Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Film Review: HIGH-BALLIN' (1978, Peter Carter)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by Paul F. Edwards (V, NORTH AND SOUTH), Richard Robinson (PIRANHA, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, and Stephen Schneck (INSIDE OUT, WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY).  Starring Peter Fonda (EASY RIDER, THE LIMEY), Jerry Reed ("Cledus" in the SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films, GATOR), Helen Shaver (OUTRAGEOUS!, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE PARK IS MINE!), Harvey Atkin (MEATBALLS, ATLANTIC CITY), Leslie Carlson (VIDEODROME, THE DEAD ZONE), and Michael Ironside?
Tag-line:  "Truckin' is one thing, high-ballin' is another, and the way they do it is something else!"
Best one-liner:  "You're a trucker?"  –"Well, I'm not a Go-Go dancer!"

HIGH-BALLIN' is not just a mediocre 70s Canadian trucker movie.  It's also a travelogue, an occasional EASY RIDER pastiche, and a bona fide Junta Juleil mystery.  Allow me to explain.

Netflix Streaming has a whole mess of films expiring tomorrow, many of which never made it to DVD.  One of these films is HIGH-BALLIN', and it has been on my watch-list for a long time, owing mostly to the fact that it supposedly features a role from a young Michael Ironside, as "Butch."  Research on the subject was hazy because apparently not that many people have seen HIGH-BALLIN', but cursory investigation revealed that Ironside's role was "unconfirmed."  I'll come back to this.

Unlike your average escapist truckin' fare, HIGH-BALLIN' has a surprisingly pessimistic tone to it, even in the midst of a twangy opening song by co-star Jerry Reed (country singer and zany trucker movie veteran), the fact that it's low-budgeted American International Picture, and the matter of its release abroad as a faux-sequel to CONVOY.  The bad guys aren't blundering meatheads being hilariously cold-cocked by orangutans like in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE– instead they're vicious hijackers murdering honest truckers and leaving their bodies on the side of the road.  Plus, the movie's got that whole Canadian seasonal depression thing going on, as I described in my review of THE DEAD ZONE.  I kinda like the idea of a depressing trucker movie.  

The plot follows our motorcyclist/trucker hero Peter Fonda, his truckin' buddy Jerry Reed, and Fonda's quasi-trucker/wannabe-trucker/trucker groupie girlfriend Helen Shaver as they fight back against a corporate trucking firm who's sending men in pickup trucks to hijack honest trucker's semitrailer trucks, steal them, and store them in an enormous trucking warehouse.  May I also recommend: LOTS AND LOTS OF TRUCKS.

HIGH-BALLIN' = EASY RIDER for the 70s?  

The action highlight of the piece is probably the chase scene whereupon Fonda releases racecars from a double-decker transport truck and flings them into the road at pursuing hijackers,

Peter Fonda, ready for some Canadian action– and appropriately dressed

but this film isn't really about the action.  It's about atmosphere, and the roads and scenic byways of 70s Ontario provide a nice, unusual spin on the genre.

We are treated to a nearly endless parade of scenic truck stop diners and nostalgic, down-home country western bars,

most of which are locales where you'd be happy to grab a Labatt or a Canadian Club on the rocks and spend some time hangin' out with David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, or whoever your favorite Canadian happens to be.

We also get a bit part from Leslie "Barry Convex in VIDEODROME" Carlson,

a Canadian character actor who really made the rounds with Cronenberg, and with Canadian films in general.

Finally, we come to the mystery of Ironside.  For those of you who don't know, a large, hearty chunk of this website is devoted to Michael Ironside, even to the point of fanfiction.  So I watched the movie– looking for him the whole time– and couldn't quite spot him.  I was expecting him to show up as a henchman, so I kept pausing the hijacker scenes in the hopes of a glimpse of Ironside.  The movie came to a close and I could barely contain my disappointment.  Perhaps the "unconfirmed" status of Ironside's appearance in HIGH-BALLIN' was true...  Then my mind sparked, and I remembered back to a scene where an ambulance arrives on the scene to tend to a freshly murdered trucker.  In the scene, a bearded doctor walks across the screen, pokes his head in the vehicle, and says nothing.  He is never seen or heard from again.  It is my belief that this bearded doctor is Ironside.

