So once again we have survived.

The Night Flier

tn_nightflierTHE NIGHT FLIER has a premise that could only really come from a Stephen King short story: a vampire (Michael H. Moss, ROBOCOP 3) – old school, with a Dracula cape and everything – pilots a small plane, and goes around to different small airports drinking people’s blood.

The protagonist is Richard Dees (Miguel Ferrer, ROBOCOP) the star asshole at a shitty tabloid that seems to be a cross between The Weekly World News, TMZ and A Current Affair with a more sick and bloodthirsty edge, as well as an apparent belief in the tall tales they’re selling. He’s introduced checking the new issue, seeing it doesn’t have the photo he wanted, and yelling “WHERE’S MY GOD DAMN DEAD BABY!?” So he’s a purist about his scumbaggery.

He seems to think he has some kind of artistic integrity, even though he’s a soul-less purveyor of degrading filth. He wants to do a story about a famous country singer dying of AIDS (not a sympathetic one, it sounds like), but his editor Merton Morrison (Dan Monahan, Pee Wee from the PORKY’S trilogy) tries to get him on this vampire story. He’s perfect for it because he has his own plane and knows how to fly it – the John Travolta or Harrison Ford of the grocery store impulse buy set. But he says vampire stories are a dime a dozen and stubbornly refuses until a newbie reporter, Katherine Blair (Julie Entwistle, who I’m very surprised isn’t in more things), gets the ball rolling. He gets jealous, they give him the assignment and the poor woman is totally screwed over.

mp_nightflierThis type of kind-of-relevant, kind-of-dated media critique was not unique in the ’90s, and it’s easy to picture an asshole reporter character like this in a supporting role, or as the lead in a horror anthology story who starts to learn his lesson at the end but then gets cruelly punished. To have him as the lead in a feature film, though, and to never seem to come close to seeing the light, is unusual enough to make the story pretty compelling.

The naive, hard-working Katherine (a character not from the short story I believe) seems like she would normally be the lead, who would either overcome the assholes at the paper or almost do so and then ironically turn into one of them at the end. Instead we just come back to her occasionally, feel bad for her getting treated poorly, and hope she beats Dees to this story in her subplot. It seems perfectly natural when she finally proves herself useful to Dees and they pool their resources in a fact-finding montage. So (SPOILER) it’s pretty funny when in the next scene the dick locks her up in a closet and ditches her. Don’t worry, he’s gonna get what he has coming.

Although the monsters and things in this tabloid are very different from today’s bottom-feeding celebrity harassment trash, there are definite parallels to NIGHTCRAWLER. There’s even a scene where he comes across a car accident and poses one of the bodies for his photo. Of course, in this version we can piece together that the crash wasn’t as random as it seemed, it was caused by the vampire.

Hats off to this vampire for not fitting the Anne Rice mold or the FROM DUSK TILL DAWN/JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES backlash of the era. He uses many of the tropes from Dracula, including sleeping in dirt (inside his plane!) and hypnotizing his victims. An old lady happily welcomes him as he tears up her husband. We later learn that she knew in advance that he was coming and got her hair done up special and stuff. He also has some kind of telekinetic power like Dracula. We learn this because Dees stages a photo of a victim’s tombstone by smearing some of his blood on it. When he does he and the vampire seem to see each other, like in JAWS: THE REVENGE when she steps in the water and the shark senses her. Nice move, dumbass.

Dracula also can turn into wolves and moths and stuff, which helps explain the creepy ass scene where Dees is investigating a murder site and suddenly sees a vicious dog on the roof of the place, watching him! It doesn’t even have to be the vampire, or run after him, to be scary as shit. Just seeing it up there would freak me out.

One of the vampire’s supernatural qualities is that people have a hard time remembering him, or even seeing his face. I really like how long and how many different ways the movie obscures his face. I figured it was to hide the disappointment of him being some soap opera cheeseball, but then when they finally do show him he has a cool animatronic monster face and a different manner of sucking blood than expected. His jaws are pretty serious, and he also has claws. This makes for some pretty vicious gore by KNB FX. He’s slashing faces and ripping off heads and smearing blood around.

