Cattle and humans are dying in New Mexico at an alarming rate. Scientist Phillip Payne (David Warner) thinks that the local bat population has become infected with the plague. Deputy Youngman Duran (Nick Mancuso) thinks that the bats may be attacking because of a curse that was cast by a Hopi medicine man. Meanwhile, the corrupt tribal chief (Stephen Macht) just wants to sell the land to an evil land developer (Ben Piazza) and be done with it. Dr. Anne Dillion (Kathryn Harrold) tries to spread the word about the bats but the authorities don’t want the bad publicity. They’ve never seen Jaws. And, finally, a group of missionaries camp in the desert with no idea what’s about to swoop down on them.
I don’t know about you but I would never think of missing an Arthur Hiller horror movie! While many directors in the 70s proudly wore the auteur and rebel label, Arthur Hiller went the opposite route. He oversw conventional, Hollywood productions, the best known of which was Love Story. Arthur Hiller was so mainstream that he eventually served as President of the Academy. This is all to say that Arthur Hiller directed some good films and he directed some bad films but, with his total lack of any sort of personal vision, he was absolutely the wrong director to do a horror movie. Hiller’s direction is flat. He’s not mean-spirited enough to enjoy the bat attacks and instead, he focuses on the debate over whether white developers should be buying native land, as if the people watching this movie are going to be watching for the human drama. By the end of the film, the bats have almost been abandoned and the movie turns into an action film, with a group of survivors fighting off Stephen Macht’s security force.
The most interesting thing about Nightwing is catching Strother Martin, the veteran western actor who memorably talked about a failure to communicate in Cool Hand Luke, as an ex-missionary. Otherwise, the film pales in comparison to The Birds and Wolfen, the two films which it must resembles in theme and action.