By David Templeton
“I like darkness,” says Mitch Altieri. “Darkness is fun.”
I’ve met writer/director Altieri—one half of the cult-movie filmmaking duo known as The Butcher Brothers—to talk about the nuts and bolts of filling the screen with blood and guts. His office is filled with posters and props from his various efforts: 2010’s The Violent Kind, about demonically possessed bikers; 2013’s snake-handling thriller Holy Ghost People; the recent The Night Watchmen, its poster fusing a frightening image of an enormous clown with a group of uniformed guards and the tagline, “Let’s go kill some dead people!”
“Have you seen the trailer for The Night Watchmen?” Altieri asks.
“Not yet,” I admit. “Though I did watch the trailer for A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff,” I add, pointing to the poster over Altieri’s desk.
“We were going for a ’90s kind of vibe with Snuff,” he says. “With Night Watchmen, we went super-1980s.” Altieri turns to his computer to call up the trailer. “Making this one was really fun. The movie’s got a lot of goofball antics, monsters, blood, gore and gratuitous nudity. We wanted to make something with the tone of a Ghostbusters movie—only really, really bloody. And with clowns.”
Based on what I witness, The Night Watchmen appears to be the story of some hapless guards at a large office building, attempting to survive one long night when their building is invaded by a voracious vampire clown and his ravenous evil-clown minions. In the trailer’s fast-paced 90 seconds, there are bites to the face, pencils to the chest and gunshots to the head, plus plenty of clowns—clowns in coffins, clowns on the ceiling and clowns on fire.
“And there’s the gratuitous nudity,” I note as a fleeting moment of spontaneous toplessness takes place in the middle of a terrifying chase scene.
“I wasn’t on set when they filmed that, where the woman’s top is torn off by the dead guys,” Altieri says. “I was in another part of the building filming a different scene. They sort of came up with that and did it. It’s pretty great, though. Very 1980s.”
In the final seconds of the trailer is a snippet of a scene where a dead guy is shot through the eye, and immediately spouts a gusher of blood all over the recoiling night watchmen.
“That’s thoroughly gross, and totally hilarious,” I say. “Nice blood effects.”
“We had awesome FX on this movie,” Altieri says with a grin.
After a promising start with the 2006 comedy Lurking in Suburbia, Altieri and his filmmaking partner Phil Flores took to heart some advice about how investors prefer to put their money into genre films, particularly horror films. Altieri and Flores donned their bloody fraternal moniker and created The Hamiltons, a horrifically entertaining splatter flick about a family of young adult vampires.
The film premiered at Sundance, and has since become a kind of underground hit, eventually spawning a London-set sequel, The Thompsons. Based on The Hamiltons, the Butcher Brothers were offered the remake of the classic 1986 serial killer movie, April Fool’s Day. The rest is history. Really, really bloody history.
Altieri now sometimes directs outside the Butcher Brothers brand.
“I did Beginner’s Guide to Snuff in November of 2015, and as we were wrapping Snuff, I was suddenly hired to do The Night Watchmen,” he explains. “So, there I was, location-scouting in Baltimore in January, and we went into production in February.
“After wrapping it, I was in post-production with Night Watchmen while also doing post on Beginner’s Guide to Snuff. During that period, my father passed away. It was such a crazy time in my life, man. I was really close to my father. So that was rough—and at the same time, I was posting two movies at once. By the end of the year, I was exhausted. Absolutely exhausted.”
“I suppose there are worse things than being overworked doing your all-time dream job, right?” I point out.
“Exactly,” Altieri replies. “I’m definitely not complaining. I’ve gone through it all, starting with being completely independent, making a movie for no money in my own hometown, to making studio films where Sony executives are yelling at me all the time, to being at Sundance and premiering at SXSW [South by Southwest].
“I’ve had this amazing decade-and-a-half-long experience, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it,” he continues. “I mean, I get to scare people and get paid for it. I’m having a whole lot of fun.”