It’s produced by Richard Rubinstein, who did the George Romero movies, and somehow it makes sense, it fits into that world of the lesser-but-still-good Romero stuff like MONKEY SHINES and what not.

First time director Mark Pavia has some nice touches. I like how he stages it when reporter and subject finally come (sort of) face to face. It happens in a public restroom after Dees pukes into the sink and is looking at himself in the mirror. The vampire has no reflection, so he just sees an invisible man peeing blood into the urinal! Then each of the mirrors crack as the vampire walks past them.

He comes up behind Dees and talks to him. We keep cutting between his non-reflection in the mirror…

still_nightflier2

…and his Dracula collar behind Dees.

still_nightflier

After the whole confrontation the vampire leaves and Dees runs after him yelling that he needs to see his face. See, he could’ve just let him go and lived his life, but curiosity killed the cat, some motherfuckers always tryin to ice skate uphill, etc. He couldn’t leave well enough alone.

By the way, the vampire uses the pseudonym (we assume) Dwight Renfield. It’s funny to see Dees running after him yelling “Dwight! Dwight!” I would’ve felt stupid calling a monster “Dwight,” but I guess you have to call him something. Maybe he could’ve said “Hey! Hey buddy, come back!” Or maybe, “Hey mister!”

Anyway, I only wish I liked Dwight’s voice a little better. He has a good Candyman type of otherworldly presence. A real deep scary voice would’ve brought it all the way there.

The movie does go a little Clive Barker in the climax in the way Mr. Dwight forces Dees to take a look into Hell or something. Pavia switches to a beautiful black and white reminiscent of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

still_nightflier3

I think I tried to watch this years ago and thought it was like a shitty cable movie. I guess I’ve changed since then, because this time it really clicked. The viewing was inspired by a really good interview with Pavia on the Shockwaves podcast. He tells the story of how he got to make THE NIGHT FLIER but then didn’t make another movie until this year’s FENDER BENDER.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, August 1st, 2016 at 11:25 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

61 Responses to “The Night Flier”

  1. Okay, this is getting weird. Just this morning I randomly thought about this movie and this is not the first time that a movie first pops up in my head and then within a short amount of time, a review of it shows up on here. In all seriousness, this is just one of the many occasions that make me believe that I might have some mild psychic powers and that shit is freaking me out.

    About this movie: Never saw it, but everybody I know who did, told me that it’s no masterpiece, but much better than it’s reputation.

  2. Julie Entwistle is married to Pavia, so maybe she wasn’t really interested in acting and just did this role as a spousal favor?

    I do miss the wacky high-concept horror lit that came out of the 80s (I know the movie was the 90s but I believe the story was the 80s). This, many of King’s other stories from the time, early works by Robert R. McCammon and Dan Simmons… they usually have sort of a “Classic Horror Story with a Goofy Addition” concept (and often with vampires). So many of them sound ridiculously stupid (and some are) but end up playing out as much better than one would expect. Every once in a while, you still see some of that but few capture the strange combo of fun and scary that came out of that period.

  3. Nice review, Vern! I just worked with Mark on FENDER BENDER, which has some parallels to this cable mini-classic in the “riffing on our expectations to various degrees” arena. Hope you dig it when it hits home vid in October. Cheers!

  4. Some unwanted trivia:
    The pee scene was the best part in King’s short story.
    The pseudonym Dwight Renfield, as explained in the same text, comes from the Bram Stoker’s character Renfield (the lunatic who refers to Dracula as “master!) and Dwight Frye, who played him in the 1931 film.
    The character Richard Dees also appears in The Dead Zone.

  5. Oh cool, I did not know that about The Dead Zone.

  6. If my last name was Dees there’s absolutely zero chance that I wouldn’t insist people call me Dees Nuts. I simply wouldn’t have a choice in the matter.

