Best Horror Movie You Never Saw: The Night Flier (1998)

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Welcome to Arrow in the Head’s The Best Horror Movie You Never Saw, which will be dedicated to highlighting horror films that, for one reason or another, don’t get as much love as we think they should. We know plenty of you horror hounds out there will have seen many of the movies we pick, but there will be plenty of you who have not. This column is for all of you!

This week we take a look at Mark Pavia’s adaptation of Stephen King’s THE NIGHT FLIER (OWN IT HERE), starring Miguel Ferrer and Julie Entwisle

THE STORY: A sleazy reporter looking to remain relevant finds his biggest story yet when a serial killer who flies in and out of small airports in a private plane starts making his mark throughout the Northeast. 

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THE HISTORY: Mark Pavia, fresh out of film school, directed a 30 minute short called DRAG that attracted the attention of several prominent people in the biz, including Stephen King and producer Richard Rubinstein (The Stand, The Langoliers). The two were attempting to make a film out of King’s short THE NIGHT FLIER but couldn’t quite crack it. After watching DRAG, Rubinstein encouraged Pavia to pitch him his own take on THE NIGHT FLIER, which Pavia did with co-writer Jack O’Donnell. Rubinstein and King enjoyed Pavia’s take and hired him to make the film.

WHY IT’S GREAT: It’s always been true about cinema that you don’t need to have likable characters populating your film, you just need interesting ones. That is certainly the case in THE NIGHT FLIER, which contains one of the more unsavory protagonists you’re likely to come across. Richard Dees is an unpleasant, churlish prick who will do anything for a story, about as charming as a rattlesnake. But he’s played so terrifically by veteran character actor Miguel Ferrer that we can’t look away from him, his sleaze is magnetic. Even as he lies, cheats and grimaces his way through THE NIGHT FLIER, we can’t help but want to follow along. It doesn’t hurt that he’s not the worst person in the film; in any other story, he’d be the bad guy, but in this one, he’s the unlikely hero… for lack of a better word.

THE NIGHT FLIER, based on a short story by Stephen King, is an intriguing creation. Very 90s in look and feel, it’s not always the most solidly built picture, but it revs along creepily and efficiently, taking a cue from the rancid lead’s cynical enthusiasm. Ferrer’s Dees, for all his unwholesome negativity, is pretty good at his job – following leads, interrogating witnesses – and once he gets on the trail of a big story, he follows it with fervor, and we’re grudgingly along for the ride. We don’t care much for Dees as he crudely goes about his business (in one grotesque but amusing sequence, he defiles a grave in an effort to make it look good for a photo), but damn if we don’t admire his take-no-prisoners attitude. He’s really the whole show here, as the film’s other main characters aren’t very interesting, and as he gets closer and closer to the thing he’s chasing, his unraveling is compelling to watch. He never quite earns our sympathy, but we can eventually recognize him as a man frightened by irrelevancy.

The Mark Pavia-directed film was produced by a couple of King-connected vets, Mitchell Galin and Richard Rubinstein, who produced The Stand, The Langoliers and Thinner (and who also worked with George Romero a great many years), and it has a very similar atmosphere as those projects. It may not be quite as polished, but it’s directed with considerable style by Pavia. The Night Flier himself (he calls himself Dwight Renfield, an in-joke for DRACULA fans) is a compelling villain, so much so that you almost wish the film delved into his story a bit more. He’s a pretty evil fellow, and the film disturbingly makes it clear he’ll brutally kill anyone, regardless of age or gender. The film’s finale, the scene of a massacre, is very unnerving; so much so that even the normally unflappable Dees can’t handle it. 

When Dees finally gets his comeuppance, we can’t help but feel a tiny bit bad for the guy. He was a rude, mean-spirited bastard, sure, but he did he quite deserve his fate? That’s up to you to decide, but one thing’s for sure: you won’t soon forget him.

It’s just a great cinematic idea. As almost-absurd as it is, it’s brilliant. – Mark Pavia, Icons of Fright

BEST SCENE: The chilling conclusion, which sees Dees hallucinate the reanimation of corpses who proceed to come for him, is a freaky and nasty bit of business. 

WHERE TO WATCH: Unfortunately, it’s not easy to track down THE NIGHT FLIER. It’s not available on most streaming services, and the DVD appears to be out of print. That said, you can still find people selling it on Amazon, and if you look around enough online you’ll find it. (If anyone has more info on where to watch the film, please chime in below!)

PARTING SHOT: Miguel Ferrer is worth the price of admission alone in THE NIGHT FLIER; the actor known for his many memorable supporting roles is front and center in this vicious tale.

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