Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Night Flier

Vampires have been around as a myth for a very long time, and many different authors have put their own spin on the creature.  But you can leave it to Stephen King to not only think about the fact that vampires piss blood, but to also contemplate exactly when that blood would be visible in a mirror if you happened to be in a bathroom and looking in one while a vampire stood at a urinal stall.  I realize it's not always a good idea to talk about the ending of a story before you begin reviewing it, but frankly that one moment is really the most notable part of the whole story, so how could I not?

"The Night Flier" revolves around Richard Dees, a reporter with a junk tabloid called Inside View, and how he is investigating a string of deaths that all happened at or near small time airports where a man identifying himself as Dwight Renfield landed in his small private plane.  All of the victims were completely drained of blood, and some horribly mutilated.  It is prime material for the paper, and so Dees is on the hunt to catch what he believes to be a vampire enthusiast in the act of emulating the creatures.  Of course, I think most of us would fully expect this guy to end up being a real vampire and he is.

The film version of the story is very low budget, to the point that I thought this had to have been a direct to DVD release, but apparently it was released to at least a small amount of theaters.  The film does a good job of getting around the fact that the story is mostly told through Dees perspective by giving us a new character for him to interact with - Katherine Blair, a new reporter at the tabloid that he quickly nicknames Jimmy, as in Jimmy Olsen.   It's a good way to show us just how jaded Dees has become over the course of time working for this less than reputable paper.  Where they go wrong though is when their boss literally pits them against each other for the story.  How would that be a gain for him in any way?  Either you would have people work cooperatively covering different parts of the story, or you would assign them to different ones to better use your resources.  It's here because the movie needs conflict, and nothing more.

The other change they make is having the Night Flier threaten Dees as he goes about researching him.  If he knows exactly where he is at all times, wouldn't he just kill him outright before he found out too much?  But they were clearly trying to build suspense leading up to the big confrontation, so I guess it's forgivable.  It's preferable, at least, to the way King does it, which is to jump back and forth chronologically.  It really becomes confusing when there's no real warning between the chapters and you have to guess what part of the timeline he's currently talking about.

The movie follows the events of the story pretty closely until we get to the ending.  First off, as silly as the whole pissing thing is, this is actually a pretty great way to build suspense.  If you're looking in a mirror you can't see a vampire, but that's a great way to confirm that he is in fact there, and after the horrors Dees has seen this guy leave behind, it makes sense that he's too scared to turn around, and remains frozen while the vampire comes in to take a leak.  Except in the film he does turn around, and then requests to see the vampire's face.

And it is, quite literally, one of the worst effects I've ever seen in a movie.  If you can't build a decent monster, you really should just keep him to the shadows.  The moment when his jaw unhinges is just terrible, and lingering on the actor in full makeup isn’t much better. 

They also decided to add a little more on to the ending, having Dees drink the vampire's blood and therefore be driven temporarily insane.  Once again, I know what they were trying to pull off here.  The dialogue is designed to make this reporter without any scruples contemplate his life choices.  The parallels between the vampire and Dees are strongly established.  The execution is just a little too silly to be taken seriously.  But it does wrap up the film nicely with a fitting dark ending.

The film is a little on the slow side, but the leads do very well with the material they've been given.  If you can find this one on the cheap, it's worth checking out.  Just don't set your expectations too high.

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