In the dead of night they come - Swift - Silent - Savage.
Year of Release: 1979
Running Time: 105 minutes (1:45)
Director: Arthur Hiller
Nick Mancuso ... Youngman Duran
David Warner ... Phillip Payne
Kathryn Harrold ... Anne Dillon
Stephen Macht ... Walker Chee
Strother Martin ... Selwyn
George Clutesi ... Abner Tasupi
Ben Piazza ... Roger Piggott
Donald Hotton ... John Franklin
Originally a best selling novel, "Nightwing" explores man's inherent fear of the unknown. Nick Mancuso is Youngman Duran, a Maskai Indian tribal deputy torn between the modern world and the ancient mysticism of his people. During his patrol one day, Duran is summoned to investigate the bizarre death of a horse. The animal exhibits razor-sharp wounds that no coyote or mountain lion could inflict. Meanwhile, Duran's girlfriend, Anne, is on a camping trip in the desert. That night, Anne's party is attacked by thousands of swarming bats, leaving Anne as the only survivor. Duran learns of the attack and sets out to save Anne. But his most difficult task looms ahead. How will he stop the sinister menace that is terrorizing the area?
Nightwing, remindin' us that when Mexico sends its bats they're not sending their best. They're sending bats that have a lot of problems. They're bringing fleas. They're bringing vampirism. They're rabid. And some, I assume, are good bats.
Speakin' of southern imports though, ever since the temperature started crackin' the low '40s last week Skunky Hernandez's been hangin' around the checkout counter at the Videodome tellin' me about how I needa get outta there an enjoy the fresh air - at which point I hafta gently remind 'im that possibility dies every mornin' when he steps outta the house.
Actually I think I said somethin' like: "for cripes sake Skunky - prop the door open if you're gonna come in here; Bambi says if you kill one more of 'er Chia Pets with your essence de Jacques strap she's gonna ban you from the Kung Fu section."
Know how China has daily smog level warnins every day? Well, I don't wanna exaggerate or anything, but here in Chickawalka County we get daily Toxygen readins from the local radio station that predict down to the IQ point just how damagin' it'll be to leave the house if Skunky's out an about.
Anyway, as you prolly guessed, Skunky don't really give a rip about my well bein' cause if that were the case he'd stay indoors or hose off every six months like regular people; nah, what he was after was somebody to brand his cattle for 'im, which I didn't want any part of.
"Skunky, nobody's gonna rustle them skanky ole cows of yours; they ain't good for nothin' but drive-in burgers, an even that's only cause everyone's half tanked when they order 'em," I tried reassurin' 'im.
"Ees not people I worry 'bout; neighbors say green light hovare een pasture last week ane next day goats meesing," Skunky explained.
"Neighbors, or Bernard McGowan?" I asked, at which point Skunky's eyes shifted slowly over to the screen where I had Ghoulies II playin'.
"Oh! Thees the one een funhouse, right?" he deflected.
"Skunky you know that guy specifically bought a house with lead paint to hide from Russian satellites, right?" I prodded.
"Ees not mattare, cattle need ID anyway so I.C.E. not deport back to Idaho, wheel you help?" he pressed.
"Can't you get Billy Hilliard to do it? I gotta give Shankles his flea dip this afternoon an with all those open wounds I'm liable to get mad cow disease," I objected.
"Hell'yar say he only help if you go too," apparently he'd already tried that.
"What?! Why?! He don't need me for that!" I griped, reachin' for the phone to tear Billy a new one.
"He say thees way he only have to outrun you, not cattle," Skunky explained, turnin' back to watch the little rat ghoulie spew Nickelodeon gak on the neckin' teenagers.
"Of course he did," I surmised.
Honestly, brandin' cattle ain't that bigga deal long as you keep your distance an avoid takin' any hooves to the skull. I knew a guy back in high school named Otto who took one right in the forehead from this big Angus named Rhonda an when he woke up he could speak perfect Spanish, which seemed really weird until we found out later that he'd moved up here from Argentina with his grampa, old man Weissmuller.
