Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Night Flier - review

dvdDirector: Mark Pavia

Release Date: 1997

Contains spoilers

My first reaction to this film was, unfortunately, bound to be negative. Firstly it is a Stephen King adaptation and, with notable exceptions such as Salem’s Lot (1979 and 2004), The Shinning and Carrie his horror story adaptations are often fairly poor. Secondly because the concept of a Cessna flying vampire seems, on the surface at least, ridiculous.

However, the film does actually work and it is a prime example of a vampire movie that, as well as proving fairly gory, actually has something to say about the world.

Miguel Ferrer as Richard DeesRichard Dees (Miguel Ferrer) is a tabloid journalist of the lowest common denominator of tabloids. The Inside View is the sort of tabloid that comes up with frontpage headlines such as “Man Captured by Flying Saucer”, peddling the worse sort of “news” and Dees is the top reporter. He is given the assignment of looking for a man who flies into small airports in his Cessna and murders someone, draining them of blood. The editor, Merton Morrison (Dan Monahan), is exited by the story especially as the man goes by the name Dwight Renfield (Michael H. Moss).

Morrison makes no secret of knowing where the name Dwight Renfield has come from. It is an amalgam of Dwight Frye, the actor, and his character Renfield whom he played in the 1931 version of Dracula. Dees does not want the story, however, the type of plane and tail number is known to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and he is bound to be caught soon. He suggests that the story be given to wet behind the ears reporter Katherine Blair (Julie Entwistle), whom he nicknames Jimmy (after Olsen, from Superman).

Dees is an unpleasant character, arrogant and full of self-importance, but when Jimmy asks him for advice he offers two pieces. Firstly he tells her that the stories have a way of getting inside your head, which is what happened to her predecessor – who then killed herself. He also advises to, “Never believe what you publish, and never publish what you believe.” Both pieces of advice should have been remembered by himself.

sensationalist pictureWhen Renfield strikes again we see just how reprehensible Dees is. He takes the story back and follows the murder trail. With the first victim, Claire Bowie (Richard K Olsen), he goes to the grave, replaces flowers with dead flowers, kicks the gravestone crooked and wipes blood on it to get a decent shot. It is during this visit that strange things start happening to Dees as Renfield starts warning him off.

dreamily waiting for deathAs he follows the trail we learn much about the vampire. His victims often seem enamoured by him, actually becoming dreamy and welcoming, though in his cape he looks odd. Most have the FAA warning about his plane and yet do not report his presence. The bite wounds are not the small bites of your standard vampire. Bowie’s throat is completely ripped out. Other victims have huge punctures either side of their necks as though railroad spikes have been thrust into their necks.

Mirrors near the victims are smashed, we later discover that they break as the creature passes and also later discover that the vampire casts no reflection in intact mirrors – cleverly shown as we see a stream of blood flow into a urinal but see no vampire, how often do we get a vampire relieving himself in a movie? There is a hint that the vampire can control dogs, as Dees confronts a particularly vicious beast that chases him and yet is back in its starting position when he gets to his car. The vampire’s plane often has fetid, maggot and worm infested soil beneath it and this later is seen to be his bed within the plane. As he only flies at night and the plane’s windows are curtained we can assume an aversion to sunlight.

Yet it is also interesting that Dees himself is a vampire (of sorts). When he comes across a car crash he takes photos, actually shifting the bodies to get a more sensational shot, and refers to it as a bonus. He tricks Jimmy, who is put back on the story by an annoyed and devious Morrison, into helping him and then locks her in a wardrobe. He uses people, the living and the dead, to get his story. This is why the vampire warns him off, he is as fascinated with Dees as Dees is with him. In fact Dees finds copies of the Inside View inside the vampire’s plane. The vampire sums it up when he admits that Dees' “appetite for blood intrigues me.”

vampire in human formWe do not see the vampire clearly at first, just shadowy views of a high necked cape. Then we get three images. The first is in old photographs which are, presumably, of the vampire when mortal. These are old black and white shots of a man and woman and the man is obviously an early pilot. At the end of the film we do see him with a human face.

the monstrous vampireMore fascinating, however, is the view of the vampire when he is on the rampage. With talon claws and his great monster like head, complete with huge retractable front placed fangs, this is one of the most monstrous views of a vampire you are likely to see in a movie.

The film spins on to a nicely twisted ending.

the bites are interestingThe film has its problems, there are unanswered plot pieces and the overall concept takes a huge suspension of disbelief to buy. However it has several selling points. Firstly the character of Dees, skilfully portrayed by Ferrer is so utterly unlikeable and yet we are carried with him. This character, this hunter, is probably worse than the vampire. The vampire might rampage through victims, though it is clear that at least one is at peace with her fate, but Dees actively preys on the dignity of the living and dead and has no moral compunction. This allows the film to damningly indict such sensationalist journalism, which is another great selling point. The fact that the vampire is so monstrously portrayed is also great.

With nice referential points this film deserves no less than 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

I was surprised by this movie as well. I expected the worst (especially after seeing the hideous "Trucks" adaptation) but, outside of D.R's silly halloween cape, it works. If more King adaptations were like this...well, I'd be a happy camper.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks for the comment Neal. It is strange that the majority of King's horror adaptions are so low grade and yet his none horror adaptions are stunning.