Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk – Blu-Ray Review

Nightwing and The Shadow of the Hawk are two late-70s, Native American-themed, killer creature films. They’re perfectly OK for creature features, but nothing special.

Nighthawk was directed by Arthur Hiller, who is not really known for his genre features. Hiller is best known for Love Story, The Hospital and The In-Laws, three very different movies that are not remotely genre pictures. He was a little too old for the New Hollywood of the ‘70s, but really flourished during that era, and made most of his more acclaimed movies during that time.

In this film, he has created a horror movie about killer vampire bats on an Indian reservation, and the conflicts that arise about what to do about them. After Jaws, they must have been thinking about what other animals are scary, and decided they wanted a bat movie. The creature-feature aspect is both the least interesting and least believable part of the film—the bats just aren’t very good. What may have attracted Hiller to it is the drama between the different Native tribes, with a shady oil deal going on in the background. It’s reminiscent of the small-town politics aspect of Jaws, which is what makes that a better movie than it otherwise would be. Nightwing is probably a much more competently made film than it has any right to be, thanks to having a decent director working on it. To think that Hiller did a bat movie and The In-Laws in the same year is pretty impressive. David Warner has a large supporting role, another notch in his genre films belt. Incidentally, Tarantino is a big Nightwing fan—but that said, it did win the Stinker Bad Movie award, a predecessor of the Razzie.

Shadow of the Hawk actually came out earlier, and it’s a lot sillier than Nighthawk, which has a sheen of respectability. It’s basically a Western about the Westernised grandson of an old shaman who has to escort his grandfather back to his wilderness homeland. They tackle the guy’s demons along the way. There’s a lot of magical battles against evil spirits, black magic and other goofy stuff, and it’s all a bit blah. It’s entertaining enough to be a good Sunday-afternoon movie, though. Old Man Hawk is played by Chief Dan George, one of the most prominent Native actors of the 70s and probably best known for Outlaw Josey Wales and Little Big Man.

Nightwing includes a brand-new audio commentary by film historians Lee Gambin and Amanda Reyes. Shadow of the Hawk comes with a new audio commentary with recently departed Mike McPadden and Ben Reiser, plus “Oil and the (Geo)Politics of Blood, an audio essay by John Edgar Browning, and trailers. A limited-edition collector’s booklet featuring essays by Gambin and film scholar and author Craig Ian Mann rounds out the set.

★★★

Ian Schultz

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