Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Night Flier (USA, 1997)

"Never believe what you publish, and never publish what you believe."
Richard Dees (Miguel Ferrer)

A rarity twofold: a Stephen King horror film without a cameo by the author, and a Stephen King horror film that doesn't completely suck.
OK, we admit it, not all Stephen King horror films suck — we rather liked Thinner (1996 / trailer), for example — but most of them seem to; as good as some of his horror books are — generally the shorter ones, the few in which he doesn't come across as if he is paid by word — they have, as a whole, translated poorly to the big screen. (We ain't even gonna bother talking about the little screen, where we've yet to see a project that didn't put us to sleep, no matter how well they were received by the masses.) Part of the problem is that so many things in his books that might work scary in the mind's eye look stupid on screen — a good example in The Night Flier being, assuming that the appearance was taken from the original description in the short story, the cloak the titular character wears, which comes straight from a Bela Lugosi film circa his Ed Wood days. Sorry, not scary: an anachronism that verges less on being iconic than simply being ludicrous — even after the film started to work, the cloak still got giggles from the group we saw the film with.
The Night Flier was the directorial début of one-spurt wonder Mark Pavia, who hasn't made a film since he helmed this one, which has his main squeeze Julie Entwistle in the lead female role. Why he's never done another flick is a bit of a mystery, for even if he is partial to that 80s' trope of spotlights in the fog to infer a scary location, he does a pretty good job at keeping the tension growing despite the occasional illogical inanities of the script, which he also wrote. True, he lets the boom mike slip into the image thrice too often, and it is odd that he didn't notice that "Miguel Ferrer" sports an obvious but disappearing Castro-Clone moustache the first time he lands his plane, but the film is never boring, something even practiced filmmakers cannot always claim when they film a King adaptation. (By the way, Julie Entwistle has also seemingly fallen off the face of the earth since this film: her only other film job was as a "student" in the really fun comedy In & Out [1997 / trailer].)
The tale of The Night Flier concerns Richard Dees (George Clooney's cousin Miguel Ferrer, of RoboCop [1987 / trailer], DeepStar Six [1989 / trailer], Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [1992 / trailer] and Hot Shots! Part Deux [1993 / trailer]), a hardened, whiskey-swilling and extremely unlikeable reporter for a sleazy tabloid called The National Enquirer — I mean, The Inside View — who's investigating a story on a serial killer he dubs the Night Flier, an under-the-radar serial killer that flies between small, remote airports in a Cessna Skymaster killing people. Dees is convinced that the murderer is just some nutcase that thinks he's a vampire, and Dee is out to get the story before his new rival at the rag does, a young woman named Katherine Barr that he dismissively nicknames "Jimmy" (as in "Jimmy Olsen"). Despite visions and warnings, Dee can't let go and finally confronts his quarry (Michael H. Moss) at Wilmington International Airport, where he is met with a scene of blood and carnage...
The Night Flier is not exactly an action-heavy film; in fact, it relies more on occasional fake scares and growing tension to keep the viewer interested. And that it does so, considering what a dislikeable asshole Dee is, is not a small feat. Unlike so many of King's tales, The Night Flier is not one of a burnout on the path to redemption; much more, it is about a sleazeball barrelling towards self-destruction. If the Night Flier himself feeds upon the blood of humans, Dee mirrors him in that he feeds upon the miseries of mankind, a point that comes to fore again and again as Dees tracks down his next headlining story. And blind to his own rot and the misery of others, Dees literally flies straight into death's arms with only a camera as his weapon; despite all the warnings — as visions and as blood-smeared messages — he never stops to reconsider his actions. The big show down, in addition to all the severed latex and cow's blood, literally has one of the all time best pissing scenes ever caught on film (though the one in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance [2012 / trailer] is sorta cool, too).
Needless to say, the film has some glaring plot holes (like the Night Flier's apparent ability to show up places at will to write bloody warnings on windows) and unresolved dangling threads, but for that the film does manage to overcome its selected flaws and keep the viewer intrigued. It might have been nice if the tale had left fewer questions unanswered, but as a straight and simple horror film, The Night Flier does its job without insulting the viewer's intelligence or patience. That, and some noticeable visual verve and gobs of red stuff and body parts helps make for a more than passable 93 minutes — something that is still a rarity for a horror film based on a Stephen King source.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree.Expected cheese and I got it but was also pleasantly surprised and entertained

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