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Set Report: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Routh, Munroe, Adler and Huntington on the comic adaptation

This set report was originally published in July 2010. With the film arriving April 29, we thought we’d dust our report off in case you missed it.

Meat. As one of the walking dead, this writer’s motivation is rather simple. Find meat. Thankfully, my options in this cavern of rust, iron and stagnant water are plentiful. There’s the scrawny buffoon just ahead of me. He’s panicking, swinging from a chain, howling like a monkey for “help,” eyes rolling back and forth in darkened sockets. His name is Marcus and he’s in a load of shit if my fellow undead cohorts get a hold of him before I do. And they try. Reaching skeletal, dirt-caked hands into the air, brushing the tips of Marcus’ sneakers. So close, yet so far away as Daryl Hall and John Oates once crooned. I join the decaying pack of corpses and attempt to grab this pendulum of flesh that is so easily attainable if only Marcus were lowered just a few more inches.

But then another food resource drops in from a metal catwalk above.

A behemoth lands on its back on the cement before us. My fellow zombies and I scatter to the shadows. But not for long. This muscular mutant – tattooed and featuring extreme proportions – is wounded and dazed. This thing may have been human once, but not anymore. Now he’s a cover model for Muscle & Fitness…from Beyond the Grave. He’s meat, nevertheless, and my family of ghouls is hungry. So we slowly move in for the kill – Velociraptors stalking a fatted calf like that scene in Jurassic Park – and strike, ferociously feigning the act of tearing into this creature’s flesh.

Laughter can be heard a few feet away and director Kevin Munroe calls, “Cut!” The crew of grips, camera and lighting technicians, actors, producers and stunt men applaud. The zombie mob backs away, allowing monster performer Brian Steele, hidden beneath inches of foam appliances, to get back on his feet. Sam Huntington, as Marcus, is lowered to the ground. And up above, a striking figure leans over the rails of a catwalk. Handsome. Dapper. His hair combed to the side. He’s wearing a black blazer and a crimson button-up shirt. It’s Brandon Routh, or, as he’s known on this production Dylan Dog. Nightmare investigator.

Shock Till You Drop and a number of other web outlets are serving as zombies today for a few scenes in Munroe’s Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. Shooting is taking place on the outskirts of New Orleans, Louisiana in a decrepit factory flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Here, machines were left behind to corrode. On the walls, it’s hard to discern where paint ends and rust begins. This is a graffiti artists’ haven. Beneath our feet, a metal grate offers a glimpse of an entire floor submerged in water that not even bugs dare touch down upon. It’s a different, hazardous world down there. But in the world of Dead of Night, there’s much more to fear.

Readers of Dylan Dog, the popular Italian comic book created by Tiziano Sclavi, have come to accept over the last few decades that their favorite private investigator’s greatest mystery doesn’t involve a dame or a monster. It’s why he has never been faithfully adapted. Granted, Dylan’s come close to reaching the screen. In Michele Soavi’s gorgeous, macabre and haunting Italian production Dellamorte Dellamore, Rupert Everett played the eponymous character, a graveyard caretaker who keeps the rise of zombies in line, carries the burden of rumors about his possible impotency, and has a tough time at love. Although Everett bore a striking resemblance to pulp hero Dylan Dog (Sclavi and artist Claudio Villa purposely modeled Dylan’s likeness on the actor’s looks), Soavi’s picture and character took on a life of their own and didn’t completely capture the “Dylan Dog” comic book series that spawned an Italian genre film festival and merchandise.

Dylan would later find a new champion in producer Scott Rosenberg (Men in Black, Cowboys and Aliens) who tells Shock he discovered the character while abroad in Europe. “He stood out as a character that is truly different because here he lives in a world knowing that all forms of monsters exist,” Rosenberg explains in the producers trailer shortly after Shock is somewhat cleaned of zombie makeup, “but he also knows that the biggest monsters are very often humans, and that was very interesting to me. He always fell in love with the girl and, unfortunately, bad things happened to the girl at the end of each [graphic novel], but he truly fell in love.” He was so enamored with the property that he worked with writers Josh Oppenheimer and Thomas Dean Donnelly (Sahara) on a pitch and shopped Dead of Night around Hollywood.

