This Columbia Pictures release that borrows a certain blueprint or two tosses a few more scare tactics at movie goers as the 70’s came to a close. It has a reputable list of names attached to it starting with the director, Arthur Hiller. Graduating from 60’s television shows, Hiller already had some box office success with films like Tobruk, Love Story and Silver Streak. Add in a score from Henry Mancini and a cast that are well suited to their assigned roles and voila, you’ve got a hybrid Jaws/Birds/Vampire thriller.
Filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the biggest thing going for this thriller that relies heavily on Native American mysticism is the location work. The lands and rock formations caught on camera are simply gorgeous. The opening credits that run about two minutes are strong enough alone to qualify as a tourism commercial for the area.
But tourism isn’t what this thriller is all about. It’s about the deadly vampire bat and how Nick Mancuso, Kathryn Harrold and David Warner are going to prevent the thousands of night feeders from spreading plague throughout the territory. Nick is portraying a Native American tribal ranger in the tradition of a Chief Brody called in to investigate the death of a rancher’s horse. It’s been bled dry and cut to ribbons as if tiny razors had slashed it over it’s entire body. It’s at this point we’re also to meet Stephen Macht. He’s taken our money is more important than safety political role on the reservation. He’s our Mayor Larry Vaughn of the script.
Mysticism and magic reign when an elderly Shaman warns Mancuso and foretells of an evil entity coming to the territory. He’s preparing for his own death and when Mancuso finds him cut to ribbons like the horse the next day, he’s beginning to wonder if the old man was right. Life isn’t entirely dull for Nick as he has a love interest portrayed by Miss Harrold. She’s the nurse who tends to the sick and needy on the reservation but isn’t adverse to taking some time out with her man for some hot springs bathing and who knows what.
Following a herd of sheep being scattered in the night by an unseen force and another victim left bloodied we are introduced to “The Exterminating Angel.” It’s none other than the stern and serious David Warner enacting a cross between Matt Hooper and Captain Quint for the next hour and twenty minutes. I say this because not only is he educated and well informed on the migration habits and general science of the vampire bat but like Quint, he’s a hunter looking to rid the area of a dangerous predator. And that’s no problem at all provided he keep the details to himself where the greedy Macht is concerned who’s looking to sell off sacred lands that harbor oil deposits. We don’t want anything ruining our big city business deal.
Who better than Strother Martin to turn up in a elongated cameo as the reservation’s cantankerous general store owner. He came to the tribe years ago as a missionary but ended up marrying into it with a parcel of daughters. One he keeps throwing at Mancuso as a prospective bride. Martin is in the movie for about 5 or so minutes but steals every bit of film footage he’s featured in. He’s a welcome sight here right at home having turned up in countless westerns on both TV and movies. Sadly his welcome face and tinny voice be gone the following year when he passed away at 61 years of age.
While Warner is worried that the bats will bring bubonic plague with them, it’s time for the skin crawling creatures to make their appearance in a Birds like fashion. When a quartet of tourists led by Harrold are camping in the countryside they are descended upon by thousands of vampire bats. Some animated and some phony but either way it’s an effective scene when these people panic and attempt to get back into the van that brought them to the campsite. Thankfully Nick’s gal was inside the van when disaster struck. Not so lucky was Charles Hallahan, a man I will always remember for his role in John Carpenter’s The Thing and what happens to his head following his transformation.
Didn’t Matt Hooper bring an anti-shark cage along on the Orca? Well David Warner is no beginner and he’s got quite the set up going with one of his own that acts as an electrified mosquito net around his truck after teaming with Nick and Kathryn to put this problem to an end. There’s more blood to come and comparisons to that shark movie to be made but I’ll let you discover them for yourself.
Country music fan that I am I couldn’t help but notice that Kenny Rogers and Crystal Gayle made the soundtrack and why not, we’re out west driving around in a pick up truck. Personally I’d have thrown a Waylon and Willie track on here as well. This was a first time viewing for me and I’ve always been led to believe this was a disaster. I didn’t see it that way though I can’t say I liked the ending all that much. In the end it was just nice to see it surface on blu ray via Mill Creek on a double bill with Shadow of The Hawk. Another title I’ve yet to see.
While my not seeing this previously might come as a surprise to some who stop in here regularly, the fact that I have the original one sheet tucked away probably doesn’t.