I once had to rescue a gothic concubine of mine from a tiny bat that had trapped itself on her porch roof. She called me, calmly declaring the furry little fellow a gift of love to me, though I knew she was secretly petrified to go near the thing, and only called me so I'd remove it, and maybe pull a few orgasms out of her afterwards. It took less than a minute to capture it in a critter carrier, one of the least tense minutes I can remember, to be honest, because bats aren't scary. And neither are the bats in tonight's review, a major release that I went to see in the theater back in 1979 after enjoying Martin Cruz Smith's novel beforehand. I never envisioned the book's characters being terrorized by puppets whose on-screen hokiness rivaled even Val Lewton's floppy bat-props of the forties either, in the book's defense.
"I track and kill vampire bats, exclusively. Sixty thousand in one clip. That's what I do, that's who I am. It is my raison d'etre, my joie de vivre. Just a bat killer...killing some bats. You still rolling?"
A huge colony of vampire bats has migrated to New Mexico, leaving a trail of dead livestock and ammonia piss in their wake. Two utterly fictitious tribes of American Indians, the Pahana and the Maski, are at odds over the discovery of oil in the mountain range that houses the sacred burial ground for both groups. Representing the Pahana, is Walker Chee (Stephen Macht), a progressive, slick young entrepreneur who wants to sell the land to Peabody Mining Co., using the revenue to drag the tribes into the twentieth century with updated medical care, education, etc. On the Maski side, is Duran (Nick Mancuso), a reservation lawman who's got the interests of his tribal elders in mind when he isn't skinny dipping in the hot springs with his paleface arm candy, Anne (Kathryn Harrold). His elderly pal and resident witch, Abner (George Clutesi), isn't concerned with the upcoming rain dance festival in the least, and only wants to end the world with an angry sand painting.
"Well, the forecast did call for ominous darkness with a chance of phony bats..."
Then there's Payne (David Warner), the British scientist who tracks and kills vampire bats from his state-of-the-art radar-equipped vehicle, when he isn't raving on at great dramatic lengths about killing them, their inherent evil, the bubonic / pneumonic plague they spread (both, I guess...what evil bastards, these bats), and the excess blood they piss out becoming ammonia. He'll later track them directly to their massive cave, only to fall through the entrance, tangled in a length of rope and dangling helplessly, after less than a minute of trap setting. Wonder if the other four professional vampire bat killers in the world are that bloody clumsy. Anne serves the colony a midnight snack in the form of some Christian missionaries( that include the late Charles "Norris" Hallahan of Carpenter's Thing fame) camped out on a small desert set, Duran chews jimson weed and trips his balls off, sending the whole mountain range up in a phony blaze in disposing of the equally artificial-looking desmodus rotundus, effectively ending any mining schemes (and the movie) in the process.
Is she laughing or screaming? It's hard to tell from here.
Hiller, who directed things like Love Story(1970) and Silver Streak(1976), had never taken the director's chair for a horror vehicle prior to this, and thankfully never tried to do so again. David Warner has always been a favorite of mine, and his hammy turn as Quint/Hooper here might be the best thing about this one, if it weren't for the lovely Kathryn Harrold, who memorably starred opposite of Ahhhnold in 1986's Raw Deal before embarking on a long career in television. Carlo Rambaldi, who'd provided unforgettable effects for classic genre fare like Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (1971), Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), Blood for Dracula (1974), and Possession (1981), clearly phoned it in here. You're allowed a few of those once you've worked with Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, I would think. On the scale, Nightwing scores a solo, scareless pile of guano that it no doubt is. Avoid.