Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011 film)

Posted: July 16, 2014 in Dark Horse, Dylan Dog, Sergio Bonelli Editore

Writer, philosopher and all-around genius Umberto Ecco once said that there are three things that he can read for days without being bored. Those three things are The Bible, the works of Homer and Dylan Dog. And yet, I’m guessing that a vast majority of people reading this have never heard of the titular Nightmare Investigator. For some reason, the surreal adventures of Dylan and his sidekick Groucho (a character that was modeled directly on Groucho Marx, copyrights be damned) never really caught on in the United States. However, in most of the rest of the world, Dylan Dog is one of the most read comic books.

Created by Tiziano Scalvi in the mid-80’s, Dylan Dog is the story of an occult detective solving crimes in London. His adventures are equal parts humor, horror and action tossed into a blender and served up with Italian storytelling sensibilities and plenty of surrealism. The character and his supporting cast became immensely popular in Italy and other European countries. The comic’s regular publication from Sergio Bonelli Publishing began in 1986 and has continued, uninterrupted, ever since. It’s spawned spinoffs, translations and reprints in nearly every language. In the late-90’s the United States finally caught up and Dark Horse began publishing an English language adaptation.

“What did you say about Superman Returns?”

It was announced in 2007 that a big screen adaptation of Dylan Dog was in the works. While director Kevin Munroe didn’t have the best track record financially (TMNT, his previous film, was well regarded by fans but only slightly profitable) but he was a vocal fan of the character and adamant that this adaptation would do the comic justice. And it seemed to be almost immediately that the concessions started rolling in. Dylan would be an American, the story would no longer be set in London, Dylan’s sidekick would no longer be Groucho (or the copyright-friendly Felix that the character had been changed to for American reprints) and (most tellingly) the title would be changed. Instead of Dylan Dog, the new title was to be Dead of Night. The rationale being that no one in America knew who Dylan Dog was, so they shouldn’t be trying to sell a film based on his name. Of course, this explanation leads to all sorts of other questions. Perhaps the biggest among them was: If this character is so unknown in America, why make an American adaptation? The reasons are probably legion, but I think it basically boils down to marketability. The producers were likely hoping that selling an unknown American action/horror film in English would provide them a wider audience than making it in its home country with its native language. From a cold, logical standpoint it makes a certain amount of sense. I mean, what’s the last internationally-successful big-budget Italian blockbuster that you can name?

Good match.

So Dylan was to be American, and Brandon Routh was locked to play him. As an actor, Routh gets a great level of criticism thrown his way. It’s largely based on his role as Superman in Superman Returns and largely undeserved. That said, he does have difficulties carrying a film. Routh has proven time and again (Zach and Miri Make a Porno, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) that he’s a charismatic character and supporting actor. As Dylan Dog, he wasn’t particularly miscast (he fits the physical description well enough) but he lacks the leading-man dynamism and confidence needed to make something of the role.

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. 
Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
-Groucho Marx

As Dylan’s new assistant, Marcus, Routh’s Superman Returns costar Sam Huntington was cast. The two actors seemed to build on their past to establish a humorous rapport between the two characters. Marcus begins the film as Dylan’s put-upon sidekick who is murdered by a zombie and has to adjust to his new un-life. Oddly, this subplot (not found in the original comic) that revolves around a secondary character (who is also not from the comic) is probably the most compelling aspect of the story.

The main plot, in itself, is pretty standard horror stuff. An investigator is searching for answers about a series of murders that leads to a supernatural group controlling things. How many times have we heard that before? And really, it’s not terrible. It’s very standard and features some pretty cut-rate special effects (a werewolf played by Kurt Angle looks like a Halloween costume) but I’ve seen worse. What makes this film an artistic failure is that it missed the point of Dylan Dog. This film lacks the comic’s surreal sense of horror and humor and it features none of the philosophical underpinnings that are so associated with the character and the book.

Are you kidding me? He looked scarier without makeup.

In the end, the movie was pushed back again and again until it was unceremoniously dumped in theatres during the spring of 2011. The studio conceded to fan outcry and changed the title to a compromising Dylan Dog: Dead of Night which reeks of franchise potential. Of it’s modest $20 million budget, it wasn’t even able to recoup a quarter, topping out at a little over $4 million. Critically, it was reviled and seemingly killed Brandon Routh’s chances of headlining another major film. Sad, to say the least, considering that everyone involved can (and has) done better and the source material is so adaptation-ready.

And yet there is a light at the end. We mustn’t get bogged down in the negative!

Many fans of the Dylan Dog character look to a small horror film from the mid 90’s as the one, true adaptation. Michele Soavi directed Dellamorte Dellamore, a film based on another work by Tiziano Scalvi. While it garnered little fanfare upon its initial release, within the last decade it has gained a great deal of praise as the surreal, humorous horror film that Dylan Dog should have been. The movie stars Rupert Everett (the real life inspiration for DD) as a cemetery groundskeeper whose corpses have a habit of returning to life. It’s not a direct adaptation, but it captures the spirit of the character, comic and creator in a way that the official film never could. To me, it’s nice to see some form of Dylan Dog get respected on the big screen.

Better match.

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