There is nothing wrong with a good sophomoric horror comedy. The problem is, while The Night Watchmen (Fantasia 2017) is a sophomoric horror comedy, it is not particularly good. Just as the night watchmen are starting their shift at the local paper, the dead body of a clown is accidentally delivered to their loading dock. It soon becomes apparent that the clown is not “dead” but “undead.” He is a vampire and now the motley crew of night watchmen must battle to save their own lives as the newspaper staff is slowly converted to a horde of bloodthirsty vampires. The setup is actually kind of interesting, using the setting of a newspaper to allow for combining an office comedy with the nocturnal activities of vampires. Unfortunately, the most promising element, a vampire clown, is wasted with the newly converted vampire office workers not being that much different than a group of fast zombies. An even bigger strike against the film is its sophomoric humor which overplays jokes and veers uncomfortably into racist and homophobic territory.
It is a sad day for Baltimore. While touring Romania, all of the members of a circus headed by local favorite, Blimpo the Clown (Gary Peebles) are stricken by a mysterious illness and die. Now, their bodies have been shipped back to their hometown for burial. Due to a mixup, Blimpo’s body is accidentally dropped off at the local newspaper just as they are closing up for the night. On hand is the small group of night watchmen along with a handful of newspaper staff who are working overnight on the morning edition. The Night Watchmen consist of high strung Ken (co-writer Ken Arnold), quiet-but-possibly-psychotic Luca (co-writer Dan DeLuca), pot smoking Jiggetts (Kevin Jiggetts), and the new guy (Max Gray Wilbur). It quickly becomes apparent that Blimpo is not exactly dead. He is undead — a vampire. Soon, Blimpo is feasting on the newspaper’s staff, turning them into wild, bestial vampires. As the blood flies, the inept night watchmen must battle their former coworkers while trying to save their own lives, and maybe even save a couple of the other employees in the process.
The setup for The Night Watchmen shows a good bit of promise. The problem with wanting to combine a workplace comedy with vampires is that most workplaces are closed at night, which is prime time for vampires. Director Mitchell Altieri and co-writers Ken Arnold, Dan DeLuca, and Jamie Nash solve this by focusing on two groups of night-shift workers — newspaper reporters and night watchmen. Granted, the initial setup with the mix-up regarding delivery of the coffin is a bit forced, but in the context of a goofy comedy, it is believable enough. It gets the characters into a situation that has great potential for both horror and comedy. Other aspects of the film also show promise. In the world of The Night Watchmen, vampires do not show up on video screens. This provides for some effective shots of the watchmen witnessing workers being dragged off by “invisible” vampires and the creepy image of bloody footprints progressing by themselves down a hallway. Even the high concept summary of the film — vampire clown attacks night-shift workers — sounds like it could be exploited for both an effective horror film and a horror comedy. The problem is, almost none of this promise is fulfilled.
A vampire clown has so much potential for horror and comedy. The issue with the vampire clown in The Night Watchmen is that he is barely utilized. After an initial few victims, most of the focus is on the newly created office worker vampires. Freshly turned, they are animalistic vampires, attacking their victims and seeming to devour them. Bestial vampires can work in a film, but here they just feel much more like modern fast zombies than vampires. Reinforcing this “wait, are these vampires or zombies” vibe is the fact that the characters continually fire round after round of ammunition into the vampires even after they know it is ineffective. Eventually, Blimpo does show back up to summon the other members of his vampire clown troupe from across the city, but they quickly get lost in the mass of office worker bloodsuckers. Shifting focus from Blimpo and his troupe to the horde of office vampires dilutes the threat and lessens the horror. If Blimpo had been treated like a “Big Bad” or head vampire, culminating in an exciting boss battle, then the character would not have been completely wasted. Unfortunately, the last appearance of Blimpo on screen is rather lackluster and far from memorable.
The Night Watchmen’s squandering of the main premise of the film could be forgiven if it was at least funny. While there is the occasional chuckle to be found here and there in the film, much of it is undercut by the overly sophomoric and borderline offensive (not in a good way) attempts at humor. It is often said that “humor comes in threes” — wherein repeating a variation on a gag three times has the biggest payoff. This does not mean that repeating a joke three times three is even better. Many of the jokes and gags in The Night Watchmen are repeated endlessly, well beyond any point that they were ever funny. When the vampires die, they let out a huge fart. This is a gag that can be difficult to pull off without feeling tired and juvenile — though, a good, well-executed fart joke can still bring laughs. Sadly, in the film, the gag goes over like an [insert your own flatulence-related joke here]. One bad fart joke would be excusable, but the filmmakers repeat this bit numerous times throughout the film. As with the potty humor, other jokes verging on racists and homophobic attitudes are beating into the ground. One joke about Jiggetts, who is African American, being “the worst black man ever” for messing up culture references is not really an issue. The problem is, that becomes almost the sole focus of his character. Almost all gags directed at or centered on that character are either about him being a black Jew or him not knowing anything about contemporary African American culture. Add to this a homophobic running gag about the relationship between two of the male characters, and the overall film begins to leave the viewers feeling uncomfortable, and not in a good way.
There is potential for a good film hidden within the premise of The Night Watchmen. The issue is, that potential is squandered. Sophomoric humor can be fun and effective, but here, the jokes are repeated well past when they could be considered funny. There are occasional chuckles to be found in The Night Watchmen, but they are not nearly enough to recommend this film.
The Night Watchmen is playing as part of the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada.
The Night Watchmen (Fantasia 2017) (2.3 / 5)