Nightwing ★★★

David Warner: "I kill them because they're evil. There's a mutual grace and violence in all forms of nature; and each specie of life gives something in return for its own existence. All but one. The freak. The vampire bat alone is that specie. Have you ever seen one of their caves?"
Nick Mancuso: "No."
David Warner: "I killed over 60,000 of them last year in Mexico. You really understand the presence of evil when you go into their caves. The smell of ammonia alone is enough to kill you. The floor of the cave is a foul syrup of digested blood. And the bats: up high, hanging upside down, rustling, fighting, mating, sending constant messages, waiting for the light to fade, hungry for blood, coaxing the big females to wake up and flex their nightwings to lead the colony out across the land, homing in on any living thing; cattle, sheep, dogs, children, anything with warm blood. And they feast, drinking the blood and pissing ammonia. I kill them because they're the quintessence of evil. To me, nothing else exists. The destruction of vampire bats is what i live for." - reason enough to see this movie and like it.

A pretty good killer bat flick? No, probably the pretty good killer bat flick. Solitary. I seem to recall Bela Lugosi doing one or two of them in the '30s, and Lou Diamond Phillips went at it in the '90s, but those were garbage. "Nightwing" has literary credentials and a legitimate journeyman director in Arthur Hiller; it would get invited to a classy dinner. Riding the coattails of the '70s killer animal craze sure, but composed with rugged professionalism that elevates it above schlock.

Don't worry there are still bat attacks. Battacks. No, bat attacks it is. One big scene in the middle where they fuck up a group of campers and then a climactic frenzy later when the heroes descend into their cave, plus some smaller incidents in-between. The fx aren't perfect; one time when they swarm, the background looks like a screen saver of evenly arranged bats flapping in place. But Hiller does capture the hysteria of hordes of freaky animals invading your personal space, swooping into your face, biting at you, their grotesque visages coming into focus only once they've come too close for you to escape them. Like an ickier "The Birds". An arid airborne "Jaws". They make an impression in what little screen time they get.

And the other parts where they're not around, aka the story itself set on a reservation in New Mexico, are suffused with that mystical look and quiet lurking menace of western horror, as well as Native American folklore superstition (of the Hopi tribe occupying the Maskai Canyon), and a few key cast members that sell the show: deputy Nick Mancuso investigating mysterious deaths, oddly compelling Stephen Macht as the government official ignoring the problem (there's always a Murray Hamilton), and recently deceased hall-of-famer David Warner bringing that Peter Cushing-as-Van-Helsing type comforting commitment to hunting the supernatural. David Warner's here everybody, no need to panic. He's obsessed with killing bats and prepared to do so. We're in good hands. You need someone like that in these movies.

It's a tried-and-true set-up that hits most of the right beats. Bit like "Tremor" aesthetically only not as knee-slapping. I like when something that would ordinarily be treated as a B-movie gets produced like a self-respecting film instead. There are two common poster one-sheets for it, the one you see here and another showing a woman running away from bats overhead, and both are fantastic. I didn't even notice for a while that there's a bat at the bottom of this one on Letterboxd. It looks like two desert hills with maybe a pair of human characters walking between them seen from a distance, which would be a fitting depiction of the movie's vibe, but it's actually a view of the back of a bat with wings spread open like it's conducting the night sky to its whims, ready to rise up and seize us all in its Bubonic Plague-spreading embrace. 5 stars.

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