Night Owl 2003 Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
Night Owl (Jeffrey Arsenault, 1993)
Those of us who fancy ourselves critics toss around the word “indie” these days as a synonym for any movie that got made outside the Hollywood system, even if that film ends up getting distributed by the Hollywood system (and let’s not talk about those who would use the term “indie” to describe Kevin Smith movies or Juno, fer god’s sake). The real definition of “indie”, especially in the early nineties, involved making movies for the smallest of budgets and having real artistic pretensions. While I was in no way fond of it, Todd Haynes’ first feature, Poison, is a perfect example of this. Here’s another: Night Owl, Jeffrey Arsenault’s first feature, and the beginning of his long onscreen affair with vampires (Arsenault has also helmed the two Crimson Nights films, Date with a Vampire, and Blood Craving, which spanned the next ten years of his career, at least as far as IMDB is concerned). Arsenault never ended up being the critical darling Haynes did, possibly because Night Owl is not as compelling or as artfully made as Poison, but it certainly does have an almost-nonexistent budget and serious artistic pretensions, as well as having the same cynical view of New York City that characterizes Abel Ferrara’s city-life films (think Driller Killer and Bad Lieutenant here).
The plot: Jake (James Raftery) is a vampire living in New York City. He’s not really a bad guy, other than that whole having-to-drink-blood thing, but that does get him into a bit of a bind at times. In the opening sequence of the movie, we see him at his job, then going to an after-hours club to let off steam and grab himself a bite to eat. He takes her back to his place, which is the height of cool-New-York-squat. After doing what comes naturally to her, he does what comes naturally to him. End of scene. Problem is that people tend to come with connections, and this particular victim has a brother, Angel (John Leguizamo, who coincidentally had appeared in Poison just before Night Owl started filming), who’s not willing to let a dead dog lie.
There is certainly a lot to like in Night Owl when the scenes are advancing the plot or giving us more of Jake’s character, but the club scenes tend to drag on far too long, looking more like filler (at the time the movie was being made, Screamin’ Rachel, who appears often in the club scenes, was probably the film’s biggest draw to anyone outside the world of underground film, which may explain this). Filler is something that’s not exactly out of the ordinary in movies, but it’s pretty hard to justify when your final product is only an hour and sixteen minutes long. If the film had simply concentrated on Jake, we might have gotten a lot more character development and/or a lot more story, and the skeleton we have here could have easily hung a great deal more of both on it—not to mention more of that pervasive air of cynicism about the city itself which I touched on before. (One has to wonder how much of the I-watched-Kitty-Genovese-die attitude Holly Woodlawn displays when John Leguizamo is questioning her came from a conscious decision on anyone’s part, and how much of it is just ingrained into the psyches of every New Yorker who was alive in the seventies.) As it stands, however, it is just that skeleton, without much meat on its bones. Like Poison, it’s a film that shows a great deal of promise from its young filmmaker—but where Todd Haynes quickly found himself with the budgets and the crew to let his talent shine through, Jeffrey Arsenault is still hanging on the fringes of the direct-to-video market, putting together a movie now and then when he can get the cash together. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not quite sure what it is. The moral of the story, though, is that watching films that are truly indie can be a rewarding experience whether or not the director involved ever ended up making it big. ***