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Nightwing (1979)

Director: Arthur Hiller
Starring: Nick Mancuso, David Warner, Kathryn Harrold, Stephen Macht, Strother Martin
Rated PG Running time: 105 minutes

This tale of vampire bats terrorizing an Indian reservation could have done with a little less 70's "socially conscious" claptrap and a little more bloodsucker action. Nick Mancuso challenges belief as the studly Indian Sheriff of the reservation who teams up with a slightly demented biologist/bat killer (David Warner) to eradicate the toothy menace. Unfortunately, director Arthur Hiller doesn't seem too interested in making a monster movie and is more concerned with depicting the trials and tribulations of the Native American community in the 70's. Which is kind of funny, because for all of its politically correct grandstanding the two main "Native American" characters are played by paleface's in pancake makeup. We get to see the Sheriff butt heads with Walker Chee (Stephen Macht), a wealthy Native American businessman, who Mancuso thinks has sold out to the man. We get to see the problems that arise in the battle between the modern and the traditional. We get to see Kathryn Harrold do demonstrations of some pretty crafty survival techniques. What we don't get much of is killer bats. We have to wait for a good chunk of the movie to pass before we get a truly exciting scene where the bats chomp down on a group of missionaries, and create such a scene of chaos that they run over one of their own while trying to escape. The bats are worth waiting for - combining the best blue screen and puppetry techniques 1979 had to offer, they are some of funniest looking killer animals Hollywood had produced since Food of the Gods. I mean that in a good way - this scene alone is worth watching Nightwing at least once.

Strother Martin gets a great scene as a shopkeeper who hates Indians, and David Warner has some fun with his part as the obsessed bat destroyer. Everyone on the cast is actually very good, selling the material even the story veers into soap opera territory. Unfortunately, the patronizing tone and the worshipful depiction of Native American culture is laid on too thick for Nightwing to work as a monster movie, and the B-movie elements are too prominent to allow the film to become the deep statement on Indian life that it wants to be. Hiller should have talked to me first - I would have had him cut about 15 minutes of melodrama, add in a few more bat attacks, and call the thing "Billy Jack vs. the Vampire Bat". That is, unquestionably, a multi million dollar idea.

See, this producing stuff is easy.

2.5 out of 5.

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