Theatrical Review: DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT

Brian Kelley

by: Brian Kelley
April 29th, 2011

Rating: 2/5

Writers: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer
Director: Kevin Munroe
Cast: Brandon RouthSam Huntington, Anita BriemTaye DiggsPeter Stormare

Dylan Dog is an Italian comic book series created by Tiziano Sclavi about a paranormal investigator (or "nightmare investigator" as translated directly from the comics), his Groucho Marx lookalike sidekick, and their surreal existence in London (and, infrequently, beyond). DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT is Kevin Munroe's (TMNT) attempt to bring the Dylan Dog character to the big screen. With a deep well of past stories to draw from and rich characterizations spread across two decades of books, the film should stand out amongst the horror detective micro-genre. However, this tonally confused film does little to set itself apart from other films of its ilk and, without the budget to dazzle in any substantial way, is destined to be forgotten quickly.

When a wealthy importer is murdered in his New Orleans home, his daughter Elizabeth (Anita Briem) seeks the help of Dylan Dog, a nightmare investigator in touch with the monsters that surround us but are invisible to normal humans. Reluctant to take the case, he is motivated when his partner-hopeful, Marcus (Sam Huntington), is killed in the apartment they share. One of the first discoveries Dylan makes in his investigation is that Elizabeth has withheld an important piece of information about the death of her father - one of his black market artifacts is missing. The potential power of this artifact and the lengths to which any monster race would go to posses it make old enemies and friends alike suspects. Complicating matters further is the return of Marcus, who is now a zombie.

The most striking issue with DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT is that, at its core, it's a fundamentally flawed story in that it creates a world of possibilities and treads excessively worn ground. It is hard to not be reminded of other films - UNDERWORLD, CONSTANTINE, HELLBOY, etc. - while watching Dylan come across zombies, vampires, and werewolves in his investigation. Instead of recognizing the weakness of  familiarity and elevating the material with interesting character work that should be easily bred from the source material, Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer's script plays everything safely. As a procedural it's dull and predictable, as a horror film it's not scary, as a fantasy world it's underpopulated and undercooked. Further complicating matters, the film is unsure of its own tone. If it's a dark comedy, it's not funny or dark enough consistently. For example, Taye Diggs as vampire kingpin Vargas is given many groan-inducing one-liners in the face of dark material, such as burying a man alive.

Routh as Dylan Dog presents a challenge as sketched in the film, he seems to be his own contradiction. When the audience is introduced to him, Dylan makes it clear he's left the paranormal business and throughout the film the murder of his girlfriend is brought up several times (though there is no emotional payoff, it's only a plot device). Routh has neither the physical build - he's too fit, too bright, with skin too smooth - or, apparently, the ability to convey what appears (on paper) to be a dejected man without direction. That being said, he seems to understand the intended tone better than anyone else in the film, with a hint of snark behind each conversation he has with a monster- he accepts their existence (he's made a living off of them at one point in his life) but also recognizes the ridiculousness of their reality. Huntington as Marcus, with his many truly funny scenes figuring out life as a zombie, and Stormare (a reliable scene stealer) as a werewolf family patriarch are both standouts in the supporting cast.

Taking his cast and a paint-by-numbers script, Munroe does what he can on a small budget to inject some life into the film. However, things fall flat more often than not. Fights and scenes of action are poorly shot and edited resulting in a confused blur of fists, monsters and bullets. There's also some very odd staging to the action such as a scene where a giant flesh eater inexplicably and conveniently (and almost gingerly) places someone on a hook and rope before tossing him over the edge to hungry zombies. It makes for a few exciting moments as he dangles inches from the grasp of the undead but his method of arriving at such a predicament is logically insulting.

Munroe's ability to use lighting and shadows as an atmospheric tool (rather than looking like an attempt to mask limitations) is the biggest visual benefit to the film as it comes the closest to selling the horror elements of the movie. Equally as appreciated is the reliance on "men in suits" rather than CG for most of the creature effects. The climax does descend into dodgy visuals territory, but up until then the bulk of effects (outside of green blood spurts) appear to be practical.

DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT isn't the first time Sclavi's work has been adapted for screen. Michele Soavi's 1994 film DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (or CEMETERY MAN) is based on a Sclavi book about the character of Francesco Dellamorte (played by Rupert Everett upon whom the character of Dylan Dog's look is based). Francesco Dellamorte has made appearances in some Dylan Dog comics and lives in the same world, but is based in Italy. Soavi's film took cues from the book and the comic series and created an atmosphere of dread and humor that playful worked together to make something quite unique.

Of course, it's unfair to judge DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT based on what came before or that upon which it is based which is a good thing - it would come across as an even bigger failure if scrutinized in such a way. Instead, the standalone film that is present for audiences now is not a terrible movie, it is just frustratingly mediocre because it appears to be assembled from bits and pieces more successfully executed in some films that, in some cases, aren't even generally considered "better".

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