Like I was sayin' though, if you get 'em while they're eatin' they'll kick atcha a little bit, maybe whip around in circles for a minute, but they get over it pretty fast - all of 'em cept for ole Padre, that is. Padre is Skunky's only bull, mostly cause Skunky's too cheap to buy a second one, an really, Padre's pretty mellow mosta the time, but as we discovered, that goes out the window in a hurry when some jackass misses the mark an takes a brandin' iron to your huevos.
I'm layin' the blame squarely on Billy for this even though I was holdin' the iron at the time, cause he tried tellin' me that The Forest was a better backwoods slasher flick than Just Before Dawn just as I was linin' up my shot an... okay, so I took my eye off the uh... balls, for a second, but that comment was patently ridiculous.
Well, we got outta the corral without gettin' gored through the gondolas like the bullfighter in Bolero, but Padre was so hacked off about our less-than-stellar marksmanship that he lowered his head an charged clean through that cheap fencin' Skunky'd built outta scraps from the dunnage pile at Stumpy's Lumber Mill, an next thing I know we're runnin' for our lives. Just barely made it into The Chief (that's Skunky's little 10' aluminum rower) an shoved out far enough that Padre wouldn't come after us, but he wasn't exactly ready to forgive an forget either, so we were pretty well stuck out there. Of course it couldn't *just* be the P.O.'d bull hell bent on turnin' us into somebody's med school final exam, as I realized about the time my feet started gettin' wet.
"We're gonna need a bigger boat," I remarked.
"Oh thut up wiffah crap, we golla ge'h owwa here," Billy growled.
"No, seriously, we're too heavy for this little thing an when it goes under we're fish food," I says, pointin' at the catfish takin' stock of the situation.
"Pff, they'ow juth fith," Billy replied mid-eyeroll.
"Oh sure, they're just fish - just fish Skunky ain't fed in four days cause he says it makes 'em bite better for the guys fishin' during the flicks," I pointed out.
After that Billy let loose a string of profanity I'd rather not repeat in case his mama's readin', but it was startin' to look like all she wrote for the both of us; Skunky'd claim we never showed up for work an some coyote trapper'd find our bones 50 years later after the pond'd gone dry, an then some local scholar of the future'll go through the library's newspaper archives an say somethin' like "truly a fitting end," like the asshole he'll prolly be. But just when it seemed all was lost I noticed ole Gnash Bridges skulkin' around the concession stand eatin' a gopher an I got an idea.
"Alright, I got a plan, but we're gonna need Gnash," I says.
Billy just looked at me like I'd passed 'im a $5 with a portrait of Colonel Klink on it - "vuh cah?"
"Yes the cat! Now help me row over there!" I hollered, pointin' in Gnash's direction.
"You wah' vuh cah to fave uth?" he repeated.
"Trust me, they do this on talk radio every day - all we gotta do is make Gnash think the scary brown thing wants his job... err... dinner, an just watch what happens," I promised with a whole lot more confidence than I actually had.
"Weow, I guef the bow' cah owhy cath one of uth," he reasoned, an over to the southern shore we went.
Padre ran around to the shallow end where Gnash was contentedly munchin' his gopher guts, an just as I'd hoped, he got too close to Gnash's supper an the fight was on. You wouldn't think a cat'd be any match for somethin' that size, but Gnash's half bobcat, 35lbs, an crankier'n a senator on tax day, an the first thing he did was jump onto Padre's back an install more body piercins than the front row at a Nine Inch Nails concert. Padre tried to shake 'im off, but Gnash clamped down on his right ear an sent 'im buckin' out through the sage brush til he finally ended up plantin' his front legs in a badger hole an knockin' 'imself out on a rock. I guess by the time he came around he'd forgotten what he was mad about an went back to his normal routine, but Billy an me weren't about to stick around for a welfare check - I don't give a damn if ranchin' *is* an American institution, ain't no cheeseburger worth gettin' your rump roast tenderized over.
