Shadow Of the Hawk, Now With More Nightwing (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Of course, ideally every movie we're interested in will have an loaded, 2-disc blu-ray special edition. But we don't live in that world. In our world, some pretty cool movies are only available on MOD (Made On Demand... official releases put out on invariably single-layer burned DVD-R discs). But hey, at least we have that! After all, plenty of stuff has never been released on any format at all. And so today's cool MOD is Shadow Of the Hawk, a highly entertaining made-for-television American Indian-themed horror film from 1976. It originally aired on ABC [or not, see the comments!], and is being bought to us now on disc by Sony and Columbia Pictures.

Update 7/9/15 - 10/27/18: We can forget all about MOD DVD-Rs now; it's out on blu!  And it even comes paired with the 70's vampire bat thriller Nightwing as a double-feature.  But can Mill Creek deliver the quality we've come to expect from the major and cult labels?
Shadow stars Jan Michael Vincent as a half-Indian; and if you can wrap your suspension of disbelief around that, you'll have no problem with the ghost and witch doctor stuff coming up. He lives in the city, but his medicine man grandfather (Chief Dan George) leaves his reservation to come find him, and just in time, because Vincent is getting violent visitations from an evil ghost in a white mask. Apparently an evil sorceress is using her powers to wipe out the two of them and all of their remaining people, and George is too weak to fight her on his own. So somehow a freelance reporter lady gets caught up in all of this, and the three of them set off on a road trip back to their village. Vincent has to learn to both accept and master his ancestral powers before the witch becomes too strong.
If you're looking for authentic lore that respects real Native American history and even teaches you a thing or two about another culture, forget it. This just feels like the writers wrote every spooky or wild Indian-themed supernatural concept they could come up with on note-cards, spilled them onto a table, and that was their script. Chief Dan George is the only true Native American involved in this film, but that's okay. This movie isn't trying to educate, just entertain, and that it does. There are genuinely effective ghost moments and campy magic attacks. There's a really impressive effect where a car crashes into an invisible wall, and a pretty fake looking snake that bursts into flames. Jan Michael Vincent wrestles a bear in this movie! Someone turns into a wolf (of course), a black ghost car chases our heroes (which tribe had those in their legends again?), and there's an evil snake dance ritual with lesbians making out... Yeah, this movie does have that made-for-TV feel at times, and that also restricts the amount of sex and blood they can play with, but if you can't find something to enjoy in this picture, you ain't lookin'!
Sony/ Columbia 2011 MOD DVD-R top; Mill Creek 2018 blu bottom.
The made-for-TV look is reduced considerably thanks to the fact that this film has been remastered in widescreen and looks great even on the DVD. It's a bit fuzzy and soft, but you're going to get that with the compressed MODs. Shadow was shot on 35mm, and for the first time ever (including, I'm sure, its original broadcast), looks the part. It's nice and anamorphic, with no interlacing issues or anything like that. The picture's in a much nicer state better than I ever expected to see it. They even slightly letterboxed it to 1.85, rather than leaving it at 1.78. Somebody involved cared. And the Dolby 2.0 audio is pretty clear and robust, too.