He eluded my gaze the first time around because I was looking for a villain shouting threats, not a throwaway doctor without any dialogue.  Now, you can click on the pics for a larger view, but I'm 90% sure this is Ironside.  A waste of the man's talents, I say!  I realize that this is kind of anti-climactic, but hey, it's another Junta Juleil mystery (mostly) solved.

Three high-ballin', high-rollin', truckin' buddy stars.

–Sean Gill

Monday, April 29, 2013

Film Review: THE MEN'S CLUB (1986, Peter Medak)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Tag-line:  "The Breakfast Club.  The Big Chill.  And now The Men's Club."
Best one-liner:  Not really.

What is THE MEN'S CLUB?  I saw the damn thing, and I'm not sure I can tell you.  It feels like a play and reads like a block-headed sleazy macho paperback for yuppie dickheads, and yet is performed like a master's class in acting.  It sure doesn't have much in common with THE BREAKFAST CLUB or THE BIG CHILL, as the tag-line promises, though all three works involve groups of people talking to one another indoors about a variety of topics.

From the talented Peter Medak, director of THE RULING CLASS, THE CHANGELING, BREAKIN' THROUGH, and many other favorites of the Junta Juleil canon, comes the story of a group of professional and semi-professional philandering dudes who deliver monologues about how difficult their lives are.  Said dudes are portrayed by some of the finest actors of their generation, from Roy Scheider to Harvey Keitel to Frank Langella to Richard Jordan.  And they're giving it their all...(especially Scheider)... they just happen to be in THE MEN'S CLUB.

I can't really begin to describe THE MEN'S CLUB, nor do I really want to, but I can tell you about the few spectacular things that happen in it.

#1.  The Lee Holdridge soundtrack, which is spit-take inducingly fabulous.  Full of slap-happy slap bass, muted trumpets, wailing saxes, and smoove, easy listening grooves, I was sort of surprised that my walls didn't spontaneously sprout green felt and transform my apartment into a seedy, smoke-filled lounge where Malibu was consumed by the gallon and impromptu soft-core pornography shoots materialized out of thin air.  In short, I'm a little upset that the soundtrack has never received an official release.

#2.  How 'bout a Madame... with a frightening ventriloquist's dummy...

....who's peddling a young Jennifer Jason Leigh who's dolled up to sort of look like young Melanie Griffith?  I don't know what to tell you.

#3. I swear Harvey Keitel's contracts must include nudity in them.  They have to.  It's like how Van Damme's contracts must include splits and Burt Reynolds' must include bar-fights and Bronson's must have involved dummies plummeting from great heights. 


#4.  Frank Langella, reborn via midlife crisis into a suspender-wearing, post-80s New Wave makeup wearing-dude who looks like an extra from the Elton John "I'm Still Standing" music video.  I can't believe my eyes.

So there you have it– all the highlights of THE MEN'S CLUB without having to actually watch it.  Phew.

–Sean Gill

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... BREWSTER'S MILLIONS

Only now does it occur to me... that despite the trappings of a mainstream, non-Walter Hillish 80s comedy, Walter Hill manages occasionally to put his stamp on BREWSTER'S MILLIONS.

