COULD do a lot worse...
A pretty average creature feature, this one's watchable but certainly not without a few problems. As is typical of the time, there's far too much bull-headed characters that, instead of showing them to be free-spirited and display strong core values, paint them as backwards and far too tightly controlled by their spiritual past which makes it hard to get involved in the beginning here with the reservation under conflict with the oil mining companies that come off as just stale in this day-and-age. We still get a nice, modern build-up of the creatures' appearance with animal attacks giving the tell-tale clue to their existence and it's not until people are attacked do we even see the creatures, as they make their first on-screen appearance quite late in the film, resulting in the two sides coming together and using their skills to rid themselves of the menace. This is all good stuff, with some nice action scenes that show the creature attacks as well as the tactics to get rid of them, the finale is tons of fun and there's even some decent special effects for the creatures that aren't as laughable as expected. Overall, it's quite fun if still flawed.
Rated R: Violence and Language
The premise for 'Nightwing' is a brilliant high concept which can be called 'Jaws' with wings, the bat effects by Carlo Rambaldi which are by todays standard 'fake' but in this day and age of overused Digital Animation these effects stand out and don't look too obvious as modern effects tend to. David Warner plays a determined scientist, Kathryn Harrold is Mancuso's love interest who narrowly escapes the wrath of the bats. the highlight of the film is the sequence with the bigoted evangelists whilst camping in the outback meet a nasty end courtesy of the winged creatures. 'Nightwing' is an enjoyable Nature gone berserk movie which despite it's shortcomings is great fun. Henry Mancini's score is excellent.
Nick Mancuso stars as a deputy of the Maski Tribal Police, faced with a major crisis along with other tribes in the surrounding territories: migrating vampire bats have a colony hidden in a cave somewhere in one of the desert mountains, thirsty for blood and attacking animals such as horses and sheep. David Warner is a vampire bat specialist who follows the bats, exterminating colonies when he finds them. He'll need Mancuso's assistance (the bats are hidden in a cavern somewhere in Maski Canyon, holy ground for Mancuso's tribe) to find the bats so he can kill them. The bats leave a stench of ammonia on those they kill and are carrying the bubonic plague. Stephen Macht is a vocal leader of another tribe, having brought white man's progress to his people, needing Mancuso to talk the Maski into allowing an oil company to come into their area to drill. This movie isn't just about killer bats on the warpath, but explores the customs, beliefs, and plight of the Native American people within a certain area. I must say that I was divided about this film. While I liked the cast a hell of a lot and thought the idea of centering your story around Native American characters (and an English scientist who hunts vampire bats) was refreshing for a "when animals attack" creature feature. That said, I found the bats themselves primarily campy looking and the movie is a bit overlong (there's a solid 80 minute movie here stretched out twenty more minutes). The attack sequence where Christians are swarmed and bled is less horrifying as it is unintentionally funny because the bats look so fake. The performances, however, for the most part, make up for many of this film's deficiencies. I did kind of roll my eyes, truth be told, at the end when Mancuso begins to see "ghost Maski" led by Abner, even communicating to him as the dead spiritual leader stands on an old Native American city inside a cavern where the bats rest during the day. Mancuso talking to Abner about "closing the circle" and keeping him from killing everybody so that the Maski people can rise anew like a Phoenix from the fire. Kathryn Harrold (The Sender), as usual, is really good as Mancuso's white love interest, a doctor who plans to attend college at Baylor University so she can gather greater knowledge and return with a better understanding on how to help the Native American people. Warner is a quality addition (no surprise) to the film, a more practical, logical man within an environment of superstition and customs he must contend with, his vampire bat hunter equipped with technological means and the expertise to catch and kill those bloodthirsty vermin. Macht, as a Native American with designs on cashing in on oil so that "his people can have clinics and schools", appropriately casts doubt on his real motivations for securing the trust of the Maski tribe. Strother Martin steals his scenes (was there any doubt?) as an old missionary-turned-store owner who married an "Indian woman" and spawned a daughter he begs Mancuso often to marry (Strother has primarily two scenes, one where he speaks disappointingly to Christian tourists about how the Indians hate him, with a wad of chew in his mouth). Martin does seem to believe in many of the beliefs from the Maski tribe, evident with how reluctant and worried he is to follow Mancuso onto Holy Ground where Abner was buried. The New Mexico locations will take your breath away and really add a lot to the film. I can't say that "Nightwing" is anything that great, but worth a watch for the cast and setting. As a creature feature, however, not that special.
High Priest Abner Tasupi (George Clutesi) has a solution and he opens the gates between life and death. It cost him his life - or did it, since he is not in his grave.
Enter Phillip Payne (David Warner) with the answer to why animals are dying. He is a vampire hunter - vampire bats, that is. Can he destroy the bats before bubonic plague covers the area?
Duran's girlfriend Anne (Kathryn Harrold) leads a group of Quakers on a camping and fishing trip when the bats decide they are tired of animals. The bats coming out of the night sky were really scary creatures. The Quaker men were somewhat unchristian in their efforts to survive, leaving two women to die, but they got theirs. The bat attack on the Quakers was so good, I watched it twice before moving on.
Swine flu gets mentioned as a possible cause of death of seven priests, but it was plague. It is suspected that the priests stole Abner's body and got the plague from him.
In the end, the bats were consumed the way they always are, with a little Indian magic, of course. Abner still won as the eternal fires will prevent mining.
Mancuso, Warner, and Nacht gave good performances, and it was interesting to hear about bats through the ages.
A horror film about bats? Why not? It seemed like a good idea. But in Mr. Hiller's hands it became a bit more soap opera than horror. That's not to say there isn't any horror however.
The effects sucked. Sorry. It's the only way to describe it. But the atmosphere was great. Dark nights in the desert already had most people eeried out.
The critics crushed this one with extreme prejudice. And fans of M.C. Smith's novel weren't that nice either. (Kind of like they wouldn't be later when they did 'Gorky Park.') A lot of good build-up, but the story was second rate. It's worth a watch though. It used to play late-night cable once in a while. Some vid-bins still carry it too. If bats are your thing...