Nightwing (1979)

nightwing poster 1979 movie
5.0 Overall Score
Story: 3/10
Acting: 5/10
Visuals: 4/10

Bad but fun

Over-the-top attempts to make bats scarier than they are

Movie Info

Movie Name: Nightwing

Studio: Polyc International BV

Genre(s): Horror

Release Date(s): June 22, 1979

MPAA Rating: PG

nightwing bat attack fire

Things learned from Man v Nature movies…if crap goes down move away from the fire instead of rolling in it

Something is attacking the Meskwaki reservation in New Mexico and Youngman Duran (Nick Mancusco) finds that an old medicine Abner Tasupi is taking credit for it.  Abner wants the White Men out and tells Youngman that he’s summoned a plague to do it.  As the tribal council chairman Walker Chee (Stephen Macht) tries to work out a deal for oil shale found on the reservation, Youngman is discovering that the curse Abner is speaking of is in the form of vampire bats that have taken up a home somewhere on the reservation.  With fears of an outbreak of the bubonic plague, the bats must be stopped and Youngman, his girlfriend Anne Dillon (Kathryn Harrold), and a bat hunting scientist Philip Payne (David Warner) could be the only means to stop the disease and killer bats from spreading.

Directed by Arthur Hiller, Nightwing is a man-vs-nature horror film.  The movie was released to negative reviews but has gained a cult following over the years.

I love nature horror movies and it is always exciting to find one you have seen…especially vintage man-v-nature movies from the 1970s.  Nightwing is classic in that sense and even though it does have a lot of bad stuff to it, it still is a fun watch.

nightwing bat attack

Tell us more about how vampire bats are the scourge of the Earth please

The movie is very heavily derivative of Jaws (almost to a laughable point).  The characters of Youngman, Phillip, and Anne make up the Sheriff Brody, Quint, and Hooper respectively and Walker Chee is the Amity Mayor that ignores the signs.  The parallels go strong enough to have Phillip’s character expounding on the horrible nature of vampire bats and how they are like flying piranha that wipeout anything in their path…which isn’t true at all.  This is combined with a mystic story which involving vision quests through the consumption of hallucinogenic causing datura root (at really inopportune times).  It is over-the-top, and in the over-the-top and dead serious nature, funny and fun.

The cast gives it their all with a script that has speeches that are hard to spit out.  Nick Mancuso literally gets to yell at nothing as he experiences visions and Kathryn Harrold has to take it (since he never explains anything to her).  David Warner gets the meatier role as the hunter obsessed with vampire bats while Stephen Macht’s “bad guy” isn’t necessarily bad since he’s trying to keep the money with the tribe…and Mancuso’s actions kind of slow down the investigation at one point.  It is notable that neither Manusco or Macht are Native American which wasn’t unusual at the time, but of course would be founded upon by today’s standards.

nightwing cave ruins ending

Hey!!! I know you’re in a pickle, but let me go get high and see if I can think of anything!

The movie tried really hard to make intimidating bats (they called in some big names in special effects), but their efforts failed.  The bats simply look like bats on the string and the movie is more effective when they take the approach of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds by superimposing animated bats over the footage.  I do like the swinging from the rope scene with Warner though it goes on too long.

Nightwing is bad, but it is the classic so-bad-it-is-good type of bad film.  It is quick and keeps moving, but it also has that PG type horror that would only have been bumped up to PG-13 maybe by today’s ratings…the story would have been better as an R-Rated film.  There aren’t a ton of movies made about actual bats (maybe because they are rather mundane), but at least Nightwing tries something different in a time when bees, frogs, sharks, piranha, ants, and every type of natural horror got their shot.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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