That was about all the excitement I wanted for... well, ever really, so after we'd gunned it down the dirt road an back to town at speeds usually reserved for tweakers fleein' the highway patrol, we parked ourselves in front of the ole ColorTrak an checked out this flick about Indian politics interspersed with occasional smatterins of bat attacks. Pretty good flick to unwind to though, cause it's the kinda movie where you can get up, microwave a coupla chili dogs, an when you come back an ask what you missed all your buddy ever says is: "them two guys're playin' 'no true Indian' again." Which sorta makes sense since the one Indian's Italian an the other'ns Russian, but I kinda liked it even though it's got all kinda social commentary that you can't understand unless you're either an Indian yourself, or high on peyote. Anyway, I did manage to pick out a few bits that even we of the farmer's tan can understand, so I hope you enjoy these inter-cultural revelations as much as I did. First, if you don't want your dead shaman friend runnin' around the afterlife scarin' the bejongas outta everybody - don't cut eye-holes in their death shrouds. Second, always store your tribal elders in a cool, dry place when not in use to ensure maximum freshness. An third, peein' in the hot spring is the perfect crime.
The movie begins with some dude doin' yoga silhouetted in front of the sun like Daniel-san trainin' for the big showdown with Cobra Kai in Karate Kid til we transition over to this tribal cop (Duran) out on the reservation who's been called in to inspect some cattle mutilations, an his professional diagnosis is that they must have a Chupacabra problem cause all the meat on the corpse is still intact. Then this hot shot asshole from the tribe next door (Chee) shows up an we know he's an asshole cause his tribe sold out an opened up a casino so they can afford things like helicopters just to swoop in with their veterinary biologists an discredit Duran's Chupacabra theory. Duran is P.O.'d, an not just cause Chee's stickin' his Navanose where it don't belong - but cause he's also tryin' to sell the reservation to Shell oil so they can pave paradise an put up a petroleum refinery an collect a finder's fee big enough to buy 'imself a condo in Tuscon. Then Duran drives out to a beat-up shack in the desert where this old hermit (Abner) has been holed up ever since some spoiled white kids from Covington Catholic invited 'im to a pox party, an finds Abner workin' some nasty Indian voodoo magic designed to bring the world to an end cause he's sick of all the trash on the side of the freeway an Italians from Queens stealin' his actin' gigs. Duran figures that with the way his day's been goin' that's fine by him, so he leaves Abner to do dat voodoo dat he do an goes to see his girlfriend (Anne) at the trailer-house clinic in town, but she's so stressed out about the lack of decent medical facilities an the fact that she just hadda fork over $15 from 'er own pocket for a new catcher's mitt to deliver papooses that she's not very good company. As if Duran ain't got enough problems, while all this's goin' on a sheep rancher out in the back forty's checkin' to make sure Jodie Foster ain't runnin' off with any of his lambs, only pretty quick somethin' makin' noises like a cicada swarm bein' tortured with cattle prods flies over an picks off a coupla his animals, causin' a stampede that leaves the guy mutton chopped an molded beneath a deluge of hooves. The next mornin', Duran goes to check on Abner, but when he gets there the old guy's layin' face-down in the middle of his Ouija board an so Duran hasta go buy a sheet an a bag of lime from this cranky old tepeeaboo who's all butthurt cause the Indians never invite 'im over for spirit walks even though he married one of 'em to prove how woke he is.
