In 1997, a year after Scream redefined and retrofied the rules of horror, a vampire film was almost assuredly going to go unnoticed, even if it was based on a short story by Stephen King. The Night Flier probably would have gained more viewership had it been made during this current vampire renaissance. As it was made in 1997, it has that indefinable 90s feel to it (there just wasn’t as distinct a mold for horror movies in the 90s as there had been in the 80s), but it really is a creepy and effective film, although suffering from a bit of filler in its effort to stretch a short story into a full length feature.
The Night Flier has a really unique premise for a vampire story—this vampire travels in a black plane at night, landing in desolate airports to feed on the few and far between! Okay, so it’s kind of hard to relate considering most of us don’t find ourselves hanging out alone in backwoods airports at 2 in the morning. Which is why this “serial killer,” as he’s believed to be, can continue going about his business—until a rag sheet news reporter is put on the case. As the reporter flies from place to place in his own plane (yep, he’s a pilot) trying to catch the killer after each slaughter, he begins to realize the killer is a vampire whose plane even craps maggot-filled cemetery dirt!
The reporter gets most of his details of the murders in flashbacks, some of which are quite gory and eerie (I almost peed RC Cherry during a trailer home jump scare). And speaking of peeing red, one of the creepiest scenes in this film has the reporter watching through a mirror as the reflectionless vampire enters a restroom and relieves himself at a urinal! You don’t see that in vampire movies every day.
Even though The Night Flier is only an hour and a half, the unraveling of the story as the reporter profiles his killer through investigation and questioning of witnesses becomes a bit repetitive. The film could have been more successful as a one hour episode of Masters of Horror, methinks. But the last 20 minutes or so are sheer tension and gore, with a great shift to black and white for what seems like an homage to Night of the Living Dead.
The film is worth seeing just for these final minutes of eerie imagery. Definitely a lost gem in the vampire genre. And it gets bonus points for featuring Pee Wee of Porky’s fame!