Don’t be logline or synopsis duped and don’t be conned by the film’s jazz score and soft-focus photography: Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Bride, and Vampire’s Kiss, Doctor M) isn’t a “pretty female radio DJ” or a “sultry nighttime disc jockey” and this isn’t a Lifetime-styled, soft-core sex thriller set inside a radio station. This is a ghost story. And it’s a fantasy-horror ghost story and not a romantic-fantasy like its inspirational antecedent: 1990’s Ghost, starring Demi Moore.
Julia (Beals) is a successful New York doctor specializing in audiology and speech pathology. She’s ready to walk away from five years of marriage to Harry, her ne’er-do-well jazz saxophone player husband (familiar TV actor James Wilder), who’s prone to cheating on her—and lying about the affairs.
She begins investigating the sudden rash of men self-mutilating (one gouges his ear drums) and committing suicides (Harry’s bandmate freaks out on stage, runs off, and jumps off a building). The one trait they have in common: they scream “She’s in my head!” over and over.
That “voice” is The Night Owl, a sultry overnight jazz disc jockey newly syndicated on the New York airwaves of WPKZ. “Her” voice captivates men—promiscuous men in particular—and feeds on their carnal desires during the full moon of the autumn equinox. And the station’s manager claims there is no “Night Owl.” And the FCC believers her to be a pirate radio operator broadcasting off the coast of New York. And Julia scoffs at the warnings of Dr. Matthews (Jackie Burroughs; The Dead Zone, Willard 2003), a professor of ancient folklore convinced the men are the victims of an ancient Siren.
And The Night Owl’s newest victim is Harry, who’s to be her Halloween sacrifice. And The Night Owl is prone to attacking the lovers of her victims in bed, raking them with her ghostly hand and wrapping a bed sheet around their necks.
Night Owl is a smartly written mystery by the female-writing TV team of Ann Powell and Rose Schacht; they draw their tale from the Greek folklore of Homer’s The Odyssey in which Ulysses and his ship’s crew comes under the bewitching spell of the Sirens. Using the airwaves to attract male listeners—in lieu of ocean waves and sailors—is a nice twist to an old legend. The script’s only weakness is its constricting 88-minute TV movie running time (this ran as a USA Network original before the channel became a rerun shill for NBC-TV; enough with the Law & Order!) that doesn’t allow for a deeper exploration of its themes.
You’ve seen director Matthew Patrick’s work before with his 1989 debut film, the highly-rated USA Network cable movie Hider in the House; Patrick doesn’t host that Gary Busey-starring movie on his personal You Tube page, since that film is owned by Lionsgate.
Beware of those Night Owl grey market DVD-rs in the marketplace, as this one has never been officially released on DVD. Luckily, Patrick shares a VHS rip of the film on his You Tube page to enjoy. He’s also uploaded his follow up to Hider in the House, the 1993 USA Network horror-thriller Tainted Blood starring Raquel Welch.
* VHS image courtesy of himalaya_hardware/eBay.