Based on the bestselling Italian comic book, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is a horror/comedy releasing this Friday that stars Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) as the titular “nightmare investigator” who is thrown into action when a beautiful young woman hires him to track down the werewolf that killed her wealthy father.
After ten years of languishing in development hell, the project finally found a guiding force in director Kevin Munroe (TMNT), who took on the unique challenge of bringing the internationally-celebrated European character to life for American audiences. Relocating the setting to New Orleans, Dead of Night will attempt to overcome the negative publicity surrounding its delayed release (it was finished in 2009) and open up the franchise to U.S. genre fans.
B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen recently sat down with Munroe to get a better sense of the numerous hurdles he was forced to clear -disappearing budget, a looming rights expiration date, trouble securing a distributor – to finally bring the finished product to the big screen. Check out the full interview inside.
Beginning his career as an animator for such storied outfits as the Jim Henson Company, Disney, Nickelodeon, and Stan Winston Studios, Kevin Munroe first broke into film directing in 2007 with TMNT, the commercially successful CGI follow-up to the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trio of films that suffered from diminishing returns in the early 1990s. Following TMNT‘s surprisingly potent #1 debut at the domestic box office and nearly $100 million in worldwide receipts, the multi-hyphenate Munroe entered a new realm with Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, a live-action film releasing this Friday that’s based on the long-running Italian comic book created by Tiziano Sclavi. Sitting down with the director at a fancy suite in Los Angeles’ Andaz Hotel recently, I managed to pick his brain about the project’s long journey to the screen, the challenges of working with a more limited budget than originally anticipated, and balancing not just one but several types of supernatural monsters.
Bloody Disgusting: So Tom Donnelly and Josh Oppenheimer had written a script back in the late ’90s originally…
Kevin Munroe: I think it was ’98 was the first draft, or ’99, because we had ten years to shoot the first day of shooting before the rights expired. So we had like a day of shooting that we did four weeks premature just so that we could officially begin production.
BD: What was that like?
KM: That was the tone of the whole movie, of the production. It was really a labor of love. I mean, it was a bunch of people with a little bit of money each all coming together to make a bigger pile of money and to make the movie come hell or high water. So it was crazy. You just had to roll with so many punches. I mean, I signed on for one budget and when we got greenlit the day before production all the sudden the budget was a completely different number and we were like ‘Ok, we just gotta roll with it and figure it out. I signed on for it so let’s do it, you know?’
BD: So the whole process definitely kept you on your toes.
KM: Yeah, completely, yeah. Especially being my first live-action thing, I didn’t really what was normal and what wasn’t. So I was just kinda like ‘ok, I get it, whatever, we’ll just go with it.’ I’m sure I’ll look back in 50 years and go like, ‘God, I was so stupid! Why would I ever put up with that? I should’ve just walked’, or whatever.
BD: Sounds like a trial by fire. It’s kind of a typical Hollywood story in a lot of ways.
KM: Yeah, and I almost wouldn’t want to have it any other way, actually. And it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t like I had to go through the whole…cause I had gone through the whole Weinstein thing with the ‘Ninja Turtles’, but it didn’t have to be like an unpleasant thing with people screaming at you while it’s happening at the same time.
BD: I guess independent production affords you a bit more freedom in that way.
KM: It is a double-edged sword, you know? Like you get all of those freedoms because you don’t have someone breathing down your neck like that, and it’s all about inspiring people rather than trying to jam something through. But then you finish a movie and you’re like, ‘oh shit, we need to get distribution now.’ And then that’s the other side of that sword, which is, ‘hey, it takes a year to get distribution.’ It’s just the way it is, you know?
BD: Was there any frantic rewriting when you found out the new budget? Was there anything that you had to take out?
KM: Yeah. We constantly were reworking the script. Cause I didn’t want to go through – we only had a 35 day schedule, so it was really quick – but I didn’t want to get to the end of that and realize we had made so many compromises along the way and not shot that big scene as big as we wanted it to be or shot that location the way it was originally planned. So as soon as we found out that we had to try to take money out of the budget or whatever it was, we just went through the script and were just like, ‘well, that whole thing that’s taking place on a runaway street car, it can all take place on an insert car, and we can do that and shoot it this way and we’ll just rework the action.
Like the whole scene where Lorca explodes through the window…that was a whole, that wasn’t supposed to be nearly the same kind of chase, when he blows up the flare and stuff like that. It was just all the way, [we had to] sort of just constantly roll with [the budget changes]…
BD: How much did it change from the Donnelly/Oppenheimer script? Was it originally written as a bigger-budget film?
KM: It wasn’t that much bigger, no. It was actually…I probably added – talk about learning lessons and what I would do next [time] – cause I went in and I immediately thought the ending needed to be bigger and it just needed more, so we went really big with the ending, and then had to scale back a bit when we were [shooting] it. But theirs wasn’t that [much bigger]…we actually were really true to their script for the most part. We just did our production draft of it, and that was about it.
