After a multi-stage Kickstarter campaign to fund a trailer and eventually the final film, The Night Watchmen is every bit the daft low-brow comedy horror its stars promised it would be. Director Michael Altieri spent a few years working on dingy horror flicks with Phil Flores under the title of The Butcher Brothers, finding success with The Hamiltons and The Thompsons. Since 2012 Altieri has been working solo on inconsistent genre pieces, but The Night Watchmen marks a first foray into full blown comedy and his most accomplished film to date.
There’s a lot of great influences on The Night Watchmen, so much so that it’s difficult not to enjoy its shameless nods. Essentially, a group of hapless night watchmen (Ken Arnold, Dan DeLuca, Kevin Jiggetts), a newbie (Max Gray Wilbur), and a feisty reporter (Kara Luiz) all end up fighting for their lives after office pervert Randall (James Remar) accidentally unleashes a vampire apocalypse. There’s the practical chaos of From Dusk til Dawn, a touch of Zombieland, with the base narrative of Assault on Precinct 13. But the ancestral DNA of The Night Watchmen can be traced back to The Return of the Living Dead, Dan OBannon’s seminal nihilistic zombie farce.
The accidental plague-unleashing, the dopey band of oddball losers, savage gore-drenched monsters, tool-em-up sequences, etc, all point in the direction of B-Movie affection. The budget is definitely tight, but that’s kinda part fo the fun. It feels like an intimate production, made for late night screenings and festival crowds. There’s something crappy about it, but the self-deprecating characters (co-stars Arnold and DeLuca co-wrote the script) and self-aware directing actually make it a lot cooler than it probably has a right to be. Not only that, but The Night Watchmen actually plays around with vampire trope, successfully delivering a few cool ideas amidst its familiar home-invasion style.
That makes sense though. Even if the script is daft and there’s buckets of overacting, Altieri has an eye for interesting horror concepts. Also, DeLuca and Arnold’s writing partner Jamie Nash is more of a straight horror guy (Altered, Lovely Molly) so the dark heart is still present throughout. Its just coated in daft one-liners and cosy mechanics.
It’s a silly story crammed with circus zampires, DIY carnage, and blossoming infection rates, not to mention gratuity in all its forms. Altieri isn’t as bothered with scares, so dives down the dark slippery flume of camp schlock for a far more engaging film than he’s previously delivered. On one hand, Altieri’s film lacks the smarts of other horror comedies, on the other, it makes up for it in shameless audience appeasement and a lovable cast of shameless enthusiasts.
Mitchell Altieri’s The Night Watchmen is sloppy Friday night fun any way you hack it and that’s absolutely fine. There’s plenty room in the contemporary retro-fitted, boundary-busting genre for a good ol’ stupid time.
Dir. Michael Altieri
Stars: Ken Arnold, Dan DeLuca, Kevin Jiggetts, Max Gray Wilbur, Kara Luiz, James Remar