Thursday, October 27, 2011

In short: The Night Flier (1997)

A very peculiar serial killer using the pseudonym Dwight H. Renfield (Michael H. Moss) is striking at small airfields all over the USA. He's flying a black Cessna Skymaster, only flies by night, and likes to rip people to pieces and/or drain all their blood. Why, you might think he's a vampire!

With some reluctance, the tabloid reporter and amateur pilot Richard Dees (Miguel Ferrer) who is even more of a cynical jerk than his job description suggests, starts to investigate the killings. He finds out some pretty weird things. Firstly, the killers victims all have died from bite wounds of a rather impressive size that have little to do with the pithy little holes a sparkly vampire or Bela Lugosi leave but have more in common with the bites of a large animal. Secondly, the killer seems to be able to put some kind of mental hold on his victims, hypnotizing them into housing him for a day or two, and giving themselves up willingly. Renfield's not always using that ability, though. Sometimes, he just goes in for a bit of slaughter.

Dees gets close enough to the killer whom he dubs "the Night Flier" that the vampire starts to take notice. He's trying to warn the reporter off for large parts of the movie's running time, but messages written in blood only cause Dees to become increasingly obsessed with finding and most of all seeing the Night Flier. It's doubtful this will end well for him.

Generally, neither 90s horror nor Stephen King adaptations have much of a reputation among cult movie fans, so watching a Stephen King adaptation made in the 90s is not a project one should take upon oneself lightly.

In a surprising turn of events, The Night Flier isn't all that bad of a film. Sure, it has large, vampire-jaw shaped problems, yet there's also quite a bit to like about it.

But let's talk about the film's problems first. Chief among them is how weak most of the supporting acting is, with everyone going for broadness where subtlety would have been asked for, and some ill-fitting scenery chewing in exactly those places where it is least called for. The film's script likes to draw things out a bit too much, presumably to get to feature length somehow, leading to a lot of scenes that just go on a little too long, and some whose inclusion seems dubious at best.

On the positive side, director Mark Pavia does achieve some pretty atmospheric shots on what obviously was a low budget and tries his best to make the confrontation between Dees and the vampire (who for some reason wears an utterly ridiculous cape, but I'll just let that one slide) thematically resonant by casting Dees as a bitter cynic who has begun to seek death in more than one way.

Miguel Ferrer's performance is the other big positive the film has got going for it. It comes as no surprise that the actor is good at playing an unrepentant asshole, but he also manages to give the character a degree of charm and a suggestion of doubts that make him an unrepentant asshole who is interesting to watch for an hour and a half instead of just an unrepentant asshole.

While these positives aren't enough to turn The Night Flier into a completely satisfying film, they are enough to make it worth watching.

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