“Stephen King’s The Night Flier” is a creepy vampire tale that also offers some clever commentary on bloodthirsty tabloid journalists. While not the most memorable of King adaptations, it’s far from the worst of them, and with King’s name emblazoned in the title, pic (which aired on HBO in November and has already opened in some European territories) is likely to profit from scribe’s loyal following in limited theatrical release before it segues to a long and comfortable shelf life on video.
In the hectic offices of the top tabloid Inside View, a rivalry develops between veteran reporter and paparazzo Richard Dees (Miguel Ferrer) and eager young rookie Katherine Blair (Julie Entwisle) when their editor (Dan Monahan) offers them a juicy lead. In a pair of recent murders, an unidentified Cessna pilot has landed on small, isolated airfields at night to feed on the blood of local residents.
When Dees passes on the story, editor Morrison hands it over to Blair instead. But when another murder takes place almost immediately, Dees changes his mind and demands the story back. Setting out in his own private plane, the reporter follows the killer’s path. With unrelenting zeal, Dees corners witnesses, pressing them to reveal gruesome details, and snaps the most salacious photos he can find — or con-struct. Predictably, Blair hasn’t given up the chase, and the two of them find themselves in competition — and briefly collaborating — before fate plays a hand.
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Helmer Mark Pavia and his co scripter, Jack O’Donnell, self proclaimed horror aficionados, clearly understand conventions of the genre. The duo, whose short horror film “Drag” impressed King enough for him to lobby for their attachment to “Night Flier,” has effectively opened up his short story, adding a clever meta commentary on the horror genre itself.
Putting the protagonist behind the lens of his own camera not only sets up the obvious out for blood parallel of vampire and paparazzi, but also offers an ironic critique on the director’s motivations. In one smartly executed scene, Dees finds himself in a cemetery photographing the grave of a recent victim. Judging the tombstone too neat for his tabloid purposes, Dees stages a more horrific, blood spattered photo.
While it occasionally stoops to stock horror cliches (“Go away” warnings scrawled in blood, scary nocturnal encounters that turn out to be dreams), pic does find ways to make old ideas new. The graveyard scene is both spooky and funny, and there’s a showdown in the late going that uses echoes and mirrors to create an atmosphere of pure terror. Though there’s an unfortunate final dreamscape sequence that plays like an amalgam of a “Living Dead” movie and a Michael Jackson video, Pavia rescues the scene at the last moment and delivers a wily payoff.
Sound design is excellent, with auditory cues that successfully manipulate perception of the viewer and the characters. Brian Keane’s score hits just the right eerie effect. Lensing is above average, but makeup effects are inconsistent, ranging from fake looking welts and wounds of the costume store variety to grisly decapitations and mutilations.
Thesping is strong, especially by leads Entwisle, who registers as a promising newcomer, and Ferrer, his gravelly voice filled with resignation and cynicism, who fascinates even when he’s being a heel.