It would take the trio ten years before Hollywood found interest in Dylan. During that time, the project almost became an animated feature at a now defunct animation company. Rosenberg later found partners in Hyde Park, Platinum Studios and the Australian outfit Omnilab Media. Dead of Night had gained its financing and momentum and Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) was attached to star. The actor subsequently turned to friend and fellow Superman vet Gil Adler (Tales from the Crypt) to give the script a read.

“It really felt like a Tales from the Crypt movie,” Adler grins, fondly reflecting on his days on the HBO series. “It’s scary and it’s horrific and there’s something deliciously humorous about it.” The producer was also asked to consult with potential director Kevin Munroe who had no experience sitting at the helm of a live-action feature film, however, he directed the animated reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 2007. “He just completely stunned me with not only how prepared he was, but how prepared his vision was. He really thought it through and got me to believe that his experience in making CG would translate into live action. I think he was a little bit nervous. The first time I directed, I was scared to death, I think that’s a healthy attitude.”

“This is about performance,” he continues. “We had to have the best acting we could possibly get. I need a director who’s going to look at that and watch and see. Adjust the actors to what his liking is and what he’s expecting to get out of these scenes and the interrelationship of the characters and the emotional evaluation of what their connection is. If we don’t have great performances, if we don’t have great makeup effects, if we don’t have great visual effects, we shouldn’t make this movie regardless of the budget.”

Talk about pressure. To see if Munroe was feeling the heat, not just from the muggy New Orleans weather but the production’s challenges, I weave my way back through the set. Past bizarre occult markings on the walls, past candles set up for what appears to be a black magic ceremony, past the skulls strewn about in the dirt and chunks of concrete, around staircases that descend into murky waters, to an area where lunch is being set up.

Munroe is here, grinning but palpably exhausted. A consummate fan boy at heart, the director was familiar with the comics with the help of Dark Horse and Bonelli Comics’ American reprints that were issued in shops during the ‘90s. Right now, he admits, he’s feeling the demands from the series’ fans.

“This is the movie version and it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be cheaper or more crass than the comic,” he says, “but, at the same time, you have to make it work for a movie. You have to make it work for an audience. Over the past few months, before we started shooting, we really went into the script and paid serious homage to the comic book. You have to respect the fan base, but you have to make it work as a compelling movie first and foremost.”

So what did kind of story is he telling? Munroe describes it as an origin film, but it, in fact, picks up later in Dylan’s life as an investigator of the supernatural as he tries to ease himself out of his profession. Needless to say, a case pulls him back in that involves vampires (led by Taye Diggs), werewolves (Peter Stormare and Kurt Angle), an undead partner (Huntington) and a myriad of other beasties.

“We’re not the first people at all to put vampires, werewolves and zombies in a movie,” Munroe rightly observes. Later, Shock will catch him praising the monster FX by Drac Studios (Night of the Demons) and teasing that bloodsuckers and hirsute beasts are just a tip of the iceberg. There’s an unseen, apparently massive, practical creation that’s being kept under wraps. “I like how we managed to fit in a lot of these creatures all within the same world. I think the reality treatment is something that I latched onto and liked. We have a scene that explains how you survive as a zombie and how the vampires exist and how long werewolves have been around. I like the idea of generations and how things change. That’s real. Real families would do that and they evolve.”

He feels confident in relocating the thrust of Dylan’s adventures from London, as seen in the comic books, to New Orleans because of its atmosphere. “We’re not saying [Dylan] never lived in London and we’re not saying that he won’t ever go back there,” Munroe winks.

Fans will also no doubt recognize a change in Dylan’s pal, the aforementioned Marcus. Portrayed in the comics as a Groucho Marx wannabe, aptly named “Groucho,” he served as comedic relief. Although Huntington doesn’t look remotely like Groucho, the humor remains intact. Munroe was thrilled to reunite Routh and Huntington, a pair best remembered their smooth chemistry as Clark Kent/Superman and Jimmy Olsen, respectively.

“When I went and pitched my guts out to try and get this job,” Munroe says, “Brandon was already attached and they had an old casting tape that had Sam and he just popped off of the screen. I had no idea they were such good friends. It was kind of neat to have two good friends in a movie. You didn’t have to worry about whether these two guys like each other or didn’t, or how to build up to make it feel like they’ve got this long history together, so it’s great.”

