Nightwing / Shadow of the Hawk Double Feature Blu-ray Review: Two Not-Too-Bad Supernatural Spookers

“Flight Fright! Two terrifying tales in one killer double feature” is what the Blu-ray box says and it’s not too far off the mark. Nightwing (1979) and Shadow of the Hawk (1976) both feature creatures of flight and both movies do get a little spooky with their tales of fright. Both also deal with Native American myths and legends while telling the story of young men who brave the spirit world to help save mankind. 

Nightwing directed by Arthur Hiller (Love Story, The Hospital, Silver Streak) stars Nick Mancuso as tribal cop Youngman Duran who tries to figure out what’s been mutilating animals on a reservation in New Mexico. Attacking with razor-sharp accuracy, this menace cuts to the bone when it strikes, leaving its victims drained of blood. Meanwhile Duran’s rival, Walker Chee (Stepen Macht) has discovered oil shale in the nearby sacred mountains and plans to dynamite it free and sell it to a big oil company so the tribes can reap the benefits. Duran’s mentor, outcast shaman Abner Tasupi (George Clutesi) believes he’s about to die and unleash an unknown fury upon the world to end it all and save his people from losing their sacred mountain site. Enter British scientist Phillip Payne (David Warner), who studies and exterminates vampire bats. Payne insists these attacks are the work of the devil creatures that have migrated from Mexico. This modern-day Van Helsing will stop at nothing to complete his work of ridding the Earth of these horrid, winged terrors that feast on the blood of others while they merrily spread bubonic plague. Duran’s not sure if he believes the attacks are Abner’s supernatural doing or something modern science can explain but he’s all in for stopping their winged reign of terror. 

Vampire bats wreak havoc as they migrate through the Southwest like piranhas of the skies in this beautifully filmed, part eco-thriller, part supernatural horror movie with a bit of social commentary on the plight of the Native Americans living on reservation lands. There are some good jump scares here and there, especially as the bats swarm and a very creepy scene when Abner’s dead body begins to bleed from its wounds! A bit comical at times, especially as Duran starts to trip out on a native root that helps him commune with Abner’s spirit. Still pretty good overall, with a bit of a modern western mashed up and remixed with a Dracula feel to it. The story by Martin Cruz Smith is based on his novel of the same name and the movie can even boast of a score by Henry Mancini. I also dig how there’s a line used that’s akin to something Joseph Campbell would say; “one man’s religion is another man’s superstition.” 

Shadow of the Hawk centers around the tribes of the Pacific Northwest in this supernatural thriller starring Jan-Michael Vincent. He plays Mike, a half Native American young man living in the big city when one night his grandpa, Old Man Hawk, comes looking for him. Old Man Hawk, a shaman played by the legendary Chief Dan George, needs Mike’s assistance to battle an ancient evil. That ancient evil is a spirit witch put to death 200 years prior by the hawk clan. That witch has now come back to haunt, hunt, and destroy the shaman whose family killed her. Wearing a creepy white totem-like tribal mask, this witch stalks Mike, his grandpa, and reporter Maureen (Marilyn Hassett) who is along for the ride. The white ghost witch sends her minions in the guise of men who drive a mysterious old black car that tries to drive them off the road and kill them as they head back to the homeland of Old Man Hawk. Moved by his grandpa’s pleas, Mike has chosen to be shown the ways of the shaman so he can fight this evil witch and her otherworldly warriors on their own spirit ground. No worries though as Mike has a spirit hawk who follows him and assists when it’s needed most.

This one has more of a “high-tech/city world vs. wilderness/old world ways” vibe to it. We see Mike working in some computer firm and living in a very modern apartment as compared to the small, lakeside village where he spent his youth with his grandpa. The evil spirit witch with her white mask and long, stringy white hair is very creepy when she pops up throughout the movie. First seen fighting Mike underwater as he’s frolicking in a swimming pool, then again hovering outside his window later that night, and many other little out of the way places. Truly creepy and well-placed in the background during certain scenes. There are some unintended laughs when Mike wrestles and kills a bear, clearly a guy in a bear suit at times. Things get hokey as Mike is able to zap spirit owls with his grandpa’s walking stick like Harry Potter. There is a cool bridge scene and some freaky zombie-like tribespeople ambling around in the dark. And again that damned white witch creeps me out with her well-timed appearances that help keep the atmosphere spooky in what feels, at times, like a made-for-TV, supernatural chase movie, which makes sense as both directors George McCowan and Daryl Duke have numerous TV credits listed on their resumes. 

Nightwing packs a better punch and carries a bigger coup stick than Shadow of the Hawk but both of these Columbia Pictures releases are worth a watch. I was pleasantly surprised by this Blu-ray double feature of Native American-themed, supernatural spookers. Both have decent special effects for the time but both have their drawbacks as well. There are some cliched aspects and both get a little hokey towards their endings but that’s okay as I did indeed enjoy seeing some of those old myths and legends interpreted in spooky, atmospheric ways. These two do lack any real terror or gore which make them perfect for light Halloween viewing. It’s too bad there are no extras or special features on this release, it would have been great fun to get a look behind the scenes and at the making of these two lesser-known horror thrillers. 

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Joe Garcia III

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