‘Shadow of the Hawk’ (1976): Goofy, enjoyable canuxploitation schlock

It’s part deux of the Double Whammy Shim-Shammy Indian Shaman Smackdown!

By Paul Mavis

Last week I foisted a Nightwing review on my gullible readers…and almost immediately made Facebook friends with its star, Nick “Stingray” Mancuso! (he promptly invited me to “The Telly Savalas Invitational Brothel Crawl” in Rome. I swiftly declined). But enough of this shameless name-dropping; let’s get to the bottom of that sweet Mill Creek Entertainment Blu-ray double-bill: the 1976 canuxploitation epic, Shadow of the Hawk, starring a relatively sober Jan-Michael Vincent, a sleepy Chief Dan George, poor, poor Marilyn Hassett, and some guy in a bear suit.

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Vancouver, British Columbia computer executive Mike (preoccupied Jan-Michael Vincent, looking as if he’s not quite sure he can score out in the middle of nowhere) has it made, baby. He’s got some fancy designer duds, a corner office, a sweet blue and white Toyota Land Cruiser (yaasss it’s got a winch), and a completely fine girlfriend, Faye (Pia Shandel), who doesn’t mind a bit of topless slap and tickle in the swimming pool (am I right or am I right that crochet string bikinis are the best?). So…when Mike, who’s half-Indian by the way, starts seeing this creepy white-masked Indian demon floating outside his high-rise, or almost drowning him in same-said swimming pool, he’s concerned, sure…but he ain’t ditching his super-fly set-up.

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Meanwhile, back in the forest, medicine man Old Man Hawk (a clearly exhausted Chief Dan George) is convinced that bad juju is being performed by the little fishing village’s witch, Dsonoqua (Marianne Jones)…who just happens to be a 200-year-old ghost. Cannibal Dsonoqua murdered her husband and kids (and one assumes, ate them, as well…since he calls her a cannibal?), and now she’s out for revenge (don’t ask, “why now?” or “from whom?” or any of that—it’s not important). So…Old Man Hawk gets a stick and a sack lunch, and walks 300 miles to Vancouver in one day.

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Why’s he hoofing it to the big city? Well, his grandson, “Little Hawk,” is—you guessed it—Mike, and Old Man Hawk wants to transfer his “power” to Mike, so Mike can defeat Dsonoqua and save the 7 people back in the village. But first, Hawk collapses in the street, the result of Dsonoqua’s voodoo bullsh*t (you know you’re watching a fiction movie because everyone on the street rushes over to help instead of stepping over him). In the hospital, Hawk meets Maureen (lovely Marilyn Hassett, also rushing headlong…into career suicide with crap like this), a 3rd-string newspaper reporter who kindly helps Hawk track down Mike.

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Mike, bummed that his goofy old grandfather showed up and put the kibosh on his groovy party (lots of poly thread combos), promptly tries to put Hawk on a bus…but Maureen guilts him into driving Old Man Hawk back to his village. And…since Maureen has nothing better to do than drive a round-trip total of 10 hours through the middle of the night into the forest with a handsome stranger whom she obviously plans on sleeping with at some point as long as he’s nice to her and by that I mean just buying her a cheap dinner gets him to home plate because most of the guys she meets are assholes who just want a physical relationship but who can’t truly commit to something real something meaningful because guys are essentially children first and dogs second which ironically Maureen doesn’t seem to notice is exactly the same futile pattern she’s setting up with Mike because lets face it he is gorgeous and rich and she’s well she’s easy I said it so what could it hurt to nail him…she agrees to drive along.

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She shouldn’t have…because once they leave the city, Maureen, Mike and Old Man Hawk face a series of terrifying encounters with the Indian boogeymen.

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Prior to this Mill Creek Entertainment Blu-ray showing up in my mailbox, I hadn’t thought about (let alone seen) Shadow of the Hawk since way back in the 70s. It was 1977, and the old man had just put in cable, along with premium channel Showtime (remember that weird-shaped controller box on top of your TV, with the little button you had to snap over?). Shadow of the Hawk was one of the titles that seemed to show up constantly on their schedule (along with A Bridge Too Far, Love and the Midnight Auto Supply, Audrey Rose, and Fellini’s Casanova). A couple of scenes stood out in my memory—that eerie white-masked demon, Jan-Michael’s Land Cruiser, the bear suit guy—with the overall remembrance vibe being a “cool” drive-in type actioner, with PG-rated thrills perfect for a pre-teen to watch back then.

