Nightwing (1979)

FEBRUARY 16, 2009


I, like just about everyone with good sense, am a fan of David Warner. He’s sort of like Malcolm McDowell, but with a seemingly better agent (example: Warner - Titanic, McDowell - Tank Girl). But even he can’t keep a mediocre effort like Nightwing afloat, and the fact that he doesn’t even appear until a half hour in doesn’t help much.

Killer bats don’t appear for a while either. Most of the movie is about a good Indian (Nick Mancuso, best known to horror fans as the voice of “Billy” in the original Black Christmas) arguing with a not-really-bad Indian (Stephen Macht) about some oil in the nearby mountains. Honestly I didn’t really see the problem. Macht wants to sell the oil, and use the money to help the reservation. What an asshole! Maybe that is why the movie eventually drops him altogether; he doesn’t factor into the 3rd act at all. You would think he’d get his “just desserts” via some bats, like Tim Curry in Congo or countless of other “human villains’ in these killer animal movies, but nope. His last “appearance” in the film is as a voice on the radio.

Dropped plot points are the order of the day, actually. At one point, Mancuso tells his girlfriend not to follow him into the bat cave. She does, and as a result... well, nothing. She follows him silently for a while, but when Warner gets in trouble, she makes her presence known and Mancuso has no reaction whatsoever. Then why have the whole “stay put!” scene? We are also told about nine other bat murders, but we only see one body. If anything could have saved this movie, it would have been more bat action, so TALKING about bat action that we don’t even see the aftermath of is double excruciating.

The one real attack scene is pretty great though. Not that the bat effects are particularly impressive (they’re actually pretty laughable - bat footage projected behind the actors, with bats all staying in place as the people run), but it’s just so damn harsh. There are five people in the scene, two guys, two older broads, and the hero’s girlfriend. You know she’ll be OK, so the others are fair game. Yet the two women get it worse than the guys. And it’s not enough for them to be bat-bitten to death, one of them is flailing about and she falls into the campfire, immolating herself. The other though, holy shit! She makes it to the car, where her boyfriend refuses to open the door to let her in (she’s already pretty bitten up, in his defense). Then bats swarm around her, and she falls down... under the car. So the boyfriend drives away and runs her over. Then the car flips over and kills the two guys (including Norris from The Thing). Jesus Christ!

Speaking of Jesus, I guess I owe Patrick Lussier an apology for Dracula 2000. I’ve always mocked that movie’s “Judas was Dracula” concept, but nightwing tops it by having Warner claim that Jesus invented bats and, in turn, vampires. So it all sort of ties together - Judas betrayed Jesus, and since he knew he was going to die, Jesus decided to finally be a bit of a dick in his life, and had one of his homemade bats bite Judas. Then he felt bad and blessed him with immortality, thus creating Dracula.

Also, I don’t know if this is a Fearnet thing or not (other movies seemed a bit dark, but not to this extreme), but it was often so dark I couldn’t quite understand what was happening. When the car flips over it literally looks like two flashlights being thrown across a dark room. Luckily, most of the movie is set during the day, allowing me full comprehension for all of the scenes of people talking about bats and oil and reservations.

The ending is pretty astonishing. Mancuso figures out that his shaman uncle is responsible for the bats, so he sets some rocks on fire, thus lighting “the eternal fire” and presumably killing all of the bats. Then we get a pretty random caption simply stating that “In recent years, a nest of vampire bats was located in Texas”. That’s it. It’s almost like director Arthur Hiller suspected the audience would start to get up from their seats bitching about the plausibility of the whole thing, so he tossed that in there to shut them up. It’s like calling someone a “smartass” in the most passive aggressive manner possible.

And yes, the director of this movie about a swarm of bloodsucking creatures is the same Arthur Hiller who ran the Oscars throughout the 90s. Take from that what you will.

What say you?


  1. My buddy Mark is playing a new print of this at the Nuart this weekend as a midnight show. I wonder if it would be more fun to see with a midnight crowd, because I too watched this on television and found myself bored out of my wits.

  2. Did not know that. What's even stranger, another buddy of mine watched it yesterday (without me inspiring him to do so). What's with the sudden Nightwing resurgence?


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