There are films that are intended to be midnight movies from the very beginning, appealing to the “cult movie” or “b movie” crowd starting with the opening title and first scene. Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is definitely one of those films, a movie that’s full of dry voice over commentary, self-referential film jokes and a deliberately light touch with horror film tropes that add up to produce a surprisingly amusing horror comedy.
Dylan (Brandon Routh) is a private investigator who specializes in the seamy and sordid, skulking about and getting photos of unfaithful spouses in flagrante delicto. His side kick is the amusing and cowardly Marcus (Sam Huntington) and together they ply their trade out of an office that’s a clear nod to Sam Spade’s sloppy PI office in The Maltese Falcon.
The film opens with blonde waif Elizabeth (Anita Briem) preparing a meal for her father at the spooky Ryan Mansion in New Orleans (think of the famous exterior shot of Xanadu in Citizen Kane), just to find him murdered and a monster leaping out of her father’s study and into the darkness. The cops don’t believe the whole monster story but a priest gives her Dylan’s business card: “No pulse? No problem.”
It turns out that there’s a war brewing between the werewolves and the vampires, the former led by wise old Gabriel (Peter Stormare) and the latter led by Morpheus-like Vargas (Taye Diggs). Seems there’s this long-lost ceremonial silver cross that contains the blood of a 5,000 year old demon: stab someone undead with it and the demon takes over.
Sound like a bloody mess of different horror tropes and stereotypes, creatures that are scary even as they stick to well-known mythos about vampires and sunlight, werewolves and silver, zombies and decomposition? Dylan Dog definitely doesn’t break new ground but it’s surprisingly well assembled, the performances are all believable within context, and there is a semi-coherent narrative logic to the story that’s both engaging and entertaining. I went into the theater expecting to dislike this film, but was surprised to find that I quite enjoyed it.
One of the funniest running jokes revolves around Marcus, who is killed by one of the beasts early in the film and resurrects as a zombie. Except he doesn’t really think he’s a zombie, even when they go to the Big Al’s Body Shop — run by Big Al (Dan Braverman) — and replace his missing arm with a tattooed Black man’s arm. “They were out of caucasian arms”, Dylan explains.
The vampires are the stylish ones in Dylan Dog, dressed in natty clothes and running a trendy nightclub called the Corpus House, while the werewolves run Cysnos Meat Packing and look like they’re all mafia thug washouts and the zombies are the worst, the creepy freaks who pass through life as janitors, butchers, and short order cooks at greasy spoon diners. Humans are generally disdained, referred to as “breathers”, but Dylan had a special role from which he retired: go-between keeping harmony between the many undead and humans.
The entire story is based on a popular Italian graphic novel series of the same name, and the film has suffered as many adaptations do because the fans are apparently quite upset with the changes that Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer made to have the material work better as a movie. Since I’ve never even seen the graphic novels, missing characters, character quirks changed for the movie, etc,. were no problem at all for me, and the film itself worked just fine.
The production values were surprisingly high for a b movie, though there were some masks that seemed rather rubbery and the towering, muscular demon at the end seemed a bit too obviously done by computer graphics. A different, non-reflective texture map for the skin would have helped that quite a bit!
The instant-cult-movie genre also trades in pop culture references and Dylan Dog did well in this regard too, referencing lots of classic dramas and horror films and even having signage and dialog that was quite self-referential. Look for a street sign at one point in the film that’s a clear homage to horror film master Clive Barker.
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night worked very well as a horror comedy, catching my attention quickly and offering up a movie that was quite unlike Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the TV series that seemed like its less hip inspiration from the early trailer I’d seen. If you like horror films and prefer your vampires to be scary, not sparkly then you might just find this film an entertaining viewing. Add a few friends, toss in some popcorn and snarky commentary, and it could easily be the cornerstone of a very enjoyable movie night too.