Late one night at a big office block a group of surly middle-aged security guards, including former US marine Ken (Ken Arnold), his best friend Jiggetts (Kevin Jiggetts), Italian mystery man Luca (Dan DeLuca) and a young rookie they nickname 'Rajeeve' (Max Gray Wilbur) take delivery of a coffin. Which turns out to hold Blimpo (Gary Peebles), a beloved circus clown back home from touring Romania where he was turned into a vampire! As the night watchmen while away the hours viewing porn and perving on women like Ken's not-so-secret crush Karen (Kara Luiz), Blimpo escapes and to start feasting on office workers. Before long the whole building fills with ravenous bloodsuckers. Together with Karen the four freaked-out security guards battle to survive the night.
Co-produced by veteran actor James Remar, who gives a solid comedy turn as the heroes' sleazy boss, The Night Watchmen lifts much of its quirky visual humour from the collective works of fan-boy friendly filmmakers like Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and especially Edgar Wright. With many a whip-pan, crash-zoom, smash-cut in sight along with dollops of slapstick gore. Seasoned indie filmmaker Mitchell Altieri unusually maintains dual directing careers, both solo and occasionally collaborating with partner Phil Flores under their shared alias The Butcher Brothers. Altieri made his debut with Lurking in Suburbia (2006), an indie comedy co-written by Flores. Together they directed well-received indie vampire film The Hamiltons (2006) (along with its UK-set sequel The Thompsons (2012), forgettable slasher remake April Fool's Day (2008) and ropey demon biker flick The Violent Kind (2010). On his own Altieri has proven capable of more ambitious fare, notably Holy Ghost People (2013), a psychological thriller inspired by the 1967 documentary of the same name about the Pentecostal Christian community, but more often underwhelms as with his found footage horror Raised By Wolves (2014) and dubious torture porn comedy A Beginner's Guide to Snuff (2016).
In the case of The Night Watchmen Altieri jumped on board a project initiated by writer-producer-stars Dan DeLuca and Ken Arnold (with additional input from co-writer Jaimie Nash). A veteran of seminal television show The Wire, DeLuca is an indie auteur in his own right who has dabbled in horror (The Jersey Devil (2005)), comedy (Two-Minute Heist (2009) and even an eco-themed children's film (On the Wing (2015). Seemingly thrown together as a gory lark between friends, laden with in-jokes like characters sharing the same names as the actors. Altieri makes calculated attempts at pleasing the fan boy crowd by throwing in plenty of latex gore, sporadic nudity and that most over-used current trend: a cod-John Carpenter score. While ostensibly a scary clown comedy in the tradition of the far more imaginative Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), the script also edges towards office satire.
Yet despite some sharp observational humour (e.g. everyone assumes Jiggetts can hot-wire a car because he's black then debate whether Jewish religious symbols can fend off vampires), The Night Watchmen has a strange and frustrating tendency to skewer clichés then immediately reinforce them. For example a nice twist reveals Ken's lust object Karen is in a relationship Penny (Diona Reasonover), whom the men hitherto ignore because they think she is plain. Meanwhile Ken's macho past is unmasked as a lie. Yet before long Karen is getting cosy with the male hero who proves himself a badass anyway. Instead of challenging the men's boorish behaviour and self-important philosophy the plot simply validates them. Former pro-baseball star Ken Arnold is a diffident lead but the rest of the ensemble are more personable, particularly DeLuca, perky sitcom stalwart Luiz and Wilbur whose character arc and competent vampire-slaying make one wonder why he is not the lead hero. The gags are silly, convoluted and crude (the vampires fart after they're staked) with occasional winners but familiar to anyone that has seen an indie horror comedy released in the past fifteen years. It is amiable enough but, like a vampire caught in the sunlight, literally vaporizes before your eyes.