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Despite some outward pretensions and artsy direction, this 80s sci-fi/thriller is basically an old fashioned haunted house flick wrapped in Star Trek-ish sets and 80s style hairdos. The story, based on a novella by George R.R. Martin, tells of an eclectic group of explorers brought together to search for a mythological sentient being said to be traveling through space on an eternal voyage. The team commission the space freighter Nightflyer to take them to a point where they believe they can rendezvous with this being. The ship’s captain, Royd (Michael Praed) appears only by hologram and is a trans-sex clone of the ship’s former captain who he refers to as his ‘mother’. When Royd, whose lived on the ship all his life, falls for hot mission coordinator Miranda Dorlac (Catherine Mary Stewart) he decides he wants to leave the Nightflyer and that infuriates dear old ‘mom’ whose consciousness runs the ship’s computer. Now the vengeful spirit decides to eliminate the bad influence upon her ship by possession, accident and any means necessary to keep Royd with her.
Despite being a very mixed bag, I kinda like Nightflyers. It has a lot of flaws, but there is a lot to like, too, especially all the 80s nostalgia and familiar faces. On the downside, the film does start out with an interesting sci-fi premise, which it totally jettisons for a routine ‘smothering deceased mother’ haunted house story. Director Robert Collector helms Robert Jaffe’s screenplay with a serious and sometimes arty hand which is fine for starters, but makes it all the more obvious when the film starts to get silly. The very dire tone is betrayed when the film delves into character possession, jabbering headless corpses and the notion that mom is jealous over a son who is also her transgendered clone. Though, it adds to the fun that the cast recites some ridiculous dialog with completely straight faces. On the positive side the film is a bit different and since it came out at a more superfluous time in 80s filmmaking, I give them credit for trying to do something on a more serious sci-fi level. All the more curious as to why they let it degenerate into such a goofy ghost story in it’s second act. There is some nice model work from Fantasy II…who did the FX for The Terminator…the abundant model work may seem quaint by today’s CGI heavy standards, but I find it very charming. This is some surprising gore throughout the film, too and there are a lot of 80s familiar faces like Stewart, Praed, Lisa (Prince Of Darkness) Blount and Michael Des Barres as the team’s psychic. While the rest of the cast play things very poker-faced, Des Barres gives his Jon Winderman some delightfully refreshing over-the-top. Glad someone got the tone of the material.
Overall, I like this flick, but it could have been a lot better in two ways. Either stick to it’s more serious premise of the quest to find space entities and do something along the lines of a low budget 2001: A Space Odyssey, or recognize that it’s a story about a spaceship haunted by the spirit of a jealous dead mother and run with it. Nightflyers wants it both ways and it doesn’t quite work. Despite it’s flaws though, some heavy 80s nostalgia comes to save the day and there is still plenty to like, despite how goofball things get in it’s second half. The film was a bomb back in 1987 and is a bit hard to find these days, but still deserves a decent blu-ray release at some point. A curiosity worth looking at and not without it’s intentional, and unintentional, entertainment value.
3 delightfully 80s hairdos.