Then things get real awkward when Duran returns to the shack an finds this freelance forensic pathologist (Payne) scoopin' tissue samples offa Abner's face like he's collectin' appetizers for Hannibal Lecter's dinner party, an Duran hasta threaten to haul 'im in for desecratin' historical antiquities to get 'im outta there. Next thing, the weirdo with the face fetish is in Chee's office tellin' 'im that the entire county's in deep guano cause there's a vampire bat colony on the loose an that he's gonna need men with tennis rackets, women with beehive hair-dos, an possibly Ozzy Osborne to get the situation under control, but Chee thinks Payne's just blowin' smoke signals up his ass an won't listen to 'im. So Payne hasta go out into the desert an blast some buzzards into McNuggets so he can analyze the sheep carcasses they're parked on an confirm the presence of batbonic plague in their blood to convince Chee that it's time to make like Buffy an start slayin' vampires before Bruce Wayne shows up with a U-Haul. Unfortunately while that's goin' on, Anne's out in the scrub with a buncha rich puritans who wanna convert the savages to Christianity so they won't hafta burn in Hell forever, only when she goes to check the weather forecast on the CB the churchies discover a little too late that their crucifixes don't do diddly squat an pretty quick they all end up on the receivin' end of a batisimal. Needless to say their devotion to their fellow man proves a bit lacking when they hafta decide between openin' the van door for a member of their stragglin' congregation an riskin' a bat gettin' in, or just runnin 'er over like an armadillo on the freeway, an karma hits 'em pretty hard when they abandon the gal despite Anne's objections an end up rollin' the rig after Uncle Traveling Bat crawls outta one of the heretics' shirts. Things aren't much better in town where the rain dance ain't produced so much as a drop of bird stuff, an to make matters worse, when Duran heads down into an old root cellar to see what's holdin' up the thunderstorms he finds the tribal elders've all OD'd on nightshade tea to be one with the great spirit truckin' along behind Halley's Comet. Course once Duran finds out Chee knew about this he's roughly three seconds from stuffin' a tomahawk up his keister, but Chee explains that they can't go leakin' this information to whitey or else the Weekly World News's gonna be out there tramplin' all the sacred sites huntin' for Bat Boy, an besides there's nothin' to worry about cause Payne's requisitioned a rubber band gun an a truckload of toothpicks to drive through the little boogers' vampiric hearts.
Duran don't trust Chee as far as he can throw Devil's Tower, an sure enough the next mornin' Chee sends a buncha smokeys in to arrest 'im for interferin' with an important real estate venture, cept by that time Duran's already out in the dunes blowin' a radiator hose tryin' to find Anne an hasta run shirtless through the desert with sweat glistening on his chest for several minutes so all the women in the audience'll stop sayin' "this is stupid, can we please go home?" Eventually Duran runs into Payne an they go pick up Anne so she can stop gnawin' on rattlers an suckin' cactus juice to say alive an the three of 'em head down to the sacred canyon to set up shop. Then Duran decides to munch a few peyote buttons while he's out scoutin' an next thing you know the camera goes all wonky like he's in the middle of one of those Laugh-In skit transitions til Abner's spirit appears an for a minute you're afraid Val Kilmer's gonna show up an start singin' "The End," but all that happens is Abner tells Duran to mind his own business. In the meantime, Payne's come up with a plan to hook some chicken wire up to a car battery for protection an broadcast the bat signal with this little satellite dish on toppa his Suburban so he can stick one with a little James Bond trackin' bug an follow it back to the bat cave. So once Wile E. Peyote comes back from his sojourn, Payne kicks the transponder on until their batting cage is covered with enough wings to open their own Hooters, an as soon as Payne gets a dart in one of 'em he tells Anne to crank up the juice til all the bats're belfried. Course that was just a scoutin' party, but by mornin' they're able to get a fix on the bats' home base an work out a plan involvin' poison gas, only when Payne tries settin' up a screen over the bats' moon roof the ceilin' caves in an he ends up danglin' like Earthworm Jim in the Snot a Problem level over a pool of weapons grade bat scat that'll melt 'im into Oreo cookie filling. This seems like a good place to can the chatter, but I'm here to tell ya them bats're gonna be wakin' up pretty soon, an when they do they're gonna be royally P.O.'d about the home invasion an likely to start actin' out Meat Loaf songs if somebody don't think of somethin' quick.
