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Film / The Night Flier

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"Never believe what you publish. Never publish what you believe."

The Night Flier is a 1997 horror film based on Stephen King’s short story by the same name, which was published as part of the Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection. It starred Miguel Ferrer in the lead.

Richard Dees is the lead reporter for a low-fodder conspiracy and urban legend-newspaper called the Inside View. After years of investigating bloody crime scenes, Dees has become particularly burned out with his job. When reports of a mysterious killer start circulating, who travels between small airfields, slaughtering everyone present, Dees goes out in pursuit of the "Night Flier"—finding far more than he bargained for.

Not to be confused with Nightflyers, a 2018 Syfy miniseries based on a novella from George R. R. Martin. Or with Fly by Night Series, a children book series by Frances Hardinge.

This story provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The movie version expands a lot on the short story in the Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection, including an altered ending. In the story Dees just gives the vampire, Dwight Renfield, the film strip in his camera and escapes the encounter with his life. In the film he subsequently races after Dwight because he wants to see his face, who responds by putting him in a trance that ends with Dees unwittingly hacking up the corpses that Dwight is actually responsible for. He's shot by the police and framed as the "real" Night Flier by his rival colleague—ironically putting his face back on the front cover of the tabloid magazine he worked for.
  • Adaptational Badass: Downplayed. In the short story, Dees is left broken by his encounter with Dwight, but in the movie, he musters up enough courage to confront the vampire and demand to see its face, and fights off the reanimated corpses when he's sent to Hell. Of course, the whole thing turns out to be a hallucination, and he was framed for the Night Flier murders anyway.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The short story was expanded to fill a 90-minute movie, including the whole subplot with Dees' younger rival Katherine Blair, more investigative work on the part of Dees, and a much lengthier final encounter between Dees and Dwight.
  • Affably Evil: For a rotten, batlike monstrosity who flies from airport to airport feeding on and brutally killing his prey, Dwight is generous enough to try and warn Dees to stay away and drop his search, and considers him something of a kindred spirit, even displaying remorse for setting him up to be shot by the cops. Furthermore, he seems to have genuine feelings for Ellen Sarche (who is implied to have been his lover before he became a vampire), returning to his human form to meet with her again, although that doesn't end well for her.
  • Angry Guard Dog: After Dees investigates a murder site, he's menaced by an angry black dog (implied to be the vampire in disguise) before it seems to teleport back to the spot where it was sitting.
  • Antagonist Title: The eponymous "Night Flier" is the vampire villain of the story, alluding to the way he goes to airports at night with his private plane to claim victims.
  • Arc Words: "Never believe what you publish, never publish what you believe."
  • Asshole Victim: Dees is such an unpleasant, amoral jerk that it's hard to feel sorry for him when he gets shot to death and framed as the Night Flier. The whole thing feels like a feature-length Tales from the Crypt story, with a scumbag protagonist getting exactly what they deserve via a Karmic Twist Ending.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Dwight's final warning to Dees.
    Dwight: But listen closely, my inquisitive friend. Because I say this only once. Do not follow me anymore, or I will swallow you whole. That much, I promise.
    Dwight: I suppose it was inevitable. You've been looking for me all your life. In the morgues, in the graveyards, in the faces of the dead and dying. Your whole existence has been a search for me. Well, here I am, my friend. Am I not all that you had hoped for? Am I not all that you thought I would be?
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Dees is desperate to get his name back on the front cover of the tabloid he writes for. He ends up getting his wish, after being fatally shot by the cops and framed as the Night Flier.
  • Big Bad: Dwight Renfield, the vampire haunting the skies.
  • Bloody Horror: As a vampire story, it makes a lot of use of this. Mutilated, bloody corpses are frequently seen, Dwight writes messages in blood, and the inside of his airplane is covered in blood, dirt and maggots.