Based on a 1902 novel, BREWSTER'S MILLIONS has been adapted to film on ten occasions, and though it's verily brimming with socio-political ideas for a zany 80s comedy and I did indeed enjoy it, it's far from being a "great" movie.  It doesn't have any buddy cops, Western gunslingers, street gangs, or Carradines; there's no Brion James, no James Remar, and not even a hint of David Patrick Kelly (aka DPK, aka "War-eh-orrs, come out and play-yee-yay!").  Nonetheless, here are four things about the film which are extremely "Walter Hillish":

#1.  Ry Cooder soundtrack.  Though much of his oeuvre sounds exactly the twangy-same, Cooder (probably best known for his work on PARIS, TEXAS and alongside greats like Clapton, Captain Beefheart, Van Morrison, and the Doobie Brothers) generally puts together solid soundtracks for Walter Hill.  Other Hill works include: THE LONG RIDERS, SOUTHERN COMFORT, STREETS OF FIRE, CROSSROADS, JOHNNY HANDSOME, "The Man Who Was Death" episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, TRESPASS, GERONIMO, and LAST MAN STANDING.

#2.  Ric Waite cinematography.  I've sung his praises before, but he often lenses evocatively smoggy, neon-soaked city-scapes and crisp daylight shots with a warm color palette and an indescribably "80s" feel.  I'd compare him certainly to Gary Kibbe, the latter-day John Carpenter cinematographer (from PRINCE OF DARKNESS in 1987 to GHOSTS OF MARS in 2001).  Other Hill works include:  48 HRS., THE LONG RIDERS, and the Hill-produced BLUE CITY.

#3.  Peter Jason!  Also a favorite of John Carpenter, Peter Jason's often pompous supporting parts are a staple of the 1980s.  Here he plays a pompous newscaster.  Other Hill works include:  DEADWOOD, the bartender in 48 HRS., UNDISPUTED, RED HEAT, STREETS OF FIRE, WILD BILL, JOHNNY HANDSOME, and the PERVERSIONS OF SCIENCE episode, "Dream of Doom."

 #4.  Torchy's.  The spectacular dive bar which recurs in so many Walter Hill movies (THE DRIVER, STREETS OF FIRE, 48 HRS., etc., etc.) is back! 
At this point, it's like seeing an old friend.  We've seen Eddie Murphy cause a ruckus there, Diane Lane perform there, Bruce Dern interrogate Ryan O' Neal there...  ah, you've got to love it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Film Review: SINGLES (1992, Cameron Crowe)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Starring Bridget Fonda (JACKIE BROWN, A SIMPLE PLAN), Campbell Scott (THE SPANISH PRISONER, LONGTIME COMPANION), Matt Dillon (THE OUTSIDERS, RUMBLE FISH), Kyra Sedgwick (BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, PHENOMENON), Sheila Kelly (SOAPDISH, NURSE BETTY), Pearl Jam, and for the rest, see review.   A soundtrack featuring Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Smashing Pumpkins, Mother Love Bone, Jane's Addiction, Pixies, R.E.M., Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and others.
Tag-line:  "Love is a game.  Easy to start.  Hard to finish."
Best one-liner: "Come to where the flavor is.  Come to Debbie country."

This isn't going to be a full-blown review, per sé, but let me tell you something that I found surprising:  SINGLES holds up.  In terms of intelligent, 1990s, twenty-something comedy-dramas, it cannot touch my favorites (Baumbachs like KICKING AND SCREAMING, MR. JEALOUSY, and HIGHBALL, or Stillmans like METROPOLITAN, BARCELONA, and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO), but it's got a fun, occasionally profound, indie-Seattle-grunge authenticity to it– in the music, in the fashion, and in the state of mind.  Cameron Crowe's positive energy is infectious, and even when the proceedings occasionally dip into sappier territory, you're still along for the ride (in his early work, at least).  Sort of a guilty pleasure, but I recommend it, if the mood strikes.

Anyway, this is all pretty much a lead up to a brief feature I call:  9 FACES I WAS NOT EXPECTING TO SEE IN SINGLES:

#1.  Paul Giamatti (AMERICAN SPLENDOR, COSMOPOLIS) as a creepy dude, making out in public with his girlfriend... and sucking on her hair.