But things get even better this October with the new blu.  For those skeptical of Mill Creek, I'm happy to start out by reporting that this is a pressed, dual-layered disc and the audio is lossless (LPCM).  Of course, it's the same exact 1.85:1 master being used here, but that's just fine as it seems to be a genuinely high quality Sony scan, and it makes a genuine difference getting it in HD.  Instead of compression artifacts, we see real film grain.  And yes, small detail lost in the SD transfer are restored on the blu.  You might be worried about squeezing two films onto one disc, but again it's dual-layered, and there are no features (disappointing but expected) weighing it down.  So in the end, it's just a little over three hours on a 50 GB disc, which is better than plenty of single movie blus.
So like I said, and as is usually the case (though not always!) with MOD releases, there are no special features included with this film, not even a trailer.  And the same goes for the blu.  A trailer does exist - it was featured on one of Synapse's 42nd St. Forever compilations - but you don't get anything here.  At least Mill Creek's blu has a menu screen, which I guess is technically a step forward. And that's disappointing, because I'm sure there are some interesting stories to go along with this movie, from shooting all this wild stuff out on location to selling ABC on a Native American-themed horror film in the first place. And if you look Shadow up on the imdb, they list a second, uncredited director - I'd love to know what the deal is there.  Another label would've surely given us something, plus probably subtitles which are also MIA on both versions, but you can't argue with Mill Creek's pricing (less than half of what Sony wanted for their burned DVD!), especially since it comes with a whole, second feature.
Nightwing is a good choice for the double-bill, because both films have a lot in common.  It's a late 70s PG horror, which also used to only be available as a Sony DVD-R.  But more than that, it's another film about Native Americans dealing with mystical dark forces rooted loosely in their folklore.  And yes, we've got another white man in the lead role as the son of a powerful shaman, this time not even trying to play it off as "half Indian."  Nick Mancuso, star of the NBC series Stingray, is supposedly a full-blooded Native sheriff living on a reservation, which is also populated by a couple other white actors in the lead roles and authentic Native Americans in the older and supporting roles.  So they do kind of feel like sister movies.
And this one has a lot of strong points to draw you in.  Henry Mancini gives it a first class, stylish score, and the cast is rather interesting, with notables like David Warner and Modern Romance's Kathryn Harrold.  The acting is quite strong all around and they're delivering fairly respectable material, as the script is based on a novel by Martin Cruz Smith.  The locations and special effects are often quite good, though there are some very dated and even messy for the time composites thrown in the mix, too.  Really, the only major drawback is that it's so damn boring.  This is a movie I saw as a kid at least a dozen times on TV.  Because it's PG, they could play it in the afternoon.  And every time I'd revisit it, I'd think there have to be more bat attacks than I'd remembered.  But nope.  There's really just one midway through the film that really delivers the goods, and then the heroes deal with the bat horde at the end.  Otherwise, it's just an endless stream of exposition.
You've got two stories, basically, that wind up dovetailing at the end.  Mancuso's the reservation's sheriff who's shaman father, uncle or whatever has decided to end the world by casting one last spell.  And this spell is either just superstition or the cause of a rash of mysterious vampire bat attacks (most of which we don't see).  He battles with a big business owner on the reservation who wants to hush it all up so he can bring in some big business deals, a la the mayor in Jaws.  Then, on the other hand, you've got David Warner as a cross between Richard Dreyfuss' character in Jaws and Donald Pleasance's in Halloween.  He's devoted his life to hunting and killing vampire bats ("I kill them because they're the quintessence of evil!"), and followed them to this community.  So, basically, Warner represents the scientific explanation, and Mancuso represents the spiritual, with Harrold kinda floating in the middle.  Hope you find this talk fascinating, because that's what you get in lieu of bat action.  But then again, I have to say, the brief bat moments they have made a pretty big impression on me as a kid that were just as I remembered them with this recent rewatch as an adult.  The thrills are effective, there's just so damned few of them, and the movie isn't that short.
Mill Creek 2018 blu-ray.
Once again, it's another great scan, very filmic.  Grain is natural and crisp in HD, and it's a trip seeing this in widescreen (slightly matted to 1.85:1) after having grown up with terrible fullscreen television broadcasts.  The cinematography's a little on the flat side, but the landscapes definitely benefit from the proper composition.  Even the dark night skies look great.  No blocks, the colors look natural and authentic.  The audio is another lossless LPCM stereo track, and again there are no subtitles or features of any kind.  You just pick the movie you want to watch on the menu screen and off you go.
This is definitely the version to own for both films.  Of course, that's obvious given this is each film's debut in HD.  But this is more than just a bare minimum incremental upgrade, this is a surprisingly high quality release, to a downright surprising degree for a budget disc.  Certainly some "frills" would have been nice, like subtitles and special features.  We can only imagine what the Scream Factory treatment would've looked like here.  But if you're in it for "just the movie," this is a pleasant surprise.

2 comments:

  1. And so today's cool MOD is Shadow Of the Hawk, a highly entertaining made-for-television American Indian-themed horror film from 1976. It originally aired on ABC.....



    Ahh, no.
    Love your work here but this is a glaring goof.
    Saw this when it came out @ 17 yrs old and hated it....terrible movie.
    But the point is it was a theatrical release....ABC wuh?
    you are getting lazy my good man!

    No doubt you confused it with something else, although nothing fits the ill in my mind.
    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075199/reference

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    1. Interesting! I was definitely thinking of Shadow; I remember it showing (but not getting to watch it) when I was a little kid. That imdb link you posted even lists ABC as a distributor.

      But I guess all that only came after a theatrical run. And that makes more sense, because there's no way I would've remembered a TV broadcast from 1976 (I would've been like one year old haha). Thanks for the correction!

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