A smug tabloid reporter chases a serial killer
that turns out to be a monstrous vampiric creature.
The Night Flier (1997)
Directed by Mark Pavia
Written by Mark Pavia and Jack O'Donnell
Starring Miguel Ferrer, Julie Entwisle,
Dan Monahan, Michael H. Moss
Based on the short story by Stephen King
During the 80's and 90's, if there was a Stephen King adaptation that was being filmed, it was shot in North Carolina; specifically, Wilmington which is my hometown. Cat's Eye, Firestarter, Maximum Overdrive, and Silver Bullet have all used areas in and around the Port City (Wilmington's official nickname) to bring the Constant Writer's stories to life. Whenever I watch these movies, I love seeing the place I grew up as the setting for some of King's stories. It makes them that much more special.
Which is where The Night Flier comes in as the finale takes place in the Wilmington International Airport; which is funny to me because it is one of the smallest airports that boasts international flights but I digress. This story is about Richard Dees (played wonderfully by the late, great Miguel Ferrer) and his quest to bring the sleaziest stories to life for Inside View, the tabloid he is the star reporter for. He has no ethics or morals when it comes to getting the story and he will do whatever it takes to get it. He is the jaded, dickhead reporter we've seen in other films/stories with a reporter as the central character. As with most King tales, it is the supernatural things that happen to Dees which make this a horror story.
Dees hears about a murder story that started in Maine ("He flew in from Derry." says one interviewee) which has seen a string of murders at small air strips down the east coast. In all of the cases the victims have been drained of blood by a single large puncture wound in their necks. This is the type of stuff Dees lives for and he jumps at the chance to steal this from the magazine's newest reporter, Katherine Blair (Entwisle). The editor, Merton Morrison (Monahan), is all set to give Dees the story on one condition: Blair has to go with him. Not happy with this stipulation, Dees goes out of his way to make things difficult for Blair while they are on the trail of this killer. He does give her one piece of advice that he has used as the backbone for his journalistic career: "Never believe what you publish and never publish what you believe."
As Dees begins his journey to track down "The Night Flier" and interviews people that were witness to the aftermath of the murders. What Dees starts to see is that something is not adding up. The plane used by the Flier is completely blacked out and the luggage compartment is full of rotten, worm-ridden dirt. He notices in a log that the Flier identifies himself as Dwight Renfield which any self-respecting horror fan will know is the name of the assistant to Dracula. The tired tropes of vampires in movies are altered in a way that, while familiar, makes them feel fresh. Renfield has the power to manipulate the minds of his victims to the point where they are almost completely brainwashed in a haze before he murders them. You can also see that Dees loves this kind of shit; he relishes seeing the worst that the world has to offer. In a way, he and Renfield are both bloodsuckers except one is literal the other is metaphorical.
The closer Dees gets to Renfield, the more he is tortured by what this maniac is doing as he hops from airfield to airfield. It all culminates in a confrontation between the two in the Wilmington Airport bathroom as Dees hears, over the radio, Renfield slaughtering the entire staff. The aftermath is brought to life by the genius of KNB FX. As Dees slips and slides his way across blood drenched floors into the bathroom, he hears heavy footsteps enter and he knows that Renfield is here. He looks into the mirror, sees nothing, which brings the fantastic into reality: Renfield is a fucking vampire! In one of the more ridiculous, and unsettling, shots we see a thick stream of bloody urine hitting a urinal in the reflection of the mirror. The final reveal of Renfield's true form is one of the most disturbing and creative ways a vampire has been brought to life and also reminds me of Rose the Hat in the novel Doctor Sleep as she is described as having the same feature as Renfield: a single long fang in the middle of their mouth.
By the end, Dees has become the subject of his own story and Blair has now taken his place and uses his mantra against him. A fitting end for a man who disregarded morals and ethics in the name of a story. This film was originally supposed to release in theaters but premiered on HBO which is where I saw it. After a few months on cable, New Line picked it up for a short theatrical run that only netted around $125,000 at the box office, which almost certainly guaranteed its place as an obscure and hard to find King adaptation. There are DVD's still floating around but you won't find it streaming anywhere and that's a shame because I think this is a great vampire story set within the King universe (if you pay attention closely in early scenes you can see headlines that mirror other King stories) that I think is a must for someone wanting a different vampire movie to watch.