Director Michael Altieri spent a few years working on dingy but ambitious flicks (The Hamiltons, The Thomsons) with Phil Flores under the title of The Butcher Brothers. Since 2012 Altieri has been working by himself on inconsistent genre pieces, but The Night Watchmen marks his first foray into 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 mash-up silliness. There's a bit of From Dusk Til Dawn and a touch of Zombieland, with a good helping of Assault on Precinct 13. But the ancestral DNA of Night Watchmen can be traced back to The Return of the Living Dead, Dan OBannon's nihilistic zombie farce.
It's opening accidental plague-unleashing, the dopey band of oddball losers, savage gore-drenched monsters, tool-em-up sequences, etc, all point in the direction of an Edgar Wright, Don Coscarelli, B-Movie snappiness. 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 Ken Arnold and Dan 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 concepts amidst its familiar home-invasion style.
That makes sense though. Even if the script is daft and there are buckets of overacting, Altieri has an eye for interesting images and concepts. Also, DeLuca and Arnold's writing partner Jamie Nash is more of a straight horror guy so the dark heart is still always present throughout. The result is a dopey affair handled with style, grit, and good-humour.
It's a film full of surprise combat, flashes of gleeful gore, and a dumb story crammed with dopey one-liners and blossoming infection rates. Altieri isn't as bothered as he usually is with scares, driving down the dark slippery flume of camp schlock for better or worse. On one hand, Altieri's film lacks the heart and soul of the more successful horror comedies, but on the other, it arguably outdoes a lot of them with its peddle-to-the-meddle attitude.
Mitchell Altieri's The Night Watchmen is sloppy silly Friday night fun any way you slice it and that's absolutely fine. There's plenty room in the contemporary retro-fitted, boundary-busting, genre for a good ol' stupid time.