    It’s been a while (Christ, almost 20 years) but I remember this one being solid. It’s always cool to see a hard-working character actor like Ferrer get a leading role like this, especially one that doesn’t sand off the abrasive edges that made him so great in smaller roles. The movie is both high-concept and low-stakes, a good combo for me. It’s a fun, nasty little classic morality tale stuck in the doldrums of mid-to-late 90s horror. I remember being pretty hard up for a decent horror flick at the time and this one came through for me. I should give it a re-watch.

  7. Grimgrinningchris

    August 2nd, 2016 at 11:47 am

    And I thought Richard Dees was only good for the weekly Top 40 and for Disco Duck. Oh, wait…

  8. No matter what the film, anytime I see Miguel Ferrer I immediately go to that one moment in Hot Shots Pt Deux when he looks at the camera and proudly declares, “War… it’s FANtastic!”

  9. The only thing I remember from the short story is the pissing blood.

    I love King’s short story collections but it’s definitely a matter of most of them being “well that was fun” with only a handful of stories that really stand out in your memory (most notably probably being THE JAUNT)

    King actually came out with a new short story collection last year that is worthwhile.

  10. Yeah, I like his short story collections too. SURVIVOR TYPE is one of my favourites from SKELETON CREW. THE JAUNT is also good, but not as gleefully morbid. I am also pretty sure thet the “Itchy . Tasty” diary entry from one of the RESIDENT EVIL games might be inspired by that short story as it is presented in diary form and also gets shit crazy as the guy gets higher and higher on the heroine and as he loses body parts.

  11. Yup, SURVIVOR TYPE is a classic (“Lady fingers! They taste like lady fingers!”)

    I’m also genuinely surprised that THE REACH never got an adaption since it’s a heartwarming story that would have fit right in with the era of “non-scary Stephen King movies” like THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE and HEARTS IN ATLANTIS but it’s possible there just isn’t enough story to adapt to feature length.

  12. Great cast doing good work. I remember it as a fine little movie with some nice visual flourishes. I’ll keep an eye out for FENDER BENDER. I never really wondered what the director was up to these days but it sucks that it took him this long to get another movie made.

  13. THE MANGLER might be the silliest short story I´ve read of him. Never saw the movie, but the story gave me a few chuckles. Especially as I have worked inside an industrial laundromat and the mangler there never required virgin blood to operate.

  14. The only thing by King I’ve ever read was the NIGHT SHIFT collection, which had some seriously cool stories, that I would love to see done as movies (or, well…better movies than they already are). Including THE BOOGEYMAN, GREY MATTER, GRAVEYARD SHIFT and I AM THE DOORWAY.

  15. I´d like to see them made as part of anthlogy show, rather than full length features. The short film format seem better suited. I believe some of Kings stories was made into episodes of the 80´s TWILIGHT ZONE, but I am not sure.

    I have been binge reading King this summer. MISERY, PET SEMETARY, THE SHINING, 11/22/63, SKELETON CREW, DIFFERENT SEASONS and I am currently reading THE STAND and have SALEMS LOT on stand by.

    The first three are stunning pieces in my opinion. 11/22/63 is a bit of a mixed bag with it being overlong and a bit predictable. SKELETON CREW is a good short story collection mixing it up with different genres. DIFFERENT SEASONS has APT PUPIL which in and of itself is reason to read it.

  16. I also started THE GUNSLINGER, but it was pretty dull and I have no interest in investing time reading the entire eight novels before it picks up.

  17. Yeah, I don’t think either that most of his short stories are suited for full length feature film treatment. Except GRAVEYARD SHIFT (Think THE DESCENT with mutated rats.) and I AM THE DOORWAY (If Cronenberg would ever decide to return to body horror, this would be a good story for him.).

