Film Reviews:

Night Owl

(Jeffrey Arsenault, US, 1993)

Another obscure American independent horror movie from the Screen Edge label, Night Owl is something of a find for fans of avant-garde horror. A standard tale about a vampire in modern-day New York claiming victims, male or female, is delivered with a sharp wit and distinctive style. Shot on Kodak's (discontinued) '4X' system, the high contrast, black and white images, relying only on available natural light, convey a world on the edges of reality and society. Equal parts Scorsese's Mean Streets and Romero's Martin and occasionally rubbing up against Grandmother/Eraserhead period Lynch, there also something contemporary about it, something very 90s. From the acid humour opening when the radio news seems to report nothing but tales of murder, attempted murder, mutilation, depravity and social decay, director Arsenault immediately sets the viewer off balance. And he continues to do so throughout. It surfaces again in the setting of a cabaret club for the bizarre where artistes called Anne Guish(!) and Screaming Rachael deliver their avant garde poetry or overtly political rock songs. The music on the soundtrack is unusual too - a blend of homemade 'industrial' offset against simplistic Casio keyboards! Because of the bargain basement budget, everything is shot on location - from the flat interiors to the cabaret bar scenes. It's only when a production like this comes along once in a while that you realise just how sanitised and artificially represented the real world is in Hollywood movies. Technical limitations aside, this is particularly well shot and stylistically closer to the French New Wave of the 1960s than any modern horror counterpart. Recommended.

Rob Dyer