Alrighty, well, who says you can't make a flick about the plight of the mistreated and discarded indigenous peoples of America, AND bubonic plague carryin' vampire bats? I'm not sure, but whoever they are, Arthur Hiller certainly stuck it to 'em with this baby. But as a wise man who was once turned into a half-man/half-fly monster via teleportation accident once said, this guy was so preoccupied with whether or not he could that he didn't stop to think if he should. Say what you want about It Lives by Night, the flick where a guy gets bitten by a rabid bat and slowly morphs into a furry with sonar, but those people knew better than to try framin' their movie around a deeper, sociological message about injustice and the struggle to maintain one's cultural identity in an ever changing world. Basically we're tryin' to mix oil and water here and the two plots just refuse to mesh together, but that's one of the things that makes flicks from the 1970s so much fun - studios would take chances with conflicting concepts to see what'd happen, and while it didn't always pan out, often the finished product was strange enough that the film eventually found an audience. These days, a studio executive would look at this script and do one of two things (if they didn't immediately pass it to the secretary to shred): they'd give it back to the writer and tell them to do a rewrite sans bats, or tell them to cut 20 minutes of political subplot and give them the phone number of the Syfy network. You couldn't make this movie today, and not because "political correctness forbids it" or any of that other garbage unpleasant people whine about after being banned from Facebook for using racial slurs - but because it doesn't make a lick of sense to do it, and no studio would ever give anybody the money to try. Movies are just so compartmentalized today that unless you're making an indie flick or happen to be affiliated with one of the *very* few remaining independent studios, your story hasta check a series of boxes involving elements that have proven themselves financially successful in the past, or your movie will never be made. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting it's a crime against art that mash-ups like this don't happen anymore, because in reality it probably should have never been made in the first place - all I'm saying is that movies like Nightwing are interesting because they don't fit the formulaic mold, and combine topics that have essentially nothing in common. It wasn't unusual for low budget studios to add in fantastic elements on a whim, sometimes even after the movie was complete - but what makes Nightwing so interesting is that it's clear everything was scripted as you see it from the beginning and yet Columbia, a relatively large studio known for quality films, read this script and gave it a green light. I don't claim to understand it, but at the end of the day, I kinda liked it.
Of course my personal approval ain't enough to ensure a passin' grade, and this sucker's got a bit of a hole to dig itself out of plot-wise, so let's see if the producer was able to secure a shovel big enough to remove all the guano, or whether it's just too bat-shit crazy to fly. The plot, as previously mentioned, brings together two concepts that should probably be airing separately on PBS and National Geographic, respectively, and one could argue that the inclusion of the murderous bats kinda trivializes the true-to-life issues of indigenous people. I'm not gonna do that, but you could. My objection is that I'm watchin' this thing to see cable-operated props glom onto people's jugulars and I can't get that if the flick is a PG rated social commentary - save that stuff for the Sundance Film Festival, how 'bout it? The acting is pretty decent, and although the two most important Native American characters are played by dark-skinned non-natives, a lot of the supporting cast is made up of real Indians, so for 1979 they did *okay* on that front. Nick Mancuso is likeable as the tribal deputy doin' the best he can with what he's got in contrast to his "sell out" counterpart from the tribe next door, played by Stephen Macht. Macht brings the nuance necessary to avoid being an over-the-top heel, and pulls off a performance that makes it clear he genuinely believes he's doing what's best for his people. Kathryn Harrold is also capable as Mancuso's caucasion lady, but the best performance belongs to David Warner, who does an amazing job of playing it straight when some of the material begins to border on silly - particularly the scene just before they rig up the batting cage and Warner gives this big "pure evil" speech about the vampire bat that's reminiscent of the one Donald Pleasence gives about Michael Myers in Halloween. Just do your best to overlook the rain dance wardrobe that appears to have been purchased at K-Mart, that's all any of us can do.
Here's who matters and why: Nick Mancuso (Mary Loss of Soul, Entity 2013, Lost Soul, Deadtime Stories, Vol. 1, Rise of the Gargoyles, Saurian, Twists of Terror, The Invader, Death Ship 1980, Black Christmas 1974), David Warner (Star Trek V - VI, Tron, In the Mouth of Madness, Sweeney Todd 2006, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 2003, Planet of the Apes 2001, Scream 2, Beastmaster III, Final Equinox, Ice Cream Man, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Quest of the Delta Knights, Body Bags, The Lost World 1 & 2, The Unnameable II, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, Grave Secrets, Pulse Pounders, Waxwork, My Best Friend is a Vampire, Frankenstein 1984, The Company of Wolves, The Man with two Brains, Time Bandits, The Omen 1976, From Beyond the Grave), Kathryn Harrold (Vampire 1979), Stephen Macht (Graveyard Shift 1990, Trancers III - V, The Monster Squad, The Legend of Bloody Mary, Watchers 4, Amityville 1992, Deadly Visitor), Strother Martin (Sssssss, The Brotherhood of Satan, The Magnetic Monster), George Clutesi (Prophecy), Ben Piazza (The Candy Snatchers), Donald Hotton (The Hearse, Runestone, Invaders from Mars 1986, Brainstorm 1983, One Dark Night), Charles Hallahan (Warlock: The Armageddon, Cast a Deadly Spell, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Terror out of the Sky, The Thing 1982), Judith Novgrod (Alien Zone), Alice Hirson (Stepmonster, Psycho IV), Pat Corley (The Stepford Children, The Hand 1981), Peter Prouse (The Man Who Fell to Earth), Robert Dunbar (Timerider).
