Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nightwing (1979)

Despite its atmospheric poster and fantastic title, Nightwing is one of the worst big-studio horror movies of the late ’70s. Tedious gobbledygook about a Native American cop and a white scientist investigating the killer bats laying siege to an Indian reservation in New Mexico, the movie pathetically tries to mesh comin’-at-ya scares with then-fashionable Native mysticism, and the picture is so laughably inauthentic that the two principal Native American characters are played by an Italian-American (Nick Mancuso) and a Jewish Philadelphian (Stephen Macht). Both try not to embarrass themselves, though the idiotic storyline makes that challenging; they mostly end up bulging their eyes to simulate intensity. This misfire also features sexy leading lady Kathryn Harrold in one of her few starring roles. For several years in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Harrold eemed like she was one movie away from a big career, but Nightwing was among several embarrasing flops that impeded her momentum. Inexplicably, this turkey was directed by Arthur Hiller, whose filmography is dominated by sensitive dramas like Love Story (1970) and glossy comedies like Silver Streak (1976). There’s a reason he didn’t make any other horror movies, and that’s because Nightwing relies on cheap and derivative gimmicks like a scene that mimics the underwater-cage sequence in Jaws (1975)—suffice it to say that fake-looking bats swarming around a metal box that’s attached to a pickup truck in the middle of the desert doesn’t have the same oomph as a submerged Richard Dreyfuss steering clear of an enormous shark’s pearly whites. The end of Nightwing almost achieves a fever pitch of bad-movie kitsch, when Mancuso goes into some sort of drug-induced trance while summoning up the ancient spirits who’ve been driving the bats batty, but reaching that brief moment of amusing awfulness requires sludging through an hour and a half of unredeemable guano. (Available through Columbia Screen Classics via

Nightwing: SQUARE

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