It is a well known fact that if you want to make a short movie based on a Stephen King short story then you can pay him a buck and he’ll give you the rights to do so. This explains why there are so many titles under his name on IMDb. On the other hand if you want to make a feature out of one if his shorts then you’ll most likely have to pay through the nose to do so. So you better get it right or you won’t see anything back from your investment.
Lord knows what happened to The Night Flier. Maybe it was because it came at a time when people were less interested in King’s work (fools) or maybe it was just too niche for a wider audience. Maybe it was even because Americans can’t spell “flyer”. Whatever happened, The Night Flier flew under the radar, so to speak, and now is all but forgotten.
This is a terrible shame.
The always cantankerous Miguel Ferrer plays a cynical and sensation seeking reporter, well past his prime. He initially passes on a story about a supposed vampiric serial killer who preys on victims at out of the way airfields, but he soon realises this story could his way back to the big time. Well… big time in a National Enquirer kind of way. Pathetically snapping at his heels is a naive young journalist, played by Julie Entwisle, who he treats like shit on some one else’s shoe. The vampire, if he is indeed one, flies around in a small black plane with red stripes on it and maggot-ridden earth dropping out of the under carriage. This, of course, is madness for a vampire but reeks of King’s more throwaway inventiveness – mixing the old classic horror cliche of the vampire with the modern world – in this case personal flying transport. Ferrer, coincidently, also has his own plane, which is something I was unaware journalists had on a regular basis. However if you think that this will result in a flying chase scene between the blood sucking vampire and the blood sucking journalist then you are gravely mistaken. This is an opportunity missed, I’m guessing due to budgetary restraints rather than doing what is expected of the script set up, because other than that the story is pretty much what you’d expect.
That is the main problem with The Night Flier: There really isn’t much of a mystery to be solved. We find out very quickly that what Ferrer is chasing is almost certainly indeed a vampire and then there’s not much more to do other than have some kind of final conflict. Plus Ferrer is such a vile human being that you can guess things are not going to work out for him.
A forerunner to Jake Gyllenhall’s Nightcrawler, Ferrer likes nothing more than taking lurid photos of the dead. He’ll happily go so far as to move a corpse, and therefore evidence, into a more dramatic pose. At one point he kicks over a gravestone and smears his own blood on it to add grim interest to his photograph. Miguel Ferrer plays all this dreadful behaviour with glee. Whether he’s telling his boss to go fuck himself or describing to Entwisle’s her predecessor’s suicide, Ferrer delivers every line like he is having the time of his life. What a great actor.
So most of The Night Flier is predictable and this is probably because the short story, which there wasn’t much of in the first place, is stretched pretty thinly. However that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of fun to be had along the way. Ferrer’s interviews with various witness’s add a strong King feel to the piece. For example the local hairdresser describing one victim’s final visit – when she came into the salon acting like she was in love and wanting to look young again – is a perfect King moment: a small-town character in the grip of something unknown that will lead to her demise. Plus there is the final reveal of the vampire himself which, although bordering on the goofy, is still a treat in an good old fashioned prosthetic kind of way. There’s also a terrific final scene that decides to ignore all the straight forward film making that has gone before and become a weird homage to Lucio Fulci’s zombie classic The Beyond.
I’m not saying the The Night Flier is a forgotten classic. Far from it. The music is melodramatic nonsense which make the action on screen feel like a TV movie at times (not helped by this film being only available in 4:3 aspect ratio at the moment) and some of the scenery (especially the newspaper office) feel like obvious studio sets. However it does have a really good Twilight Zone vibe to it, Ferrer and Entwisle are both great in the roles and well, let’s face it, it has a vampire flying around in a black plane with red stripes. What’s not to like?