Night Owl Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Written and directed by Jeffrey Arsenault
1993, 77 minutes, Not Rated
Released on July 2nd, 2019
John Leguizamo as Angel
James Raftery as Jake
Ali Thomas as Anne
Holly Woodlawn as Barfly
Lisa Napoli as Frances
David Roya as Dario
Karen Wexler as Zohra
Screamin’ Rachael as Herself
Jake is a modern vampire living in an abandoned building in New York’s East Village. He works part time at a pizza parlor but spends much of his time in local night clubs looking for potential victims. He brings home a beautiful Puerto Rican woman named Zohra and sleeps with her, cutting her throat during the act and drinking her blood. The next day, Zohra’s brother Angel is looking for her, desperate for answers, and he will not rest until he finds her. Jake resumes his routine and is growing bored with the pattern until he meets Anne, a performance artist whose poetry invokes violent imagery of gang rape and other brutality. Jake brings her home and resists the urge to kill her, seeing her more as a potential girlfriend.
Jake struggles to control his bloodlust and tries desperately to maintain a normal relationship with Anne. Angel meanwhile continues to canvas the neighborhood for his sister, posting flyers, talking to the regulars at the local bars and his search brings him closer to the truth. Jake’s friends and co-workers are worried about him as he doesn’t look well and he grows more reclusive. Jake eventually gives into his instincts and kills again but this leaves him feeling worse. The inevitable confrontation with Angel is volatile but doesn’t end the way one would expect. Jake continues to try to have something of a normal life, but everything is spiraling out of his control. Can he find happiness or will he be another casualty of an unforgiving city?
The early ‘90s hosted a rise in independent cinema where a new wave of talented young filmmakers brought renewed energy to the industry. In 1993, writer/director Jeffrey Arsenault (Domestic Strangers) made his feature debut with Night Owl, a project two-and-a-half years in the making. This is a bleak character drama with horror undertones that tells a story of love and loss. An isolated vampire yearns for something more but is incapable of controlling his natural instincts as he searches the city for hope. Set against the backdrop of New York’s house music club scene, the movie balances its energy between the intoxicating night life of the city and the loneliness of eternal life.
Arsenault has a good eye for composition but fails to develop his characters in a satisfying manner. There is no closure at the end of this picture, as it ends abruptly just as it introduces elements that could energize the plot. Night Owl was shot in gritty black-and-white 16mm giving the piece a more intimate feel. It was followed by other arthouse vampire movies set in New York, including Michael Almereyda’s Nadja (1994), Larry Fessenden’s Habit (1995) and Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995). These later films improved on the formula telling stronger stories with more accomplished hands behind the camera.
Night Owl is a somewhat darker slice-of-life movie that happens to have a vampire at its center. Surrounded by average people trying to make a living in the city, Jake has his own problems and limitations. This is not an all-powerful or refined creature of the night, rather just a guy cruising nightclubs for attractive women to defile. The plot meanders and never really comes to a point before it suddenly stops, thereby making the experience feel like a waste of time. The film would benefit from a rewrite and better character development. On a positive note, near the end of the picture we are treated to a gratuitous television interview with the lovely Caroline Munro (The Last Horror Film). I am glad to see this title getting a wide release but have my reservations about recommending it for purchase. If you can catch it streaming somewhere give it a look, but prepare for some feelings of frustration.
Video and Audio:
Newly scanned and restored in 2K from the original 16mm camera negative, the image maintains its stark and gritty appearance. Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the black and white picture quality is quite impressive with great contrast levels.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 sound mix preserves the original mono recording. Dialogue levels are occasionally tinny, but generally clear and free from distortion. The nightclub scenes deliver the most energetic moments of the soundtrack and are a welcome treat.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Jeffrey Arsenault provides an audio commentary that allows him the opportunity to revisit his directorial debut. He reveals how the project came together and its lengthy production schedule. He shares several production stories, including some involving casting and the daily grind of life on the set. He starts off strong, but as the film reaches the one-hour mark he slips into extended gaps of silence as he watches the movie.
Night Life (19 minutes) serves as something of a companion piece to the commentary, as Arsenault sits down for an all-new interview. He covers a lot of the same ground, but shares new information too, including the challenges of shooting on location and post-production tasks.
Actor James Raftery is the subject of Living for the Night (14 minutes) in which he reflects on his role of Jake the vampire. He talks about his approach to the character, his dedication to the role and working with his co-stars. He remembers hanging out with the musical artist Screamin’ Rachael, who appears in the nightclub scenes in the film and shares his thoughts on the finished film.
In A Chance to Die (11 minutes), actress Karen Wexler discusses her work as the ill-fated Zorha. She reflects on her similarities to the character and marvels at how smooth the filming experience was. She has fond memories of a packed screening of the picture and is proud of her work.
The archival episode of The Marie Colwell Show (1990, 29 minutes) features an interview with Arsenault in the middle of production. He shares tales from the shoot and does his best to raise awareness of the project.
A collection of rare cast audition tapes are included, featuring actors Karen Wexler and Alan Edwards (1989, 9 minutes), Lisa Napoli (1989, 5 minutes) and James Raftery (1985, 8 minutes).
Raw interview footage with Caroline Munro shot in 1991 specifically for Night Owl appears here in full (9 minutes, in color).
An original video trailer has been included.
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