#2.  Victor Garber (EXOTICA, TITANIC, ARGO), briefly glimpsed as a sensitive dad dreamboat-type.

#3.  Ally Walker (SONS OF ANARCHY, the moxie-filled reporter and JCVD love interest in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER!) as a bitchy, cardigan-wearing roommate.

#4.  Tom Skerritt (ALIEN, SPACECAMP, BIG BAD MAMA, CHEERS) as the semi-skeezy Mayor of Seattle.

#5.  Jeremy Piven (DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE, THE PLAYER, SAY ANYTHING) as an obnoxious drug store clerk.

 #6.  Bill Pullman (THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, MALICE) as a surprisingly pathos-filled breast augmentation surgeon.

 #7. 90s standby Eric Stoltz (MR. JEALOUSY, PULP FICTION, SAY ANYTHING, ANACONDA) as a talking mime, exactly the sort of quirky character actor bit that he can pull off, flawlessly, but would probably be annoying if someone else tried it.

 #8.  James LeGros (FATAL BEAUTY, POINT BREAK, SAFE, THE RAPTURE, GUNCRAZY) as a pretentious, ponytailed giver of advice.  Always good to see you, Mr. LeGros.

 #9.  And finally, Tim Burton, described as "the next Martin Scor-SEES" as an existentialism-obsessed director of dating service videos. 

 I cannot top that.  Amen.

–Sean Gill

Friday, April 12, 2013

Film Review: STAY TUNED (1992, Peter Hyams)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  John Ritter (THREE'S COMPANY, STEPHEN KING'S IT), Pam Dawber (Mindy on MORK AND MINDY), Jeffrey Jones (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, BEETLEJUICE, AMADEUS), Eugene Levy (BEST IN SHOW, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN), Erik King (STREET SMART, DEXTER), Don Calfa (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S), David Tom (PLEASANTVILLE), Heather McComb (APT PUPIL, ALL THE REAL GIRLS), a special appearance by Captain Lou Albano (WWF CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING, WISE GUYS), and Salt-N-Pepa as themselves.  Written by Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein (MAJOR LEAGUE II, THE FLINTSTONES '94, RICHIE RICH, GETTING EVEN WITH DAD).  Animation sequence supervised by Chuck Jones (LOONEY TUNES, MERRIE MELODIES, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT).  Directed and shot by Peter Hyams (TIMECOP, RUNNING SCARED, SUDDEN DEATH, 2010).
Tag-line:  "The Knables signed up for a cable system that's out of this world!"
Best one-liner:  "Kids, don't try this at home!"

Hoping to achieve the success of other broad sci-fi/comedy/fantasy crossover fare like HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS or SHORT CIRCUIT or WEIRD SCIENCE, STAY TUNED tells the tale of a demonic company ("Hell-o-Vision") who sucks consumers through their satellite dishes into a television purgatory

whereupon they bounce from show to twisted show, trying to stay alive amid a sea of lethal clichés.  If they fail, they're (apparently) sentenced to eternal damnation.

In a touch of inspired casting, our heroes are ex-sitcom stars (John Ritter of THREE'S COMPANY and Pam Dawber of MORK AND MINDY), and the major villain, "Spike," is played by Jeffrey Jones (Dean Rooney from FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF), who is exactly who should be playing the role of a pompous, channel-flipping demon.  The first choice for director was Tim Burton, but ultimately the job went to Peter Hyams, a director known for zany buddy cop flicks (RUNNING SCARED, BUSTING), Jupiter-related sci-fi (2010, OUTLAND), and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies (TIMECOP, SUDDEN DEATH).

STAY TUNED aims for caustic satire, but the end result is an uneven jumble of high-energy gags that are occasionally clever, but usually blockheaded.  (I don't know what I expected– it's from the mastermind writing team that brought us MAJOR LEAGUE II, THE FLINTSTONES '94, RICHIE RICH, and GETTING EVEN WITH DAD.)  I might even go as far as to say that it ends up feeling like a cross between MOONWALKER and VIDEODROME, only it's not nearly as amazing as that sounds (not even close).

