Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk is the latest Blu-ray horror release from Eureka Entertainment, and offers an interesting pair of films for viewers. Despite both being films made n the 1970s, and focusing on stories centred around First Nation people, the two films are very different pieces, offering viewers a look at two very different styles of horror from this time period.
Nightwing was produced in 1979, and is a part of the popular ‘natural’ horror genre that was sweeping through film at the time. These are films where nature is the opposing force that our heroes have to overcome, and range from the low budget and niche films such as Frogs and Empire of the Ants, to the hugely successful, like Jaws. Nightwing actually has a few similarities to Jaws, despite being almost the complete opposite film. Where Jaws sets its action on an island, with a killer stalking the waters, Nightwing is set deep in the desert, with the threat coming from the skies, yet still manages to mirror many of the characters and themes from Spielberg’s hit.
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The story follows the local lawman Youngman Duran (Nick Mancuso), who investigates a series of strange killings on his reservation, killings that begin with animals, but move on to human victims too. The corpses are found drained of blood, covered in deep bites, and there’s a foul stench of ammonia at every attack. He eventually discovers the culprits of the attack when a chiropterologist named Payne (David Warner) arrives on the scene, and tells him that a swarm of vampire bats has made their home on the reservation, and are responsible for the deaths. Together with a young doctor, played by Kathryn Harrold, the sheriff and the animal exterminator set out to find and destroy the colony, but end up butting heads with a local politician and businessman Walker Chee (Stephen Macht), who wants to downplay the danger of the situation so that he can close a deal with an oil company.
The similarities with Jaws don’t just end at the character archetypes, but are also present in the pacing of the film, with much of the first half or more of the film being a slow introduction to this world and the characters, and with as much focus on the interpersonal relationships and the people who live on the reservation as the bat attacks. It’s not until towards the end of the film that the focus really moves onto hunting the animals themselves. Where this film differs from the Spielberg hit, and many other natural horror films, is that there’s a second possible explanation given, one that has more of a supernatural side to it, making it stand out as a more unique entry in the genre.
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Shadow of the Hawk is the second movie on the disc, despite being made three years before Nightwing, but offers a very different type of horror film. Where Nightwing has a slow build and centres on characters, even minor ones, Shadow of the Hawk has a much faster pace to it, and relies much more on the supernatural and the strange.
The story is centred on Old Man Hawk (Chief Dan George), an elderly medicine man who leaves his home village and travels hundreds of miles to track down his grandson Mike (Jan-Michael Vincent) in order to convince him to return home and help him combat the spirit of an evil sorceress, Dsonoqua (Marianne Jones). The two of them, joined by reporter Marueen (Marilyn Hassett), attempt to return to the village, but are plagued by strange visions, evil disciples of Dsonoqua, and dark magic at every turn.
Whilst at first glance Shadow of the Hawk seems to be another ‘Redsploitation’ film, a film that’s simply trying to cash in on the ‘exotic’ qualities of First Nation peoples for the entertainment of white audiences, the film is actually something more than that. Yes, the main hero Mike is played by a white man, rather than a Native actor, but the story is also about a man who rejects that part of his heritage, who latches onto the fact that he’s ‘half Indian’ whenever someone brings up his family. He’s a man who has rejected a huge part of his heritage, but over the course of the film has to learn to accept that, and even embrace it. The fact that the film also has Chief Dan George, a real life medicine man, author and activist for First Nation rights, and an Oscar nominated actor, makes the film feel like more than just a cheap cash-in that’s trying to make a buck from the Native population.
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Both of these films have a sense of ‘Redsploitation’ to them, with two of the leads in Nightwing also being white actors playing Native characters, but they do seem to show a level of respect to the cultures they’re representing on screen. This is coming from a white British person, so I could be completely wrong on that, and only First Nation people can speak with any real authority on the matter.
The films also come with an audio commentary on each film, involving film historians and writers. Sadly, other than that the only real extras offered are the original trailers. It’s a shame that there’s not more on offer on the disc, as I’d have loved to discover more about these films, and the way that First Nation people were represented in film at the time, but it is still an interesting an entertaining collection all the same.
Nightwing & Shadow of the Hawk is out on Blu-ray on 15th March from Eureka Entertainment.