  • Blood Magic: Dees visits the grave of one of the vampire's latest victims at night time, then cuts open his thumb to smear a bit of blood on the tombstone, allowing him to see where the Night Flier is going. This warlock routine sorta comes out of nowhere, as Dees was shown to be nothing but a cynic of the supernatural before. However, there's a possibility that Dees was making the tombstone look desecrated for his photograph, and that this triggered the magic by accident.
  • Brainwashed: The vampire can put his victims into a trance of infatuation with him to make it easier to kill them.
  • Breaking and Bloodsucking: The Night Flier pays a visit to the elderly Sarche couple. The following day, the husband shuts down the airfield and the wife visits the beauty parlor. The husband is found with his head torn off on one end of the trailer. The wife is found, her blood completely drained, in bed; with new lingerie, a peaceful expression, and a copy of The Vampire Lestat.
  • Classical Movie Vampire: Dwight Renfield looks like a gentleman in a big black and red cloak with a high collar. However, it subverts the trope in that he always morphs into a decidedly unpleasant-looking batlike monster when about to kill.
  • Cold Ham: Despite not having much in the way of vocal shifts, Dwight is frequently theatrical in his outfit and mannerisms, particularly when intimidating Dees.
  • Continuity Nod: For another Stephen King story, the earliest sighting of the Night Flier's plane is it coming out of Derry, Maine.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Catherine starts out as sweet and idealistic, and is repulsed when Dees tells her about Dottie Walsh. By the end, she, possibly through Dwight's influence, takes a picture of Dees' corpse, getting the front page and implying that she's become just as corrupt as him.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: The vamp writes a message in blood on Dees's motel room window: "STAY AWAY". Dees doesn't listen.
  • Creepy Monotone: Dwight doesn't really bother with vocal inflection. At all. Even while making demands.
  • Death by Adaptation: In the original short story, Richard Dees survives the encounter with the vampire at the airport after giving him his camera footage. In the film, Dees is placed in a nightmarish trance by the vampire and is then shot and killed when he attacks two police officers.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: A hallucination sequence of the vampire’s victims turning into living dead is in black and white, adding to the eerieness of the scene.
  • Dissonant Serenity: An old woman who's been brainwashed by the vampire calmly sits on the front porch of her house as her husband is murdered in front of her, then walks back inside and waits for the vampire to devour her too.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: While Dees is pursuing Dwight, Dwight himself has also been stalking Dees for much of the film. When they actually do confront each other at the end, Dwight attempts to make Dees see reason and not meddle in the affairs of a real monster. Dees refuses to let it go, so Dwight finally relents and shows Dees his Nightmare Face before feeding him his own blood to show him a vision of what awaits him in hell.
  • Downer Ending: Dwight forces Dees to give him the incriminating photographs, driving him insane in the process. In his madness, he gets gunned down by the police, thinking he's the killer. Catherine goes with it, despite knowing the truth, and becomes the new star reporter for the Inside View, having finally been corrupted by the system.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Played With. Dwight is a murderous vampire, but he only kills people to survive, and tries to ward off Dees instead of killing him. In contrast, Dees doesn't kill anyone, but he profits off the deaths of innocents and is a complete and utter asshole in general.
  • Feral Vampires: Dwight Renfield is an interesting example since he looks like a Classical Movie Vampire (at least initially) and you can carry on a conversation and reason with him. In truth he's much closer to a feral vampire than the traditional vampire nobleman from Gothic Horror. His Game Face is incredibly monstrous and inhuman and he descends into a ravenous beast whenever he's in feeding mode. He also lives the life of a destitute, lonely drifter, traveling from one airport to another in his dingy, maggot-infested plane. Not exactly a refined Count, eh?
  • Going for the Big Scoop: Richard Dees is a scummy tabloid reporter who continues to investigate a series of murders at country airports even when it seems increasingly likely that the killer is a monster of some sort. The vampire finally drives him insane after noting that coming face to face with a real monster is the culmination of Dees's existence.
