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  Shadow of the Hawk Jan-Michael Vincent Goes Native
Year: 1976
Director: George McCowan
Stars: Jan-Michael Vincent, Marilyn Hassett, Chief Dan George, Pia Shandel, Marianne Jones, Jacques Hubert, Cindi Griffith, Anne Hagan, Murray Lowry
Genre: Horror, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: On this Canadian reservation, the resident medicine man Old Man Hawk (Chief Dan George) is beleaguered by the spirit of a witch, Dsonoqua (Marianne Jones), who is blighting the community. He knows there is one thing he must do to lift this curse, and that is fetch his grandson Mike (Jan-Michael Vincent) from the big city where he has been working successfully in business, though recently suffered strange visions of a masked man, both in his swimming pool and outside his bedroom window, scratching at the pane to get in. Meanwhile, Hawk is on the streets when the witch uses her powers to make him collapse, and he catches the attention of journalist Maureen (Marilyn Hassett) who senses a story here...

If you can believe Vincent as a Native American - or Native Canadian, as George was - then you would be some way to accepting this mystical journey into the imagery of the indigenous culture, at least as far as the film saw it. To call Shadow of the Hawk cheesy was beside the point, as it was a part of the nineteen-seventies movement to get back in touch with spiritual and environmental matters, yet only as long as it enhanced your own consciousness, so if you were the type of person who hung up a dreamcatcher in your bedroom, listened to Buffy Sainte Marie or visited a sweat lodge of a weekend, you were exactly the sort of cultural tourist movies such as this were aimed at, despite it being promoted as a horror movie.

A dubious distinction, as while there were scenes that were obviously intended to be eerie or alarming, it was not so much of a shocker as, say, other similarly themed items like The Manitou, Prophecy or Nightwing, as thanks to a PSA on American television and the harrowing events surrounding the Siege at Wounded Knee (not exactly two things on the same level, granted) the Native community were higher profile in the seventies than they had been in decades (playing the faceless bad guy hordes in Westerns did not really count). The movies reflected this, kicking off the era with the likes of Little Big Man and Soldier Blue, but by this point in 1976 there was a lot of well-meaning kitsch around, and Shadow of the Hawk slotted comfortably into that category, revelling in the scenery but reverent towards the culture it did not seem to have a grasp on.

However, if you did not mind how daft this became in its po-faced manner, it was quite a stimulating watch for seventies film addicts. Certainly George, sticking to his demands that as an actor he never play a stereotyped evildoing savage, brought his customary dignity to what would have been pretty silly with many a different actor in the part, and the nonsense they got him to do, such as zapping a snake with magic powers, held a diverting nuttiness that was equal to The Manitou, anyway. Vincent was not perhaps as engaged as he should have been (perhaps an effect of his increasing substance abuse), and Hassett was offered the frightened woman role a few times too often, but there was a bear attack, a wolf attack and a haunted car attack, as well as a man dressed as a hawk but in a Village People way attack. It did have an odd kind of integrity to its faith to the trappings of the indigenous experience, but never quite believable as understanding what it was toying with, and behind the scenes problems did leave it looking like the product of two TV directors (one was fired), which it was. Music by Robert McMullin.

[This is released as a Nightwing-Shadow of the Hawk double bill by Eureka with these special features to enjoy:

O-card Slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling | English SDH subtitles | Nightwing - Brand new audio commentary by film historians Lee Gambin and Amanda Reyes | Shadow of the Hawk - Brand new audio commentary with film writer Mike McPadden and Ben Reiser | Oil and the (Geo)Politics of Blood - Audio essay by John Edgar Browning | Trailers | PLUS: A Limited-Edition Collector's Booklet featuring essays by film historian Lee Gambin and film scholar and author Craig Ian Mann (First Print Run of 2000 Copies Only).]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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