It's still got a few good moments, though, so now I'm going to regale you with a list of:


#1.  Jeffrey Jones' disembodied head, cackling with glee, and launching itself at the viewer from inside the confines of an actual cable line.

#2.  Cap'n Lou Albano revving up a crowd for John Ritter tag-team action.


#4.  Jeffrey Jones spinnin' and scratchin' and groovin' and quick-mixin' as he DJs a party in a Salt-N-Pepa music video (!).

#5.  A Maxell commercial parody involving decapitation and calling itself MAX HELL.


And I love that they got the detailing right on the satanic bassinet!

#7.  A STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION parody featuring Jeffrey Jones as multiple characters, including Worf, Data, and whoever is being depicted on that viewscreen:

(John Ritter is Picard.)


A zombie parody of a Saturday Night Live sketch that is itself a parody of the very specific niche of rock n' roll-based cable access TV.  Whew!


#10.  I didn't get a screencap of it, but we do see the title screen of a show called "FRESH PRINCE OF DARKNESS."  I wonder if John Carpenter would be the director?

#11.  A fiendish, alternate dimensional version of THREE'S COMPANY that becomes John Ritter's worst nightmare.
(If the whole movie was this bizarre, I probably would consider it a masterpiece.)

#12.  The inspiration for CABIN IN THE WOODS?!

If you haven't seen CABIN IN THE WOODS (henceforth CITW), stop reading now.  

Though I half-expected it to rub me the wrong way, I really enjoyed CITW.  And now I also know that STAY TUNED was likely the basis for the whole endeavor.  This doesn't at all ruin my CITW experience, but I think there should possibly be an "inspired by" credit, or some acknowledgment to the film which preceded it.

Before you call me crazy, consider the set-up:  poor archetypal schmucks are taken to a demonic arena to be sacrificed via cliché for the amusement of dark gods.  The ritual is orchestrated by demonic middle-management in a command center that resembles a high-tech office with lots of monitors, and so on.
There is a new, logical, go-getting black guy (here, DEXTER's Erik King, in CITW it's Brian White) to whom they must explain the process:

They monitor the progress of the other contestants–  here, an old lady is being killed in Tokyo by a Will Vinton-esque Godzilla–

which recalls the alternate city monsters in CITW, like the RINGU girl in Japan and the giant ape in Buenos Aires.
As the film progresses, the archetype of "The Fool" (Ritter in STAY TUNED and Fran Kranz in CITW) continues to thwart the plans of the demonic middle management, threatening to upend their organization,
and by the film's end, we've seen a deluge of nearly every cliché in the book planted in a new context (from TV in STAY TUNED, from horror movies in CITW).  So there you go:  a mostly mediocre fantasy comedy from 1992 ends up being responsible for the best horror movie of 2012?

Two and a half stars.

–Sean Gill

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Film Review: THE NIGHT FLIER (1997, Mark Pavia)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Based on the short story by Stephen King.  Starring Miguel Ferrer (TWIN PEAKS, ROBOCOP, TRAFFIC, son of José Ferrer, cousin of George Clooney), Julie Entwhistle (IN AND OUT), Dan Monahan (PORKY'S, PORKY'S II: THE NEXT DAY), Michael H. Moss (ROBOCOP 3, PASSENGER 57).  Produced by Richard P. Rubenstein (DAWN OF THE DEAD, CREEPSHOW, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE).  Makeup and special effects by Greg Nicotero (ARMY OF DARKNESS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, THE WALKING DEAD, KILL BILL, DEADWOOD), Howard Berger (THE MIST, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, EVIL DEAD II, THE FACULTY, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS), and Robert Kurtzman (PREDATOR, HOUSE III, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, SCREAM).
Tag-line:  "Evil has a flight plan."
Best one-liner:  "Never believe what you publish, and never publish what you believe."

