Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stephen King Month: The Night Flier (1997)

Carrying the dubious distinction of being the Stephen King adaptation with the lowest theatrical gross, The Night Flier plays like a mediocre '90s TV show -- perhaps a forgettable episode of The X-Files, or an installment in the syndicated revival of The Outer Limits. The flat direction and straightforward procedural story only take a slight turn for the inventive toward the end, but at that point it's far too late to care about what happens to cynical tabloid journalist Richard Dees (Miguel Ferrer) in his quest to track down the title character, a vampire who travels via single-engine plane.

Ferrer is a solid character actor who knows how to play gruff and off-putting, but he overdoes the tough-guy routine a little as Dees, a veteran reporter who doesn't take kindly to demands from his editor or the fresh-faced young recruit (Julie Entwisle) who wants to muscle in on his story. Dees is meant to be unlikable, but Ferrer and co-writer/director Mark Pavia can't quite make the leap from Dees' early jaded antagonism to his later development of empathy as he witnesses the vampire's horrors. It doesn't help that the pouty Entwisle (playing a character who isn't in King's original short story) adds nothing to the movie other than a way to stretch the plot out and keep Dees from getting to the vampire too quickly. The contrast between her wide-eyed ambition and Dees' burnout is never fully developed.

There are a few creative touches at the movie's climax, including an amusing moment in which Dees sees the vampire pissing blood into a urinal behind him -- only all he sees is the stream of blood, since he's looking in a mirror. And the hallucinations that lead to Dees' downfall are pretty much the only actually creepy moment in the movie. The choice to have the vampire look like some outdated Dracula stereotype (complete with florid cape) makes him seem silly rather than scary, but there isn't enough humor for the movie to play effectively as a black comedy. This movie could have been edited down and aired as an episode of the unimpressive Nightmares & Dreamscapes King anthology TV series, and it would have fit right in.

How far to Castle Rock: The wall of covers at Inside View, the tabloid where Dees works, features a number of headlines with references to King stories, but none to Castle Rock. Dees does track the vampire to an airport in Maine, where an employee tells him that the vampire had just flown in from King's other favorite fictional small town, Derry.

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