The mainstream credits, for the folks who're interested, are as follows: David Warner (Spicer Lovejoy in Titanic), Kathryn Harrold (Francine Sanders on The Larry Sanders Show, Nola Deney on The Doctors), Stephen Macht (Trevor Lansing on General Hospital, David Keeler on Cagney & Lacey), Strother Martin (McGrath in Slap Shot, Captain in Cool Hand Luke, Percy Garris in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Arnold Stoner in Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke, Col. Stonehill in True Grit), Ben Piazza (Dr. Rowlings on Santa Barbara, Bob Whitewood in The Bad News Bears), Alice Hirson (Lois Morgan on Ellen, Marsha Davis on Another World), Pat Corley (Phil on Murphy Brown).
As for the special effects... well, this is where the bottom kinda falls out. Now, because we're talking about a flick made in 1979 I'm gonna give a pass to all the super-imposing of the bats done in post-production as it's reasonably well-executed and because that was a perfectly reasonable way to go about animating complicated shots at the time. The bats on strings, unfortunately, are another story, and while they're not completely abysmal in every shot - the more of them there are on screen, the worse they look. I'm sure it's not necessary to explain that there wouldn't have been a lot of money for numerous, versatile puppets, but even when the camera's focusing on a single bat in flight, it's usually pretty cheesy, and it goes without saying that when they're swarming all over the cage the movements are minimal, stiff, and unnatural. I feel kinda bad knocking that particular scene because I'm sure it took a lot of puppeteers just to pull it off, but yeah, not Columbia's finest moment in film. That said, the dead horse and sheep are pretty good, while the blood is typical of the 1970s - bright, thick, and likely made by the DuPont company.
The shooting locations are probably the high point, with principal photography taking place on location in New Mexico, largely on the Laguna Pueblo Indian Reservation, and with a talented cinematographer no less. The architecture is Puebloan/Spanish in design and adds not only a tremendous amount of authenticity and atmosphere to the flick, but also a bit of uniqueness as far as what you're used to seeing in a Horror film. Furthermore, the scenery is every bit as attractive outside the village, with a lot of excellent desert photography, unique rock formations, canyons, a hot spring, and some nice sunsets as well; it's a very appealing area, provided you don't die of heat stroke. The soundtrack, when there is a soundtrack, is suitable and tries to create that air of native mysticism seemingly necessary to all flicks featuring Indians, while combining synthesizers and more traditional woodwind instruments. Some of it actually sounds similar to one of the tracks from E.T., despite predating it by three years. The Western style soundtrack works for the most part, including the two Country songs that play briefly - my only objection is the glaring lack of music during what are supposed to be the two most suspenseful scenes in the movie: the bat attack on Payne's wire cage, and the climax where the ceiling of the cave collapses, leaving Payne dangling like Sly Stallone in Cliffhanger. There's nary a note to be heard during these two sequences and it sucks the wind right out of both; for the life of me I cannot understand how they made such an obvious oversight. Overall, Nightwing doesn't earn a passing grade for production values or entertainment value, but it's not as far off the mark as you'd expect and the unique combination of subplots makes for an interesting, if mediocre movie. This is one where you'll just have to decide for yourself whether to check it out, as I suspect I may have more irrational affection for it than most.