While it does lay claim to a small cult following, THE NIGHT FLIER is nonetheless a relatively overlooked work when it comes to the Stephen King film canon.  Is it a masterpiece?  No.  But it's a fun, gory thriller in the vein (no pun intended) of a long-form TALES FROM THE CRYPT or an X-FILES "Monster of the Week" episode that's held together with a strong, nuanced portrayal by snarky character actor extraordinaire, Miguel Ferrer.

Pictured: snarky character actor extraordinaire Miguel Ferrer.

Back in my review of THE DEAD ZONE, I wrote about the King character of "Richard Dees," a sleazoid reporter for a rag mag named "INSIDE VIEW," who makes appearances in THE DEAD ZONE novel and the short story "The Night Flier" (from the NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES collection).  Dees is an absurd caricature of "the amoral newspaperman," combining the privacy-invasions of the paparazzi with the hilarious, outright dishonesty of THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER.

He's the sort of man who says "never print what you believe, and never believe what you print," the original yellow journalist.  However, despite his outward lack of principles, you genuinely like him... sort of like every character Miguel Ferrer has ever brought to life!

Anyway, Ferrer's Dees is the protagonist of THE NIGHT FLIER, and he's seen here following a shadowy, cloaked figure who may or may not be a genuine vampire, an alleged blood-sucker who has adapted to modern times, jumping around from rural town to town overnight in a Cessna Skymaster, signing in as "Dwight Renfield" (alluding to Dwight Frye, the wonderful character actor who portrayed Renfield in the 1931 DRACULA), leaving behind unsolved murders, and always vanishing without a trace.

Part detective thriller, part morality tale, and part vampire horror, here's eight reasons why you ought to buckle up and take to the unfriendly skies with THE NIGHT FLIER, where evil has a flight plan, etc., etc....

#1.  The exquisite dickery of Miguel Ferrer.

A lot of movies have characters who are callous, hardened individuals whose gruff exteriors mask hearts of gold.  In the end, it is revealed that they always kept people at an arm's length because they really just needed some love and were afraid of rejection.  Conversely, the deeper meaning here is that Miguel Ferrer's Rick Dees keeps people at an arm's length because he despises them.

He may be a chain-smoking, heavy-drinking misanthrope, but by God, he's our chain-smoking, heavy-drinking misanthrope!

Piloting his own Cessna, Ferrer's Dees chases the Night Flier across the country, kickin' back with his Ray-Bans, dictating to a tape recorder, and looking down with disdain at the ant-sized people below.  Well done.

#2.  Ferrer's boss, Dan Monahan (PORKY'S actor and fusion of Jeffrey Combs and Charles Martin Smith), insists that he's perfect for this particular job because he's "good with the hicks."

This of course recalls Ferrer's legendary role on TWIN PEAKS as FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield, a man who hated yokels with even more fervor than Richard Dees, and a man who frequently unleashed incredibly verbose bon mots such as the following:

"Mr. Horne, I realize that your position in this fair community pretty well guarantees venality, insincerity, and a rather irritating method of expressing yourself. Stupidity, however, is not necessarily a inherent trait, therefore, please listen closely. You can have a funeral any old time. You dig a hole, you plant a coffin. I, however, cannot perform these tests next year, next month, next week or tomorrow - I must perform them now. I've got a lot of cutting and pasting to do, gentlemen, so why don't you please return to your porch rockers and resume whittling. "
It's too bad that all that TWIN PEAKS season 3 talk ended up being hogwash, because I dearly would have loved to see Miguel Ferrer come back as Albert Rosenfield and do his snobbish thing.  Anyway, let's get back on topic–

#3.  Poor man's Audrey Horne.

Continuing the TWIN PEAKS-ian chain of logic, I must note that the female lead here, Julie Entwhistle, is sort of a poor man's Audrey Horne, as depicted by these conveniently chosen screenshots.

