Something of a cousin to The Manitou (1976) and Prophecy (1979), this loopy flick puts a Native American spin on the horror genre, spicing its thrills with hokey material about ancient curses and sacred destinies. Shadow of the Hawk isn’t scary so much as it’s colorful, thanks to elaborate scenes of the hero fighting a grizzly bear, leading a group of people across a rope bridge over a massive canyon, and so forth. Yet the movie’s intensity level lags dangerously low at times because of phoned-in performances and underdeveloped characters and concepts. Nonetheless, Shadow of the Hawk is watchable in a Saturday-matinee sort of way, because every so often something enjoyably weird happens. In one scene, the dignified Native American actor Chief Dan George yanks the coral snake that just bit him off his face, throws the reptile to the ground, and uses Indian magic to engulf the snake in flames. Later, George applies war paint to the movie’s star, Jan-Michael Vincent, so Vincent can have a mano-a-mano duel with a fellow wearing a bird costume comprising a giant beak mask and feather “wings” extending below his arms. Oh, and rest assured that George utters lots of quasi-spiritual dialogue (“Give her strength—let it flow into her body like the wind in the trees”). Shadow of the Hawk is ridiculous, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
When the story begins, Old Man Hawk (George) travels from the reservation to the big city so he can seek help from his grandson, Mike (Vincent), who has left Native American culture behind. Through contrived circumstances, Mike agrees to help and brings along Maureen (Marilyn Hassett), a pretty reporter whom he’s just met. Old Man Hawk persuades Mike and Maureen that he’s engaged in a battle with the spirit of an ancient witch, and that matters of some consequence hinge on the outcome of the battle. The trio ventures into the woods to find and confront the ancient spirit, leading to deadly episodes whenever the witch uses its powers to turn the natural world against the heroes.
Directed with indifference by TV hack George McCowan, who made a handful of B-movies including the absurd creature feature Frogs (1972), Shadow of the Hawk has some nice scenery, and it’s novel that many of the big fright scenes happen in broad daylight. (Unfortunately, this visual choice reveals that the “grizzly” fighting Vincent is a dude in a questionable bear costume.) The superficiality of the story is helpful in that it’s possible to watch the movie without utilizing any actual brain function, and hurtful in that it’s not possible to care what happens. George manages to avoid looking embarrassed, no small accomplishment, while Vincent seems completely vacant and Hassett merely whimpers her way through silly damsel-in-distress scenarios. Anyway, here’s an odd piece of Jan-Michael Vincent trivia that’s related to this movie: The pilot episode of the cheesetastic ’80s action show Airwolf, in which Vincent plays an adventurer named Stringfellow Hawke, is titled “Shadow of the Hawke.” I’d like to believe that someone on the Airwolf team had a mischievous sense of humor.
Shadow of the Hawk: FUNKY