  18. I just Caspered this movie and I really enjoyed it. Okay, the ending comes a little sudden and leaves you with a “Wait, that’s it?” feeling, but even while being spoiled by your review, the finale is damn effective. (And the Night Flier make up looks much better in the movie, than on the pictures I’ve seen of it.)

    It would make a good double feature with LORD OF ILLUSIONS, as far as “detective (or reporter) mysteries that turn supernatural” go.

  19. I rematched it the other day, and I still like it. There’s an endearing theatricality to the dialogue and acting that helps sell the EC Comics vibe of the story.

    One cool thing I noticed this time is that most of the headlines on the newspaper covers that are on the wall in the tabloid office are describing the plots of other Stephen King stories. I noticed THE LAWNMOWER MAN, IT, THINNER, NEEDFUL THINGS, and THE DEAD ZONE. Kind of a neat way to imply the shared universe of a lot of King’s work.

  20. Was it King who wrote a short story about a PI who was a bear who liked to wear Hawaiian shirts? Or was that Koontz? Or was that an acid trip I don’t remember taking?

  21. Speaking of THE LAWNMOWER MAN, has anyone ever seen LAWNMOWER MAN 2?

  22. I have. A long time ago. It stars Patrick Bergin and Ely Pouget (Death Machine).

  23. So have I and for a change, this is a movie that REALLY is as bad, as everybody says it is.

  24. Shoot: I saw Lawnmower Man 2 in theaters! With the original subtitle!

  25. That was an actual theatrical release? Huh, I thought it went DTV.

  26. Like MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION it feels like a cheap-y DTV sequel but like MK2 New Line Cinema looked at it and said, ‘Yeah this good enough to be released in theaters and played in 35MM. It’d be a waist to send it direct to pan and scan VHS and Laserdisc.’ It was in theaters with the subtitle BEYOND CYBERSPACE but for whatever reason they changed the subtitle to JOB’S WAR for video. I remember it not being very good but the usually dependable Matt Frewer gives a fun camp performance (I have not seen it since theaters).

  27. I, too, saw it in theaters. My dad and I are sci-fi junkies, so if there’s any hint of Blade Runner-esque dystopian future cityscapes in the trailer, we were pretty much guaranteed to be there. (Same principle goes for a spaceship or alien planet, as I remember going to the same theater a week later to see Screamers, which was far better for being made on roughly the same budget).

    Haven’t seen it since, but I remember it being pretty awful with nothing to do with the original, and even then I started to realize that they were definitely re-using the same hallway for different scenes.

    This was also at the time of those amazing mid-90’s “Cyber-thrillers” that preached how scary computers and the upcoming internet era was going to be. Johnny Mnemonic, Virtuosity, The Net, Disclosure, et al. (All seen by me in theaters). Pre-Matrix cinematic attempts to approximate William Gibson or Snow Crash.

  28. I like the first LAWN MOWER MAN. or at least remember I liked it. I am not sure what I would say now. But the opening with the chimpanzee with RoboCop visor getting gunned down was a great way of opening a film.

  29. Haha yep that was my dad as well, anything sci-fi must be seen in theaters (in the ’90s). All those you listed I also saw in theaters. Hope you have a better relationship with your dad than I do mine!

    Those 90’s “cyber-thrillers” were not all that great at the time (or now) but at least they are time capsules to different age. Now you got me in the mood to gear up some old FMV PC games like THE RIPPER so I can further fear the future of this new dangerous “Inter-Net” thing on the horizon!

  30. To Quote Christopher Walken from RIPPER ” This guy is Un-fuckin-Believable”

  31. Geoffrey, I’m gonna boot up my copy of Brainscan!

  32. I remember Lawnmower Man. Between that and Body Parts, Jeff Fahey had a nice little moment there. I actually read the Stephen King Lawnmower Man short story at one point, and although I don’t remember the plot, I’m 98% certain it had nothing to do with computers and was just a guy with a lawnmower killing people. This was one of those deals where you’re basically buying the right to slap Stephen King’s name on something.