“It’s nice to be on set with someone who you’re friends with,” Huntington agrees as he sits down with us after lunch to discuss his role. “I think [in the movie] it’s very much a younger brother, older brother dynamic. I’m constantly trying to earn [Dylan's] respect and I can relate to that. I think he’s trying to learn as much as he can.” While gradually succumbing to the pitfalls of being a zombie, of course. “You don’t decay immediately. Your brain is still functioning. I’m just me, only I don’t feel pain…and I’m a little sallow. My character becomes a zombie, but I have a really hard time coming to grips with it.”

Indeed, as Shock comes to find out in the following minutes when we learn why Huntington was dangling from a hook. The scene Munroe orchestrates is a rock ‘em sock ‘em fight between Dylan Dog and the Drac Studios creation that has been dubbed a “super zombie.” Huntington gets giddy talking about it between takes. “This giant zombie is one of the coolest things. He’s huge up top and he’s got this tiny waist and big boots. How cartoony it is! I think it’s one of my favorite beasts of anything I’ve seen. And then there’s this one giant, ridiculous beast at the end that I can’t really talk about.”

Shock witnesses Routh/Dylan and the super zombie carry their melee from the ground floor, up a flight of stairs to a catwalk. Dylan’s foe is clearly superior in height and weight, but Dylan holds his own. When Huntington gets involved, he gets “hooked,” flung from the catwalk – cue the zombies below willing to eat their own and, well, you know the rest.

With part of the fight in the can, a new fight set up is called and Routh retires to his chair where he’s feasting on a quick protein snack. The actor informs us he’s been bulking up following the holidays and it certainly shows since the last time Shock interviewed him for his role in an episode of Masters of Horror. Like his participation in that Showtime series, Dead of Night is Routh’s quest to “do something completely different than anybody’s really seen me before. This is a character that’s very different from [my past roles], so that was the main draw to this.” So far, he’s having a blast with the part that he likens to a Harrison Ford archetypal part. “They’ve been a great model and I think it was kind of in the voice of Dylan, the writers and I just carried that into my performance in some respects. There’s all of these emotions going on with him, but when it’s time to step up and take care of business, that all goes away and Dylan puts on his game face much like Indy does.”

Routh agrees with Munroe that some changes to the source material needed to be made during its transition to the screen, again, to serve a “broader” audience – a sentiment I hear many times in talking with some of the crew members behind-the-scenes. “Dylan has certain quirks about him that make him unique and make him cool on paper, but when you try and bring that to the screen and have him be your hero, that can confuse the issue. Dylan’s a little bit stronger,” he laughs. “Maybe even a little bit more numb to outside forces.”

“There’s a deep back story for Dylan as to why he’s left the investigation of nightmares,” Routh adds. “He was a cop at one time and he left that and became an investigator. He became a private eye just doing boring cheating husband and wife cases, numbing himself from his past experiences that have obviously been pretty negative for him. Dylan is in a funk and he’s getting back into the swing of things. He takes a case from Elizabeth [played by Anita Briem], but then something bad happens and he’s forced into action.”

Routh admits to taking a lot of bumps and bruises during production on a film that he calls more of a comedic action thriller than a horror flick. Yesterday, he popped his shoulder out during a take. That hasn’t deterred him from looking forward to more Dylan adventures and, during our chat, he talks about possible avenues that could be explored in future films.

But don’t start bringing up the word “sequel” around Dead of Night‘s producers. They’ve got other things in mind right now. “What we have to do is make a great picture,” Adler says frankly elsewhere on set, “the great picture has to sell really well. And if it sells really well, maybe there will be a sequel. I can’t really think about a sequel when I’m making a picture.” Don’t even look for hints of a sequel in the film, either. “You really can’t afford to and I think that’s a bit arrogant to think that’s going to happen. You have to concentrate on making that first picture really, really well.”

And with that, Shock Till You Drop is called back into action as a zombie. A few more hours left and another day of shooting before I’m wrapped. As a fan myself of the Dylan Dog series, I never thought I’d be a part of the universe in this capacity. Life can be strange, a Dylan can attest to.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, at the time of this writing, is set to make its premiere in Italy in October 2010. No U.S. release date has been set.




Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor