Your appetite for blood intrigues me. We have a lot in common, you and I…– Dwight Renfield
Day 15 of the Fright Festival and I went for something a bit more low key – Mark Pavia’s 1997 adaption of Stephen King’s The Night Flier. It’s a gory little thriller that puts me in mind of a forgotten episode of Kolchak – The Night Stalker, only with Miguel Ferrer in the lead instead of Darren McGavin.
The film has a weird feel – like its a direct-to-video release, or even a movie-of-the-week chiller. That’s not a bad thing, mind. Not every film has to be a big budget blowout. I like that it doesn’t even attempt to deny what it is – it’s a vampire movie and it makes no bones about it. Nor does it attempt to soften Ferrer’s scuzzy tabloid reporter, Richard Dees, with any third act redemptive nonsense. Dees is truly one of horror cinema’s most reprehensible protagonists and compared to him, Michael H. Moses’ vampiric Dwight Renfield comes across as a victim of circumstance rather than a bestial murderer.
Speaking of our eponymous aviator, Renfield is every vampire trope rolled into one disgustingly feral bag and I couldn’t be happier about it. He’s even wearing a cape! It’s fantastic. It speeds past the ridiculous and into the unsettlingly sublime, and when we finally get our first full look at him, he’s as nightmarish as one might hope.
I mentioned Kolchak – The Night Stalker above – there’re quite a few parallels between the 1972 tv movie and this film. In both, a dogged reporter pursues a vampire, his cynicism gradually eroding in the face of overwhelming evidence that his quarry is not simply a lunatic, but an actual supernatural menace. But where McGavin’s Kolchak continues the hunt out of some sense of social conscience, Ferrer’s Dees is only interested in his byline. Like his quarry, he’s a parasite, subsisting on the suffering of others at the expense of his own humanity. And his final fate is poetic justice worthy of an EC comic.
While I know Stephen King adaptions can be hit and miss, I think this is one of the better ones. If you’re looking for a nice, simple vampire tale, told effectively, you could do worse.