    I also saw Lawnmower Man 2 at one point, with or old friend Matt Frewer. I think the irony here is that Jeff Fahey’s character in par 1 was way more Max Headroom-y than Max Headroom’s character in part 2!

  33. Jeff Fahey had a real cool comeback on LOST. Don’t think it stuck though.

  34. Well, since LOST I saw Fahey show up as guest star in several pretty popular TV shows, so I think he is doing fine. (Fingers crossed that someone will actually cast him as a lead in one, though.)

  35. Yeah, Jeff Fahey is the bomb. I think the can be a solid leading man type if given the chance, but he’s also a great sleazeball con man-type.

  36. He kind of got to do both in BODY PARTS. Underrated movie.

  37. Indeed. Yeah, that was a fun one.

  38. Just read THE LAWN MOWER MAN short story. And rewatched the film. The short story is really shitty and I am surprised that the filmmakers got so much mileage of the material as they got. In the movie a guy gets chased around the house with a lawnmower. That is the short story. The only weird part of Kings material is the lawn mower man that eats the grass whenever he mow a lawn.

    The religious allusions in the movie are the filmmakers own idea. Rewatching it, I think thematically it could have been a way more interesting movie if it hadn´t been so goddamn hokey and goofy and focused less on trying to be a “Stephen King”- movie. I.e the bullied guy gets empowered and fights back the typical small town oppressive forces (which means wifebeaters and religious zealots). It has been a while since I watched CARRIE but there are some of those elements in there. The introvert outcast raised by a stern oppressive authorative figure.

    But you cannot argue against the adorably dated VR graphics and the crazy looking CG Jeff Fahey.

  39. I saw an interview with Stephen King once, and the inevitable question of what he thinks of movies based on his books.

    He went through the useual suspects that he likes/doesn’t like…then ended on LAWNMOWER MAN. He said something along the lines of “That was interesting.”

  40. Shoot, it’s actually implied that the Lawnmower Man from the short story is some kind of demon. But yeah, I have to admire the balls of the movie producers, who bought the rights, then did a completely different story, yet added a scene where someone gets murdered by a “living” lawnmower too, just to justify the “Based on a short story by Stephen King” tag.

  41. The short story is fine, it’s not “really shitty”, it’s just a simple slice of weirdness.

    But the movie was literally an entirely different script titled “Cyber God” I think that they slapped the Stephen King name on just to help it sell better, the idea of Stephen King writing stories about virtual reality and shit is laughable.

  42. I believe LAWNMOWER MAN was actually based on a pre-existing script by VR Enthusiast Brett Leonard (will we have to call him a prophet now?), and they combined it (sort of?) with King’s story when they got the rights. Famously King found it so far removed from his story that he took legal action to have his name removed, of course idiots have propagated the myth of “ha ha, it’s so bad that King removed his name from this, and not [INSERT FAMOUS BAD KING FILM]”.

    I am weirdly but not ironically fascinated with THE LAWNMOWER MAN and have been for half my life. I agree BEYOND CYBERJOBE’s WAR is no lost gem, but I’d argue that Frewer does evoke the spirit of MAX HEADROOM with some amusing one liners. I watched MAN ON THE MOON and thought how much Jim Carey looked like FrewerJobe with his head shaved.

  43. Sorry Griff, wrote that before I saw your post

  44. Oh, yeah, that’s right, Frewer is actually playing the Fahey character. I have to say that it’s been so long since I saw either of these that I forgot that. Pacman, would be curious to hear more of what you dug about Lawnmower Man. It’s not one I ever had a big desire to revisit, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

  45. Frankly, the short story is not weird enough in my opinion. I find it really weak. Which is what you kind of expect with these short story collections. They are very much mixed bags and you kind of need the shittier ones to really appreciate the good ones. It is really the charm of these anthologies that makes them unexpected readings. You never know what is right behind the corner after finishing a story.