  • Gorn: By the time Dees gets to the airport, Dwight has brutally slaughtered everyone inside. Pools of blood stain the floor; some victims have their guts hanging out; others have giant holes in their necks; and there's at least one stray eyeball around. Even Dees can't stomach it.
  • Hate Sink: You can't hate Dwight Renfield, because he just feeds to survive and ultimately loathes what he is. Dees, on the other hand, our Nominal Hero and borderline Villain Protagonist, is a scumbag of the highest order. He has no moral compass whatsoever, doing whatever he wants for a good story, though he does refuse to sink to actual murder. Maybe.
  • Hell: In a departure from the short story, in the climax Dees demands to see the vampire's face, who then sends him into a trance so the protagonist can witness a glimpse of Hell, where he's mobbed by the deceased people he profited from in his life.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Subverted. Dees finds one of Dwight's mutilated victims with a silver crucifix stuffed in his mouth, suggesting that Dwight deliberately put it there after the man tried (and failed) to ward him off with it.
  • Horror Struck: Richard Dees is a tabloid reporter who has been searching for something supernatural all his life, and has become rather weary of all the cryptoid tales as a result. When he finally runs into a real vampire, the latter notes that meeting him is Richard's destiny, even if it were to kill him.
  • House of Broken Mirrors: The vampire in the film habitually smashes every mirror he comes near.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Even by vampire standards, there's something really inhuman about Dwight. His hypnotic abilities are to be expected, but Dees accidentally draws his attention via Blood Magic, and he also has the ability to send people to their own personal Hell with a taste of his own blood.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: This is the entire journalistic tactic of the low-grade magazine Inside View: the gorier and grislier the crimes they report are, the more issues it will sell. At one point the editor boasts that he hopes the mystery killer claims more victims.
  • Immoral Journalist: Richard Dees is a sleazy and cynical tabloid reporter with few lows he would not stoop to for a story, with trespassing crime scenes and desecrating gravesites being some of his lesser crimes. After promising his new colleague a by-line for her assistance in tracking down the Night Flier, he screws her over by locking her in a closet.
  • Impersonating an Officer: At one point Dees poses as an FBI Agent to get the details about a grisly double murder from a local sherrif.
  • Implied Death Threat: During Dees' and Dwight's confrontation.
    Dees: You're real!
    Dwight: (sinister chuckle) So are you... for now, at least.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Richard Dees is the main reporter for a Lurid Tales of Doom-type magazine who uses a lot of dirty tactics to get stories, often breaking laws to investigate crime scenes. He's not above screwing his colleague over either. His sole motivation throughout the movie is to get his name back on the front cover.
  • Ironic Echo: At the start, Dees tells Katherine to "never believe what you publish—never publish what you believe". She repeats his words back to him when she goes along with the Frame-Up and identifies Dees as the Night Flier.
  • Jerkass: Richard's boss Merton Morrison takes it up a notch. He's the sleazy editor of the paranormal tabloid magazine Inside View, and has even less standards than Dees about what to print or investigate. At one point he loudly declares that he hopes the killer takes more victims, because it will make for a better story.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Dees is initially an outright asshole, but he seems to be willing to put aside his beef with Catherine to help catch Dwight, and just as they're getting ready to go to the airport, he ambushes her and traps her in the hotel closet.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Subverted. Dees is horrified when he sees the massacre at the airport, but takes a few pictures anyway. He eventually becomes too disturbed to take anymore when he sees a dead man with a silver crucifix stuffed in his mouth, then runs to the bathroom. After Dwight gives him one final warning to stay away, Dees refuses to heed his warning and chases after him.
  • Lurid Tales of Doom: Richard Dees works for a tabloid magazine that specializes in things like UFO sightings and satanic rituals to draw in readers.
  • Missing Reflection: The vampire can't be seen through a mirror, most notably at the end when he manhandles the main character inside an airport bathroom and it just looks like he's being held up by thin air. This is also a Berserk Button for the vampire, who prefers smashing every mirror he sees.
