It isn’t easy successfully blending comedy with horror. Aside from a few notable exceptions (like Re-Animator, Evil Dead II, Braindead, and Slither), most efforts tend to have too many laughs and not enough scares so that the end result has only the superficial trappings of the horror genre. Based loosely on the popular Italian comic book of the same name, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011) attempts to achieve just the right mix. However, this independent film was given a limited theatrical release and promptly tanked at the box office while also getting savaged by what few critics actually saw it. On the plus side, this certainly bodes well for Dylan Dog’s future cult film status.
Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh) is a New Orleans-based private investigator who specializes in paranormal cases. However, he has since retired from investigating things that go bump in the night and has shifted his focus to cheating spouses with the help of his assistant Marcus Adams (Sam Huntington). When her father is killed by what appears to be a werewolf, Elizabeth Ryan (Anita Briem) contacts Dylan who tells her that he’s not interested in the case. That is, until Marcus is brutally murdered in their office and this compels Dylan to investigate the Ryan murder. He finds the culprit and the implications could result in a war between werewolves, led by Gabriel (a sorely underused Peter Stormare), and vampires, led by Vargas (a suave Taye Diggs) who peddles vampire blood to humans and plans to ascend to the top of the food chain.
There are amusing touches sprinkled throughout the film, like the local morgue run by two zombies, or the support group for the living dead, or the body shop for zombies, a place where they can get replacement parts (which reminded me of the after-life waiting room in Beetlejuice). There is also the occasional funny bit of dialogue, like when Dylan informs Marcus that he’s a zombie: “The good news is that the condition is … uh, manageable.” However, the film needed more of these moments.
I enjoyed Brandon Routh in Superman Returns (2006) and always felt he got a raw deal from critics and audiences. He is quite good as Dylan, bringing a fair amount of charm and charisma to the role. He acts as our guide through the world of the film, telling us how things work and what’s going on via voiceover narration in the tried and true tradition of the detective genre. He also plays well off of Sam Huntington (the two actually appeared together in Superman Returns) and displays some decent comic timing, especially once Marcus becomes a zombie and Dylan helps him adjust to his new status. Routh seems like a nice enough guy and deserves a better film to be built around him. Sadly, he has zero chemistry with Anita Briem, his character’s love interest. She lacks the charisma to pull off the role, especially the plot twist her character undergoes late in the film. Every time she appears on screen the air seems to go out of the film, which is not good.
I haven’t read the comic book Dylan Dog is based on so I can’t say how faithful it is to its source material (reviews claim that it isn’t) but it is missing that spark, that special something that made films, like Hellboy (and its sequel) so good. At times, Dylan Dog resembles an episode of Angel or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (actually, David Boreanaz would’ve made a good Dylan Dog) and Joss Whedon’s influence casts a long shadow over this film. It’s easy to see why – with those two shows he managed to consistently balance comedy and horror while also paying tribute to many films and television programs of the genre. Unfortunately, Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer’s screenplay is nowhere near as good and so Dylan Dog comes off as a pale imitation. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments – it just needed more of them. At times, it feels like the filmmakers are trying too hard to appeal to both a mainstream audience and the horror film faithful. This lack of commitment gives the film an uneven tone as it’s caught between two worlds. Dylan Dog isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t a particularly great one either and one wonders what could have been if it had someone like James Gunn (Slither) or Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep) behind the camera – someone who maybe could’ve instilled that special something it needed or given it that edge to make it great instead of merely resemble the pilot for a failed T.V. show.