Nightwing (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byArthur Hiller
Produced byMartin Ransohoff
Written byMartin Cruz Smith
Steve Shagan
Bud Shrake
StarringNick Mancuso
David Warner
Kathryn Harrold
Music byHenry Mancini
CinematographyCharles Rosher Jr.
Edited byJohn C. Howard
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • June 22, 1979 (1979-06-22)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States

Nightwing is a 1979 American horror film directed by Arthur Hiller. The screenplay by Martin Cruz Smith, Steve Shagan and Bud Shrake is based on the 1977 novel of the same title by Smith. Its tagline is "Day belongs to man, but night is theirs!" It was one of many Jaws imitators that were popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Orca (1977), Tentacles (1977), The Pack (1977), Piranha (1978), Alligator (1980) and Great White (1980). It also was Hiller's only horror film.


Youngman Duran, a deputy on a Hopi Indian reservation in New Mexico, begins to investigate a series of mysterious cattle mutilations. Abner Tasupi, an ancient and embittered medicine man who raised Youngman after his parents died, tells him he has cast a spell to end the world that very night, but Youngman assumes he simply is babbling while under the influence of datura root. The following morning, Youngman finds Abner's bloodless body on the floor of his shack, and nearby he discovers a dead shepherd and most of his flock.

Tribal Council chairman Walker Chee has discovered a stratum of oil shales in Maskai Canyon, the most sacred ground in the tribe's domain. Walker is dynamiting the caves in an effort to unleash oil, and is planning to sell the rights to process them to the tycoon Roger Piggott of Peabody Oil. Walker is desperate to keep word of the attacks from leaking to the media before he completes the deal.

Although common sense tells him otherwise, Youngman's faith in tribal beliefs and superstitions leads him to suspect the unexplained deaths may be connected to the spell Abner claimed he cast. British scientist Philip Payne is certain they are the work of vampire bats infected with bubonic plague. As they spread throughout the area, swarming through a missionary group's campsite and infecting everyone in their path, Philip and Youngman join forces with Anne Dillon, a young white medical student who runs a ramshackle clinic on the reservation and is in love with Youngman, to track the bats to their lair and destroy them.



The bats were the creation of special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi,[1] who previously had worked on King Kong and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The film was shot on location in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Cubero, New Mexico.

The soundtrack includes "Lucille" by Kenny Rogers and "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" by Crystal Gayle.

Critical reception[edit]

The movie failed critically and financially. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "not very horrifying" and thought "it looks as if it had been put together from a child's instruction book." He added, "The screenplay... is terrible and the special effects third-rate."[2]

Inexplicably, the Native American tribe in the film also kept being referred to as "Meskwaki" (which is actually the self-designation for the Algonquian-speaking Fox Indians in Oklahoma).

Time Out New York said the film "never really takes off" and added, "Hiller's direction simply plods to a corny and unsatisfactory ending after getting bogged down in subplots concerning whale-oil prospectors, Indian religious mumbo-jumbo, and inter-tribal rivalries."[3]

Channel 4 observed, "Quite why Hiller was selected to direct this suspense shocker is the most interesting thing about the project. A filmmaker who has made a speciality of showing reverence for platitudes has no jurisdiction over a piece of schlock nonsense about bat-killers in the Arizona desert."[4]


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