Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk | A double-bill of 1970s indigenous folklore horror on Blu-ray

In the spirit of the double-bill drive-in features that some of us were lucky to have experienced back in the 1970s, comes Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk – two tales of indigenous folklore horror – on Blu-ray in the UK from Eureka Classics.

First up is the 1979 eco-horror – NIGHTWING. Driven by hunger and ravenous for blood, a colony of bubonic plague-carrying vampire bats sweeps across the American Southwest and settles inside a cavern within a canyon much revered by the Maski tribe in Tuscon, Arizona.

When Deputy Youngman Duran (Nick Mancuso) learns that his medicine man guardian (George Clutesi) has cast a spell to end the world and Tribal Council chairman Walker Chee (Stephen Macht) plans to drill for oil in the sacred canyon, Duran reluctantly teams up with a British scientist (David Warner) to destroy the colony.

Based on Martin Cruz Smith’s 1977 novel, Nightwing came at the tail end of the ‘Nature Bites Back/Man vs the Environment’ period that produced such cult-worthy fare as Frogs (1972), Jaws (1975) and Piranha (1978) – but also a lot of jaw-droppingly bad rip-offs. Columbia Pictures’ adaptation of Smith’s novel should have been ‘Jaws with wings’, but – more’s the pity – it proved a critical and commercial failure.

Now, I know there’s not much love for the film, but having revisited it, courtesy of the new Eureka Classics Blu-ray, I think it deserves reappraisal. Yes, Arthur Hiller was an odd choice to direct, especially considering his esteemed comedy credentials (The Hospital, The In-Laws, The Out-of-Towners), but he does bring great sensitivity to Smith’s themes about indigenous spirituality and outsider threats to ancient customs. And he does this best by directing his eye on the magnificent (New Mexico) desert landscape which is intrinsic to Hopi/Navajo culture.

Yes, there’s little in the way of full-on horror action, but the ‘bat attack’ set pieces are well-staged. And yes, Carlo Rambaldi’s bat puppets are pretty naff – but I much prefer them to any of today’s CGI nonsense. You also get some scenery-chewing moments from Mancuso (looking ever so fit in tight jeans and open-neck shirt), Strother Martin (weighed down by lots of Navajo jewellery), and Warner (his ‘Presence of evil’ monologue should be a drinking game).  

Next up, we head over the Canadian border for 1976’s SHADOW OF THE HAWK. Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation stars as Old Man Hawk, an ageing medicine man who recruits his citified grandson Mike (Jan-Michael Vincent) to help him defeat an ancient evil, the Dsonoqua (aka the wild man of the woods). Along the way, Mike (AKA Little Hawk) rediscovers his ancestral roots and his true calling.

This mystical adventure was directed by George McCowan, who helmed one of my fave eco-horrors Frogs (1972). But it is rather disappointing despite its stunning setting (the majestic forests of British Columbia), an earnest turn from Chief Dan George (who scored an Oscar nod for 1970’s Little Big Man), and Jan-Michael Vincent (showing off his lean physique). Lacking suspense and action, it looks more like a TV Movie of the Week, which isn’t surprising given McCowan’s long history of helming shows like Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco and Cannon. Oh, and there’s a man in a bear suit.

Watching this, however, has led me to down a rabbit hole, in search of some fave shows from my childhood featuring Chief Dan George (The Beachcombers) and Jan-Michael Vincent (the Danger Island segments from The Banana Splits). I’ve also dug out my old DVD of Frogs for another rewatch.

Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk is out on Blu-ray from Eureka from Monday 15 March 2021

Nightwing: Commentary by film historians Lee Gambin and Amanda Reyes
Shadow of the Hawk: Commentary with film writer Mike McPadden and Ben Reiser
Oil and the (Geo)Politics of Blood – Audio essay by John Edgar Browning (if you love a bit of film academia, then pour yourself a large gin and tonic for this ‘frontier gothic’ analysis of Nightwing)
• Trailers
• Collector’s booklet

About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on March 13, 2021, in Adventure, American Indie, Canadian, Horror, Might See and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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