(Stephen King's)
The Night Flier

Director: Mark Pavia        
Miguel Ferrer, Julie Entwisle, Dan Monahan

The Night Flier flew into less than a hundred theaters in North America early 1998, and didn't last long, retreating to it's intended destination of home video just now. Because of this brief theatrical release, and the fact that most King adaptations haven't been very good, one will probably assume that this is another failure. Actually, despite some flaws - some very serious - it is nowhere as bad as you may think.

Miguel Ferrer plays Richard, a burned-out reporter working at Inside View, which seems to be what the Enquirer was a few decades ago (pictures of corpses, freaks, the like). Like other movies dealing with tabloids, it shows the production of these stories in the same yuk-yuk way ("I haven't finished the story about [insert]"). Dan Monahan ("Pee Wee" of the Porky's movies, returning to the screen after a long absence) plays the editor Martin, who gives Richard a new assignment. Seems a psycho names "Dwight Renfield" has been flying a black Cessna aircraft at night, and landing at isolated airports and killing the people there.

Initially reluctant, Richard later takes on the assignment, taking away the already gathered information from the newbie reporter Katherine (Julie Entwisle), and starts to trace the progress of the killer from airport to airport. Along the way, with some in-jokes that King fans will get a chuckle out of, the reporter gets several mysterious threats from an unknown source, and clues appear that the killer and Richard have some sort of mental link. Finally, he catches up to the killer at a new airport, and in a memorable scene (involving a mirror and a urinal), he discovers the killer.....and then a surprise twist is sprung on the audience. It didn't come as a total surprise (there are hints along the way), but it still lead to a somewhat unexpected ending.

Debut director Pavia shows that he's not without talent, despite a low budget. He manages to generate some interest and mystery, especially about the killer, who we slowly learn has some kind of supernatural power. But Pavia stubbornly refuses to answer a lot of the mystery. Where did the killer come from? Why did he suddenly start killing? Why does the killer's plane always have a pile of maggot-infested dirt under it when parked on the ground? Why does he even fly a plane? What does the photograph album in his plane mean? When his hypnotized victims say that they are going "to a better place", what do they (or the killer) mean?

Despite all these questions, I still might have given the movie a definite recommendation had it not been for the treatment of Ferrer's character. His character is one of the most dislikeable "heroes" I've ever seen in a movie. True, his character is supposed to be dislikeable, and in a bar near the beginning of the movie, he has a somewhat convincing speech as to how the job has made him bitter and burned out. But he's in almost every scene of the movie, and has the majority of the dialogue. One lengthy scene has the story coming to a dead halt, so he can stop along his journey to take pictures of car accident victims splattered all over the road. This scene comes off as completely gratuitous, even to splatter fans, and adds nothing to the character we already know.

I believe this King story was originally one of his short stories. It would certainly explain why the movie feels so slow and padded. Flaws and all, there's enough good stuff here to make a nifty 1/2 or one hour "Twilight Zone" episode. But since I'm reviewing what it is now, and not what it could have been, I can't recommend the movie. However, I am interested in Pavia's next movie.

UPDATE: Scott Roberts sent me this information:

"Just wanted to drop you a line and pass on some info in case you didn't know. The reason Night Flier only opened in a few theaters is because it was actually a made for TV movie. If I remember correctly, it premiered on the USA Network first, then had a limited release in theaters (with a couple of brief shots restored that had been cut from the TV premier). I'm not sure why they decided to release a made for TV movie theatrically after it had already played on television, but that's what happened. I had read this information in an issue of Fangoria Magazine back when the movie was first about to play on USA."

UPDATE 2: "Alex" sent this in:

"Scott Robert's information is inaccurate. The Night Flier, based indeed upon a short story by Stephen King was intended for theatrical release. I know this because I spoke to the director, who was a guest speaker at a filmmaking seminar I attended in Tennessee in 1998. But one look at the film, not to mention the type and frequency of the profanity, makes it clear in any case that this film was never intended for television.
Roberts is correct, however, in his assertion that the film, initially held back from distribution for reasons not entirely clear, did have it's premiere on television. The venue, however, was not the USA Network but rather HBO. Thereafter, there was indeed a very limited theatrical run."

UPDATE 3: "Bosch" sent in this explanation:

"Regarding the write up for The Night Flier (which I too thought was a lot better then many may imagine); I may be stating the obvious here, and the questions you listed as unanswered by the director are probably purely hypothetical, but just in case not; The ubiquitous pile of dirt under the plane is a steal from classic vampire folklore. The traveling vampire is said to require not only a place out of the sun to sleep (hence the blackened plane windows) but also that in his place of interment is laid upon soil from his homeland. (See Barlow in Salem's Lot for a direct King reference). So his plane (instead of his coffin, a la Stokers protagonists arrival at Whitby) is presumably decked out with a nice layer of soil from some far flung country, a nice little hint to Kings oft referred to Constant Readers and vampire lovers alike."

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

Check Amazon for source novel "Nightmares & Dreamscapes"

See also: Lake Of Dracula, Evil Of Dracula, The Resurrected