  46. Jim Carrey has always reminded me of Matt Frewer in damn near everything. Like when I first saw a Jim Carrey movie all I thought about was MAX HEADROOM and that “time traveler” Frewer played in STAR TREK: TNG. It doesn’t help that while one was regular voicing The Riddler on TV the other was playing him on the big screen either.

  47. Wait my mistakes I remember GREMLINS universe 2016 presidential candidate Donald Clamp himself and BATMAN & ROBIN veteran Mr. John Glover. I do remember recognizing Frewer’s voice in TAS though. I’m almost sure of it.

  48. *Glover voiced The Riddler

  49. Skani- I think much of the fascination must originate with seeing it when I was 12/13, after years of being somewhat intrigued by it previously. And then a few years later seeing the Director’s Cut, which adds a lot and makes it a much more cohesive experience; the first time I ever saw a DC that had that kind of effect. In general, I have a fascination and nostalgia for the era where technology seemed exciting and exotic, if a little frightening, and a lot of the pseudo-cyberpunk stuff of the era (VIRTUOSITY, WILD PALMS, JOHNNY MNEMONIC, HACKERS, DISCLOSURE to an extent). For better or worse it’s a pretty unique movie, sure it’s built on the FRANKESTEIN archetype but goes pretty off-course, and takes its premise a lot more seriously than many would have dared. I feel the CGI, in being primarily abstract, has aged relatively well. And I think Fahey’s really good in it, with a lot of above average supporting performances too.

  50. Apparently Frewer voiced “Sid the Squid” in BATMAN TAS. The most explicit Carrey/Frewer crossover to date was Frewer voicing Lloyd Christmas in the DUMB AND DUMBER animated series.

  51. Is there a dvd of the director’s cut? Yes, that definitely was a little mini-genre of the time. I think someone else mentioned Brainscan in one of these threads and then there was Ghost in the Machine with Karen Allen, which I never bothered to watch.

  52. There is a UK/Region 2 DVD of the Director’s Cut, I think that’s the only release. Also it’s apparently Pan & Scan (I have it, but I believe the last time I watched the film in full was on VHS late 2007). It comes with LAWNMOWER MAN 2, but I can vouch for the picture quality on that being genuinely atrocious.
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lawnmower-Man-Beyond-Cyberspace-DVD/dp/B0041G67V0/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

  53. All I remember about Ghost in the Machine is the multiple fakeouts if this one guy before they settled on the most hilarious and implausible death ever.

  54. I just learned that the Night Flier apparently appears as surprise twist in another short story. Also I wonder how long it will take until Hollywood realized that Stephen King has a “shared universe” too.

  55. CJ, did you see my comment above? This is actually the one Stephen King movie that recognizes that many of his stories take place in the same universe.

  56. Now that you mention it, I saw your comment a few days ago, but forgot it when I posted this. Still, those were more little winks, nudges and in-jokes. I expect at some point Hollywood to go full Marvel with Stephen King’s stories and have the same actors play the same characters in the same location(s).

  57. The problem is that the rights to his popular characters were sold to different studios long ago. Trying to get them all together would be like Marvel trying to get Spider-Man back, only without a potential billion-dollar windfall to make everybody cooperate.

  58. Unless maybe the rights to most of the dormant ones have all reverted back to Mr. King himself, who I’d like to think has enough money by now to feel comfortable telling Disney to go fuck itself when it comes by trying to add the Kingiverse to its menagerie.

  59. Pennywise, Randall Flagg, The Hotel ghosts of The Shining, Church-The Cat, Annie Wilkes. That is your Stephen King´s SUICIDE SQUAD.

  60. Shoot McKay – That’s a great fucking idea!

  61. Having Pennywise being bitchslapped by Annie Wilkes for having poor dinner eticette at the table while he is devouring a five year old kid like slurping speghetti, which annoys the other entites at the table, while Cujo and Church is waiting for the leftovers on the floor.

    Alternatively; a telekinetic bitchslap from Carrie works.

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