Saturday, June 11, 2011

Vamp or Not? Nightwing

Often a film that is about vampire bats makes its way onto the filmography of the supernatural vampire. More often than not I tend to ignore these films as they tend to be ‘force of nature’ type movies but I was aware that Nightwing had a mysticism element that made it interesting, at the very least.

It was a 1979 movie directed by Arthur Hiller and based on a Martin Cruz Smith novel and is set in the New Mexico desert, around Native American reservations. Indeed the scenery in the film is both desolate and breath-taking as Mesa break the desert skyline.

The opening of the film has such imagery and ends with a silhouette of a man atop a Mesa – presumably Abner (George Clutsei). The story actually focuses on Deputy Youngman Duran (Nick Mancuso) a tribal cop, and beyond a nature-gone-bad-horror the film is also a look at the spiritual beliefs that are present in some tribes, which are dismissed as superstition by the arrogant Anglos both Christian (missionaries) and scientist, as well as the pressures upon tribes, in this case due to the fact that oil is found in the Maskai’s holiest canyon and tribal council chairman Chee (Stephen Macht, Monster Squad) is clean to exploit the resource.

drained horse
When the film opens, Duran is checking out mutilated horses at a farm. The horses are covered in bite marks, which have sheered through skin, muscle and bone, and have been drained of blood. There is a strong smell of ammonia. As the film progresses we quickly discover that vampire bats did it – these bats massing in a colony of thousands.

bleeding durin buriel
Duran was brought up by Abner – a priest of the tribe – who has decided to cast a spell freeing the Maskai’s God, Yelaw, so that the world might be destroyed. He sees it as the only way to save the tribe. He tells Duran that he is destined to die that night and, sure enough, Duran finds him the next day having been drained by the bats. He buries the priest in the traditional manner – and is shocked when he starts to bleed in the grave. Returning later, he discovers that the body is gone. He suspects that other priests have taken it but he is also told that Abner has raised himself out of his grave.

a crap bat
Also in the area is English scientist Philip Payne (David Warner, Spider-Man, The Hunger: Nunc Dimittis, I was a Teenage Vampire, From Beyond the Grave, Waxwork and Cast a Deadly Spell) who is a vampire bat expert trying to eradicate the colony before it is too late (as well as eating any warm-blooded creature in their path, the bats carry bubonic plague). His character could have done with more examination as he was a fascinating ball of contradictions. He openly mocks the Maskai’s beliefs as superstition, as one would expect from a scientist, but then also uses Christian biblical reference to himself – calling himself an exterminating angel – and animatedly calls the bats evil, adding a superstitious element to his own character.

A flock of Crap Bats
Of course, despite the mysticism elements, the bats are simply a force of nature – though the mysticism does help destroy the colony. There is no real vampiric element except that they are vampire bats – not enough, methinks, to be on a vampire genre filmography. There is, however, more examples of crap bat syndrome than you can shake a stick at. Not Vamp.

The IMDb page is here.

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