Despite some festival screenings, Night Owl ended up going more or less straight to video, falling into psychotronic obscurity till now. Vinegar Syndrome has rescued it from the realm of poor-quality DVD and VHS copies with its new 2K restoration from the 16mm camera original.
The film is very much a product of its time and place: New York City, and specifically the Alphabet City area at the tail end of the ’80s. John Leguizamo is the main reason that the film has developed any cult following, because it was one of his earliest bigger film roles. He plays Angel, who is hunting the killer of his sister. You can tell by his hair that they were shooting scenes here and there in the last few years of the ’80s, whenever time and budget allowed. While the film was in production its director, Jeffrey Arsenault, also directed Leguizamo’s one-man show Mambo Mouth on stage, although he did not direct the TV version.
James Raftery plays the protagonist, Jake, a punky vampire who is on the prowl for victims of the female variety. Billy Jack’s David Roya is also in the cast, and in perhaps the film’s most memorable sequence, the Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn appears as a barfly in a dive bar. The burgeoning House music scene is also depicted, with an appearance from Screamin’ Rachael and the famous nightlife columnist for the Village Voice, Michael Musto, who plays a MC in one of the clubs. However, this film is way more Driller Killer than Party Monster in its depiction of ’80s New York club life. Bizarrely, it also has an interview sequence with cult actress Caroline Munro, which serves no real purpose in the film except that she was in some Hammer films. It wasn’t archive footage, but actually filmed specifically for Night Owl.
It’s nothing amazing, but Night Owl paved the way for other New York-based urban vampire films like The Addiction and Nadja (although I highly doubt that either of those films’ directors, Abel Ferrara and Michael Almereyda, caught Night Owl.) It does share a grainy black-and-white aesthetic with both films, but it’s not in their league. It works better as a documentary of that time and place than as a vampire film, but it should have plenty of curiosity factor for the viewer.
Jeffrey Arsenault supplies a commentary track and a new interview, and there is a archival interview him as well. James Raftery and actress Karen Wexler also are newly interviewed, but Leguizamo is sadly absent. The original cast auditions, the entire Caroline Munro interview and the video trailers complete the package. The film comes on both Blu-Ray and DVD as per usual with Vinegar Syndrome’s releases.