Night Owl - Night Owl( Blu Ray/ DVD) [Vinegar Syndrome - 2019]Shot in gritty 'n' grimy 16mm black & white Night Owl is an early 1990’s vampire film set in the backdrop of NYC’s Lower east sides nocturnal pizza shops, house music clubs, and grimy apartments. From Vinegar Syndrome here we have a recent duel Blu ray/ DVD reissue of this grimly distinctive and fairly original take on the vampire genre- the set features a new print of the film, directors commentary, and a few other extras.
Night Owl came out in 1993 was written & directed by New Yorker Jeffrey Arsenault- this was his first feature film(though he made around 20 shorts before). After this he went on in 1996 to director the drama Domestic Stranger- then seemingly in the 2000s went onto make a handful of straight to video vampire pictures. With Night Owl he offers up a satisfying if a little rough around the edges debut film, that blends together low-key & at time brutal vampire elements with drama, urbane gloom, and more a liberally dose of House music often played in a live setting.
The film centers around nineteen-year-old Jake (James Raftery)- who hangs out in a Pizza shop, often attends a local club that often features House music & shocking female spoken word performance, oh and he’s also a Vampire. The Vampire elements are very subtle and subdued- and mostly as the film progresses Jake acts more like a junky, than a traditional and gothic bloodsucker. Much of the film's runtime does focus in on Jakes relationship with his mother( who works in the pizza shop), his brash-though caring stepdad, and his surrounding friends/ denizens of the club. When the vampire moments do happen they are often very violent, grimy and sexualized- as most of the attacks happen after Jake has had fairly vigorous & intense sex. Instead of biting his victims he uses a Stanley blade to slash, then he sucks- so in a way I guess this nods back to likes of Martin in its use of blades, and to a lesser extent whether or whether not is Jake really a vampire, or just a troubled blood obsessed teen- through personal I lean towards the former.
The whole thing is captured in grainy almost documentary fashion- with the cinematography moving between stark, murky, and decidedly dark. The films action takes place in the Lower east side- be it in Jakes messy and gloomy apartment, the pizza shop, the grimy & sweaty club, or the rubbish piled streets. The pace moves from fairly slow and chatty, to jarring and punchy, through to shocking and bleak. I have somewhat of a soft spot for Vampire movies, but I’d say this one sits at the more grim and edgy side of the genre- adding in the setting, the music that moves from the already mention house, though to discordant and gothic, onto to starkly slamming electronica- make this a fairly distinctive & fresh addition to the vampire / urbane horror genre.
Moving onto this release- and due to grimy 'n' gritty film stock of the whole thing, the new print is not up to VS usual crisp and defined prints, and really you wouldn't want it to be- as this element very much enhances a lot of the postive in the film. Moving onto extras- and the first of these is the new commentary track from Jeffrey Arsenault- this finds the writer/ director discussing everything from the films often natural lighting, the short end film stock used, information regarding various key settings- for example, Jake’s apartment was the basement of an abandoned funeral parlor. He goes onto discuss the films two year filming, and where & when certainly scenes where filmed, the cast, and cameos throughout the film- it’s certainly very down-to-earth and informative track that finds Arsenault discussing the film in a very honest manner, even pointing out certain scenes he felt should have been cut different, & the films not so successful elements. Next, we get three new stand-alone interviews- these each run between ten and eighteen minutes- there’s one with Jeffrey Arsenault, one with male lead James Raftery, and one with female actress Karen Wexler. Next, there’s a twenty-nine-minute archive with Arsenault from 1990- this is from some sort of regional cable chat show. There are a few minutes of original cast auditions, and the uncut interview footage of genre actress Caroline Munro- that appears on a TV in the film, and sees her discussing her roles in Hammer films. Lastly, we get the original trailer and the normal VS reversible cover artwork. So all in all a nice selection of stuff.
Hats off to Vinegar Syndrome for once again uncovering another decidedly distinctive, and fairly unique horror film with Night Owl- and as always the company go all out to give viewers the best possible presentation of the film, as well as some great extras too. Roger Batty