Deggsy’s Corner: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011)
Confession: I was a Marvel Zombie. My very first comic had been some GHOST RIDER issue where he fought a guy with an eyeball helmet. I was faithful to Marvel up until the ‘90s, when the company had decided to milk the fans of every penny they had by publishing the same issues with twelve different covers, and to include Wolverine and the Punisher in every single frame of every single fucking comic they had. Even the pre-teen POWER PACK.
Sadly, my blinkered tastes meant it was much later before I appreciated the big wide world of non-superhero comics, including those of the horror genre. And perhaps the most well-rounded series was Dylan Dog. DD started out as an Italian horror comics series created by Tiziano Sclavi in 1986 and quickly gained commercial and critical success. Named after Dylan Thomas and modelled after Al Pacino in SCARFACE, the eponymous character was a “nightmare investigator”, a former Scotland Yard cop now living in London and investigating paranormal-related cases. The character became defined by his quirky personality traits (clarinet playing, vegetarianism, hopeless romanticism), the surrealism of his stories, and by his partner, a Groucho Marx impersonator with a penchant for puns and pistols. It became the most widely-sold comic book in Italy; including both reprints and new stories, it sells over a million copies each month. Dark Horse comics released some English reprints between 1999 and 2002, when I first discovered him, with the only change being altering Groucho’s character following a legal dispute with the real Groucho Marx’s estate. It reminded me of ANGEL, of course, but with a heady infusion of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, a series I adored as a kid, and still do.
It was inevitable that there would be some type of adaptation of the comic, and it fell to Platinum Studios, a media company which owns a buttload of comic book characters, which they seek to adapt, produce and licence for all media including print, games and films and television. Among their projects have been COWBOYS & ALIENS, and the short-lived TV shows JEREMIAH and WITCHBLADE. They acquired the film and TV rights to Dylan Dog in 1997, but it took 13 years for them to put together a movie, moving the setting from London to New Orleans, and again changing the sidekick to avoid problems with the Marx estate. Was the result, DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT, worth it?
We open at night on a Southern mansion, as a beautiful young woman named Elizabeth (Anita Briem, from 2008’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH) prepares food in a kitchen and dances in that way that people only do in the movies when they’re alone preparing food. Then blood drips down from the ceiling onto the plate she had set aside. She calls out for her father, and when he doesn’t answer, she ascends the stairs and finds his body, as a hairy animal-like figure races past her and crashes through the window dramatically (did it get in without making noise?).
Now we get the title and credits, and a voice-over attempting to sound worldly: “New Orleans can be a tough town to die in. But when you die and come back you call me: Dylan Dog. Or at least you did…”
Ho-boy. On hearing that, my hopes withered faster than an erection after your Mom phones. Note to filmmakers: the so-called film noir trope of the hero narrating is bullshit. It *did* happen in old movies, but only occasionally, and usually only during flashbacks. Strangely enough, the old-time filmmakers actually used plot, character, acting and cinematography to tell their stories. Weird, isn’t it? And yet nowadays everyone seems to think they need a voice-over to cover up lazy storytelling (BLADE RUNNER has so much to answer for). DYLAN DOG leans on this throughout, vomiting needless exposition like a possessed child, and compared to the narrator here, my teenage daughter can sound more badass.
Unable or unwilling to solve the murder, the police give Elizabeth a business card (“No pulse, no problem”) which leads her to Dylan Dog, played by former Superman Brandon Routh, a detective who used to specialise in cases involving the undead, but following the usual cinematic tragic back story now slums about handling divorce cases, much to the chagrin of his partner Marcus (Sam Worthington, who was Jimmy Olsen in Routh’s SUPERMAN RETURNS). Through him we learn that undead creatures such as vampires, werewolves and zombies exist hidden among humans, and men like Dylan act as an impartial judge and protect the balance of power. However, now that balance is threatened, as Elizabeth’s father, and later Marcus, are murdered by someone seeking the Heart of Belial, one of those power objects that turn up in stories like this. But who is responsible? Is it the werewolves (who get their fresh meat from running the city’s slaughterhouses)? Is it the vampires, led by Vargas (Taye Diggs, from EQUILIBRIUM and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), who sell vials of their own blood as a narcotic in their nightclubs? Perhaps the now-undead Marcus, trying to get used to a lifestyle of maggot burgers and formaldehyde deodorant, can find a clue from within his Zombie Support Group?
First, the positives…
Okay. When you adapt a work from one medium to another, something’s always going to be lost due to the particular needs of said medium. That doesn’t make the adapted version bad, per se (almost all of the movie versions of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel were improvements on the books and stories, for instance). But mistakes can be made. They certainly were for DYLAN DOG. Routh looks the part, but now the introspective, quirky, bourgeois character of the comics has been transformed into ‘Generic Action Man,’ who can get flung literally fifty feet through the air and beaten by various creatures, and still get up to finish the fight as if nothing had happened. The full embrace of horror and detective story was done much better in 1991’s CAST A DEADLY SPELL, with Fred Ward a far more convincing antihero than the pretty-boy Routh.
Director Kevin Munroe, who did that TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES animated movie in 2007, directs like he’s still shooting in the sewers, where nearly everything’s under lit and every shot a close-up as if to compensate. The New Orleans setting is totally wasted; this could have been set in Los Angeles, Toronto or anywhere else. The actors perform with all the conviction of a stripper with the rent due. Sam Huntington tries his best to be the ‘Comic Relief Sidekick,’ but his efforts to make light of his zombie state flatline from the start. Anita Briem has all the screen presence of a mail box, and the chemistry between Routh and her, complete with the inevitable chaste sex scene, is as awkward to watch as that uncle at the wedding who keeps hitting on the teenage bridesmaids. Taye Diggs probably comes across as the most professional of the bunch, injecting a little charm into the limited role, and wrestler Kurt Angle, who appears as a werewolf, embarrasses himself less than some of the more established actors, which is doubly pathetic if you consider it.
Ultimately, what you get with DYLAN DOG is a television show put onscreen. In the pre-Internet, pre-VCR days, movie distributors sometimes took one or two episodes of a TV show, spliced them together and sold them as feature films overseas. I felt like this was a throwback to those days. It’s a PG-13 rating, but honestly I can’t recall anything it did to deserve even that. No gore, no foul language, no nudity. Honestly, this could have been a TV show in the 1990s on the WB, and the script something Joss Whedon threw away while working on BUFFY or ANGEL.
Are there any positives? Well, because of the relatively-small budget ($20 million) they employ real makeup rather than crappy CGI. There is some decent zombie work, particularly on one huge-ass seven-foot revenant who acts as the undead hitman. But he’s tragically underused, which is a shame because even though he’s not meant to be the main threat, he still comes across as more interesting than the bad guy we end up with!
But who is this movie for? The fans of the Dylan Dog comic series? They’d barely recognise him. Horror movie fans? There were scarier scenes in Disney’s HOCUS POCUS. Cougars who want to see Brandon Routh shirtless? They’ve probably moved onto Daniel Radcliffe. Kids who don’t know any better? Sadly enough, probably.
DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT is out on DVD on July 26, so you’ll know when to avoid it.
Director: Kevin Munroe
Plot: 1 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 1.5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek O’Brien