 Julie Entwhistle inside a closet.

 Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) inside a closet.

 The role she's playing (as an occasional victim and occasional foil) is not present in the original short story, but I get that they wanted to add some more female characters.  Also of note is that Julie Entwhistle only ever appeared in one other film (as "Student" in IN AND OUT) which was also in 1997.  Weird.

#4. Stephen King references galore.

This is truly for the SK nerds out there.  At one point, Julie Entwhistle's character is looking at a wall of old, framed INSIDE VIEW covers.  Each of them, only on screen for a few seconds, references a different Stephen King novel or short story:

"Satanic Shopkeeper Sells Gory Goodies"  = NEEDFUL THINGS  and "Naked Demons Leveled My Lawn"  = THE LAWNMOWER MAN

"The Ultimate Killer Diet!  Gypsy Curse Flayed at Lawyer's Flesh!"  = THINNER

"Headless Lamaze Leads to Successful Birth"  = THE BREATHING METHOD and "Springfield Jack Strikes Again" = STRAWBERRY SPRING

There's also "Kiddie Cultists in Kansas Worship Creepy Voodoo God!" in reference to CHILDREN OF THE CORN.  Furthermore, at one point, Ferrer's character discusses a school teacher who murdered some demonic five-year-olds (a reference to the Bradbury-esque King short, "Suffer the Little Children"), and he visits an airfield in Derry, Maine (the home of IT and INSOMNIA).

Finally, he visits Wilmington, North Carolina, which has now become the filmic equivalent of Derry or Castle Rock, Maine for Stephen King adaptations ever since CAT'S EYE, FIRESTARTER, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, and SILVER BULLET were filmed there, thanks to Dino de Laurentiis' studio being located in Wilmington.  So, whew.  I hope that's enough Stephen King references for you.

#5.  Expressionistic flourish.

There's a terrific black and white sequence that takes a little from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and tonally prefigures THE MIST!

#6.  Practical effects.

The legendary Berger, Kurtzman, and Nicotero are on the job (see some of their credits above), and they're having a helluva lotta fun.  I'm obviously not going to show you the best stuff, or the monster himself– you'll have to see the movie for that.  But let's take a moment to salute practical effects in THE NIGHT FLIER, which, in 1997, could have easily been replaced by terrible TV-worthy CGI.

#7.  A vampire that orders a Bloody Mary.

As he hunts the vampire, Ferrer receives several warnings to cease and desist his investigation.   My favorite comes in a local bar when a shadowy man orders him a drink and disappears.  The drink, obviously, is a Bloody Mary and the napkin has a message in red marker:  "STOP NOW."  A:  I love that the vampire actually ordered a Bloody Mary, because, of course.  B:  I love that the vampire was considerate enough to buy Ferrer a drink.  I mean, he could've just dropped the napkin on his lap or something.

#8.  The reveal of the vampire.  (I'm going to remain relatively spoiler-free here, and I'm definitely not going to spoil what the vampire looks like, despite the fact that it's an amazingly well-done makeup effect and has already been plastered all over the DVD case and the disc art and the menu screens and most of the posters.)

The first part is copied, nearly verbatim, from the short story– a wonderfully suspenseful scene where our hero sees a stream of blood flowing from an invisible source into a urinal, reflected in a bathroom mirror.

The inability to turn around and see the actual creature builds a kind of dreamlike tension that reaches a minor state of perfection. [ Also, this begs the question, is the vampire from the "popped-collar zone?"  (See #3 in my DEAD ZONE review.)]

Anyway, the film nails the final moments of the short story, and then continues for a few minutes more, straight into TALES OF THE CRYPT/TWILIGHT ZONE-style coda.  Though I thought the short story ended perfectly, I don't really mind the extension here– I mean, this is a story about a Cessna-piloting vampire– the filmmakers should be able to take a few liberties now and again.


Four stars.

–Sean Gill