  • Monstrous Humanoid: Far from a handsome gentleman, Dwight Renfield will always appear as a barely-human bat-like monster to his victims, except perhaps when he's trying to win their trust.
  • Nightmare Face: Dwight has to be one of the most horrific-looking vampires ever on film. His face is a contorted, bloody, cadaverous visage resembling a vampire bat, with a pair of enormous fangs that he uses to tear a giant hole in his prey's necks.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: The vampire, Dwight Renfield, says that Dees's interest in blood is not so different from his own. He then goes out of his way not to kill Dees. At least not until he's provoked, and even then, he doesn't directly kill him.
  • Ominous Opera Cape: A prominent part of Dwight's ensemble is his massive Dracula-style cape, red as a fire engine inside, black as a woodchuck's asshole on the outside, according to one witness.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: At one point, Richard Dees has a nightmare about the vampire hovering over him as Richard is sleeping in his motel room. He wakes up and it turns out to be a dream… except immediately afterwards he finds out that the vamp left a warning written in blood on his window.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Vampires are vicious, humanoid monsters who slaughter their victims by the dozens. Their abilities include brainwashing (apparently from long-distances) and inducing hallucinations. The vampire’s use of a small airplane to find victims at remote airports stands in for traditional flight powers.
  • Peaceful in Death: The local sheriff tells Dees that Ellen's corpse (drained of all its blood by a vampire who brainwashed her) looked downright peaceful after she was murdered along with her husband, which creeped him and his deputies out to no end.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Dwight Renfield escapes in his airplane after slaughtering dozens of people, with all his crimes being pinned on Richard Dees. However, he did not want Dees to die in the process, and Dwight actually hates his own existence as a bloodsucking fiend.
  • Red Baron: The vampire's name is Dwight Renfield. "The Night Flier" is a moniker given to him by Dees to sell his story.
  • Serial Killer: Subverted. It’s initially believed that Dwight is a serial killer who travels between airports in his private plane to commit mass slaughters, but it later turns out that he is a vampiric monster who has been around for nearly a century.
  • Shout-Out: Dwight Renfield is noted in-universe to be an obvious allusion to The Renfield character from the original Dracula. Also, Dwight Frye is the name of the actor who portrayed Renfield in Dracula (1931).
  • Spoiler Cover: Seeing how it's on the front cover, The Reveal of Dwight's face hardly comes as a surprise to anyone but Dees.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Yes, Dees, go chase after that towering vampire who just slaughtered everybody in an airport and gave you an ultimatum after threatening your life. Certainly he'd be willing to let it slide, right?
  • Tortured Monster: Dwight may be a bloodthirsty monster who massacres people by the dozens, but there are hints dropped throughout the movie that he loathes what he has become, being forced to live in a maggot-infested aeroplane traveling from airport to airport in search in prey. At the end he also seems to regret causing the protagonist's death after previous attempts to warn him off.
  • Up Close with the Monster: Dees gets his wish when he finally runs into a real monster in the climax. Dwight approaches him from behind and cradles his head, terrifying Dees to no end, but he actually tries to avoid showing his Nightmare Face at first since he would prefer not to feed on Dees. However, Dees won't let the matter drop, and ends up getting killed as a result.
  • Vampire Bites Suck: Discussed Trope by Richard Dees. The vampire doesn't leave tiny bite marks, but punctures the necks of his victims with his giant fangs. If he even leaves them in one piece, that is.
  • Vampires Are Rich: Enough to afford a private airplane, anyway.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Dees catches up to Dwight at the final airport in the bathroom. Initially he doesn't even see the vampire due to looking in the mirror, but he then sees a stream of bloody urine being peed into a urinal.
  • Was Once a Man: Dees finds an old photo album in the vampire's plane that shows what he looked like as a human before he became an undead monster.
  • Would Hurt a Child: One of Dwight's victims in the airport is a little girl.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Dees is convinced that he's on the trail of a serial killer who believes himself to be a vampire. He couldn't be more in over his head if he tried, and his realization as such finally breaks him.