Arthur Hiller’s Nightwing

Arthur Hiller’s Nightwing is ostensibly billed as a horror flick about bats plaguing a native reservation in New Mexico and yes it is about that, but it’s less about the beasts themselves in the traditional monster movie sense and more about the very well written characters, the sociopolitical underpinnings and economic issues in the region, the indigenous mysticism and shaman folklore surrounding the situation and the biological threat of very real vampire bats, all coalescing into one hell of an entertaining film. I admire a script and execution that makes room for all facets of a story and doesn’t just opt for a cheesy creature feature with no real narrative or thematic heft. Nick Mancuso plays a sheriff from the Maski tribe who is investigating mysterious human and livestock deaths in his jurisdiction while carrying out the burial ritual of his mentor and local witchdoctor, a man greatly feared by others in the tribe. At the same time a vivacious, worldly bat hunter (the great David Warner) arrives and warns everyone that there may be a massive colony of deadly vampire bats roosting in the canyons nearby, while another opportunistic Maski (Steven Macht) wants to sell mining rights on their land to a nasty oil company and all of the factions get the surprise of a lifetime when the bats start attacking. You also get a cantankerous old Strother Martin as the local general store owner who married into a Maski family and still has the balls to talk shit about them to their faces. I’m not gonna lie, the bats themselves aren’t that impressive overall, they’re just a standard combo of shots of real bats flying and then rubber prosthetics for the actual attacks. There’s a scene inside a makeshift ‘shark cage’ style contraption that generates good suspense and a terrific sequence inside their creepy cave, but they’re not the most memorable monsters I’ve seen. What this film does have is atmosphere, very well written characters and genuine sense of place. It’s filmed in New Mexico and the scenery is breathtaking, brought to life by a wonderful score from Henry Mancini that samples Native instruments and echoes off the canyons eerily. There’s very cool shaman lore and the performances are exceptional, especially Mancuso’s fierce tribal cop, Macht’s slippery, morally secretive entrepreneur and Warner’s bat hunter who makes an almost religious, zen like fervour out of the vocation. Good times.

-Nate Hill


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