RELATED | Read more 1970s film reviews

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Watching it today as a never-quite sober adult, Shadow of the Hawk is goofy as all get-out, but it’s still enjoyable schlock…which is saying something for a 1970s Canadian tax dodge production, most of which are dire in terms of keeping you awake, let alone entertained. The director, George McCowan, knew a thing or two about tax-shelter canuxploitation (his Star Wars rip-off, H. G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come, is hilarious junk), but he could also occasionally deliver unpretentious, diverting fare when need be (the solid made-for-TV rip-off of The Dirty Dozen, Carter’s Army, and the updated 1950s “nature run amok” rip-off, Frogs, from 1972).

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Here, in Shadow of the Hawk, McCowan doesn’t look like he has the time or money (or dare I suggest, inclination?) to do complicated set-ups: the bland visual schematic screams “TV” all the way (where McCowan did most of his work), while the actors—all credible—don’t get too many takes to elaborate on or improve their just-competent performances. Then again…considering the script all are given, from Norman Thaddeus Vane (the Herman’s Hermits A Hard Day’s Night rip-off, Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter) and Herbert Wright (the Millionaire rip-off, If I Had a Million, and lots of TV space crap like Star Trek: The Next Generation—keep those angry emails coming in!), there ain’t a whole hellava lot to work with here.

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Surprisingly, my expectations were fairly high at the beginning of Shadow of the Hawk, when the story adroitly pinged back and forth between Chief Dan George getting the whim-whams about the demon (there’s a nice, quiet, disconcerted feel in this part of the set-up), and Jan-Michael getting visited by same (the pool attack and the window floating bit still work). However, if you start to pay too close attention to the story itself, you begin to waver. Such as: why do the villagers and George allow the witch to stay in that cabin? There’s no ritual to drive her out? How about burning the place down for starters? And seriously: Chief Dan George doesn’t look like he can make it to the can, let alone leg it over 300 mountainous miles to the city.

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Once those increasingly silly inconsistencies mount up—along with dialogue that is strictly from hunger—you quit expecting Shadow of the Hawk to be any good; you just start enjoying its dopiness. It takes forever for Hawk to meet his grandson, and to get it in gear back to the village (just when the movie should really get going, but instead they stopped for something to eat, I died laughing). However, once they’re on the road, the action picks up at a regular pace, helping the viewer to forget groaners like Jan-Michael’s pick-up line to Hassett, “I’d like to spend some time with you…off the record,” (they’re doing it right in front of Gramps?) or her hilariously blah exclamation, “Mike! I’m scared!” during one of the vehicle assaults (the prize, though, goes to this delightfully addle-pated exchange between George and Hassett, discussing the demon: “What is it?” “She is close.” “Where?” “Everywhere.” My kid about had a stroke over that one…).

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Once Jan-Michael goes “native,” weirdo scenes and punchy action sequences—some of them pulled off with enough panache to make you think people actually did know what they were doing here—pick up Shadow of a Hawk’s pace considerably. There’s a cool car smash-up…via invisible Indian magic powder (ooooooh…) before a visibly freaked-out Jan-Michael almost gets pulled into the burning car; a mostly-amusing rickety rope bridge crossing (of course you can see the stunt doubles—that’s why it’s fun), and a wonderfully gonzo flashback sequence of the witch working her mojo, complete with snake charming, pipe-smoking, and old-timey Inuit throat singing with Indian chicks who look into it (sounds like Tuesday night at the Chi Omega house…).

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I know what you’re saying at this moment: what’s an Indian haunted horror ghost adventure story without a bear attack? Well, we got one here, and it’s to die for…considering the idiot editor left in those handful of shots where it’s clearly a guy in one of the most unconvincing bear suits I’ve ever seen (why weren’t those shots snipped out?). Much better is a death match between Jan-Michael and a demon among some huge, craggy boulders and cliffs (love those high-dive trampoline jumps).

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By the time Jan-Michael is painted up, powdered up (“…and you’re gonna be glad, ‘cause your good girl’s gonna go bad!”), and Chief Dan George tells him, “Here…eat this,” before giving him something fun to help see his spirit animal and ancestors (I did that once: my spirit animal is the cast of Blansky’s Beauties), you don’t care anymore that Jan-Michael’s final test involves a vicious wolf and zombies (wait…huh?). You just go with it. That’s how stupidly great Shadow of the Hawk is, folks.

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PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s film reviews here. Read Paul’s TV reviews at our sister website, Drunk TV.

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