The King of Wilmington - The Night Flier (1997) : Why Turn Into a Bat When You Could Fly a Plane?

So far our talks about The King of Wilmington have included killer trucks, werewolves, and flame throwing little girls. It stands to reason that the next thing to check off the list would be vampires. King’s history with creatures of the night goes all the way back to his 1975 novel Salem’s Lot (which was turned into a miniseries four years after publication), but he wouldn’t broach the subject again until his short story "The Night Flier" was published in the horror anthology Prime Evil in 1988. There, alongside stories by Clive Barker and Peter Straub, King spun a tale of an aeronautical bloodsucker and the writer on his trail. Five years later King reprinted his story as part of his Nightmares and Dreamscapes collection, and then just like Salem’s Lot, four years passed before it came to life on the screen. Co-produced by American company New Amsterdam Entertainment (which would put up the bucks in 2004 for Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead) and the Italian company Medusa Film (the company famously responsible for films like Don’t Torture a Duckling and Cannibal Ferox), The Night Flier was the last King film to be shot in and around Wilmington, NC.

The Night Flier stars Miguel Ferrer as Richard Deez, the top reporter for sleazy tabloid Inside View (an amalgamation of The Weekly World News and National Enquirer). Deez is renowned for going to any lengths to get a story no matter how grim or grisly. That makes him perfect for investigating a string of gory murders at remote airports in the Maine area. In each case, a black plane comes in overnight, and by the morning, bodies are found drained of blood. Deez reluctantly takes the story, but soon finds himself starting to believe that it’s more than a psycho with a pilot’s license he’s tracking. Competing against new reporter Katherine (Julie Entwisle) for the scoop, Deez continues to get deeper into the twisted tale, and if he’s not careful, he runs the risk of being the headline himself.

Before I started The King of Wilmington I knew or had heard of almost all the films I was going to be profiling, the one exception to that was The Night Flier. While I had read the story years back in Prime Evil, I had no idea it had a cinematic translation. Directed by Mark Pavia, The Night Flier marked his one and only feature film credit. (There have been rumblings that he’s trying to get a Holiday horror film, Sick Nick, off the ground.) I don’t know how Pavia came to be connected with the project, but he does an impressive job filming both the flying sequences and capturing the gore filled scenes of violence. Of course some of the credit for the gore has to go to the folks at K.N.B Efx Group, the legendary special effects company who’ve worked on everything from 1989’s Intruder to the recent Walking Dead TV series. Pavia also packed the film with references to King's other works, and the sharp-eyed viewer will spy references to Thinner, Needful Things, and many of King's other works on the covers of Inside View.

The film’s production value doesn’t always hold steady throughout the production, but what certainly does is its star, Miguel Ferrera. The actor was no stranger to Stephen King’s work having played Lloyd Henreid in the 1994 TV adaptation of The Stand, and he really nailed the part of Richard Deez. (Coincidentally, Deez was also no stranger to King. He also appeared as the reporter interviewing Johnny Smith in the novel The Dead Zone.) Deez is characterized a hard edged, no holds barred kind of journalist who is not afraid to spice up a story if he has too. In fact at one point the gives Julie Entwisle’s young reporter the advice, “Never print what you believe and never believe what you print.” Throughout the film Deez is shown as such an asshole that he seems unredeemable, and in the end, he might well have been. Without giving too much away, I have to say that his ultimate fate is just deserts of the O. Henry variety. There are precious few other characters in the film that rise beyond passing character performances, and this includes Julie Entwisle who should have been able to infuse her green reporter with a little more verve.

The only other character worth talking about is The Night Flier himself, but I don’t think I can really speak on him without getting into spoiler territory so read ahead at your own risk or skip on to the next paragraph. The vampire, who signs himself into airports under the name Dwight Renfield (a compounding of Dwight Frye and his famous Dracula character), is never portrayed as a romanticized character. Though his background is briefly and cleverly touched on when Deez finds the vamp’s photo album, his origins remain unknown. When he is seen, his face is distorted beyond that of the Nosferatu. With a gaping maw containing one giant tooth and a face only a zombie mother could love, the Flier won’t be keeping Rob Pattinson up nights, but this outer ugliness is extremely vital for the film. There is a direct correlation between Deez and the vamp. Both garner their existence from blood, both have no mercy for their victims, and both consider themselves above the rules. While Deez doesn’t have to commit the murders himself, his exploitation of tragedy makes him just as culpable. The vampire feeds off the blood to get life while Deez feeds off of death to make a living, but while the vampire is revolting to look at, Deez hides his unseemly ways under a friendly face.

I’m not sure how The Night Flier escaped my attention for all these years. As far as Stephen King adaptations go, this is one of the most underrated I have seen. With a well hewn plot that both entertains on a surface level and deeper, The Night Flier is sure to please the casual viewer as well as those who tend to dig deeper. To get it back to this feature, the film does contain many shots of rural airports (I suspect one rural airport redressed) as well as other exteriors from Wilmington, NC which double as the countryside of Maine. While this was the last film of King’s to be shot in the Wilmington area, it isn’t the last we’ll see of this feature. I’ve got one more week to go, and I’ve saved the first of his films to be shot there for last. So next week come on back then when I conclude The King of Wilmington with the anthology Cat’s Eye, and join us back here Wednesday for a special Hitch on the Hump guest post from Chuck Norris Ate My Baby’s Matt-Suzaka. 

Bugg Rating


  1. I loved The Night Flier when I watched it way back when it came out, and I actually found it on DVD used for like $3 bucks a few years back.

    I cannot for the life of me remember if I ever saw it more than once, but a lot of the imagery, namely the brilliantly shot stormy nights and the awesome open up and say ahhhh, ending, still are embedded in my memories.

    Ferrer is great as always, and between his character and the subtle setting, the film almost feels a bit noir-ish.

    Great pick, and I look forward to your Cat's Eye review. It's totally one of my faves from the 80's, so I hope you dig that one too.

  2. Good review on a little seen movie. I didn't know much about it either until I caught it one night. A little slow, a little rough in the acting, but it has an arthouse style to it. The depiction of the NF with cape and ominous presence is corny yet effective at the same time. Like a person who became a vampire living up to the mythic image of being one. Definitely a movie worth catching.


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