There are a few new scenes, like they didn’t have [Sam's] arm changing color or anything like that, or they didn’t have…a lot of the Sam stuff, like all the fast food stuff, that wasn’t in there. But they were all things…that was the one thing that we did when we took over the script, was trying to beef up Marcus a little bit more as well. Cause it just plays like a ‘Lethal Weapon’ so well, you know?
BD: There’s definitely that buddy element in there between Brandon and Marcus. And obviously they’d had the benefit of having worked together previously. That must helped during shooting, right, because they already had that kind of chemistry.
KM: Yeah, no, it was really great, completely. I thought for sure they wouldn’t want to do it because they’d already done it in another movie. And they were like ‘no, we’re best friends!’…Especially, again, with this schedule and with the budget, to have two people show up and have to be best friends on screen when they’re already best friends in real life, that’s almost a no-brainer. And they’re both really perfect for the role[s], so that was really cool…
BD: I have to admit that I’ve never read one of the comics before…
KM: It’s really hard to read a Dylan Dog comic in the States…[Dark Horse] just did that big thick ‘Case File’ one…but other than that, I mean, there’s like nothing. We even went to Italy for the junket there, and even there I thought it was really hard to find Dylan Dog comics. It was really funny.
BD: That’s funny, because you always hear about how huge it is there.
KM: Yeah. And it’s not because we weren’t going to the right places cause I could tell you the two comic books that were bigger than that one, were always [in stock].
BD: But Marcus wasn’t ‘Marcus’ in the comics, he was ‘Groucho’, and then ‘Felix’ I think in the English-language versions, and he wasn’t a zombie in any of them like he is in the movie. Was the zombie element with that character already in the script before you came on to the project?
KM: That was a Josh [Oppenheimer] and Tom [Donnelly] thing, completely. It was a bummer because I really enjoyed the character and then I got to page 25 and he’s dead. I was like, ‘aw, he’s dead, he was such a great character!’ And then ‘hey, he comes back as a zombie’. I think whenever Sam comes back to life, that’s the movie that we wanted to make! And everything before that was just to get you to this point so that we could say, ‘ok, now the movie really starts!’ So yeah, it was really cool going in and just sort of really beefing up all the zombie elements. And Josh and Tom did such a great job with that, it was really fun.
BD: You have three types of monsters in the film – werewolves, vampires, and zombies – and it must have been difficult in a way to incorporate all of those without making them feel peripheral to the story.
KM: Yeah, no exactly. It’s gotta be the sort of thing that’s like really intimidating on an ‘Avengers’ movie or a ‘Justice League’ movie, or ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ or something, whatever it is…but it was challenging because I just really liked the idea of just showing how these guys live and work. It was not reinventing stuff that didn’t need to be reinvented. I felt like the basic rules still worked. We’re talking about just like how it’s sort of become part of the zeitgeist now, like people just know all that stuff. You know, like a ten-year-old girl could tell you probably the ten rules of a vampire…
BD: Well, the girl would probably tell you that vampires sparkle.
KM: Yeah, you know…it was really important that I didn’t want to have vampires that sparkle and then say ‘this is how they live and work in our world’. I wanted it to be, ‘here’s the vampires and werewolves and all these creatures that you think you know, and then this is how they live.’ So it was giving people some sort of common ground to associate with the characters before we started twisting it.
BD: Again I haven’t read the comics, but I’ve read how Dylan Dog in the comic books has a lot of phobias, though obviously that wasn’t in the film…
KM: It was in the film…we had a lot of phobias, we had probably about seven or eight specific references [to] phobias…Every time he loaded his gun, he double-tapped it -
BD: So it was more subtle references.
KM: No, it turned into subtle references. [In the scene] when he’s on the ladder…and Elizabeth was gonna walk under and he stopped her and he said, ‘always go around, never under’. Even in the opening thing with Harkin with him pointing the gun at his head, whenever he moved he was supposed to knock over a salt shaker, and then Dylan goes ‘oh, that’s not good.’ And he’s like, ‘what do you mean it’s not good, I’m gonna shoot you in the head!’
But while we were actually shooting the table salt scene there was a writer…who was there visiting from Italy, and he just said to one of the producers that Dylan’s not phobic. And I was just kinda like, ‘I’m pretty sure he is.’ And so Brandon and I still got all the footage, but this thing continued through editing. They just said ‘he doesn’t have phobias’…we [didn't] have many instances of producers coming in…but that for some reason was one that they really dug their heels in on. I was really curious about that.
I really liked how it humanized him, and I also loved that he knew the truth behind the superstitions. I loved that – at least in my own messed up way – I loved the idea that he knows because of some like witch treaty of like 1643 or something that if this happens, and that’s why if you step on a crack you’ll hurt your momma’s back, or whatever it is, you know?…That was sad to me [that we had to get rid of that element]. But it’s there, and it’s possible for [the] DVD.
BD: His parents were also an element in the comic. Was that ever in an earlier incarnation of the script?
KM: I don’t know how they drafted the first one, to be honest. I don’t know if they set out to make their own. I don’t even know if they set out to completely reset all of the world either. Because the way I wanted to do it was to acknowledge that he had been in London…that he has had all these adventures and now he’s basically left it and has come to New Orleans. And there’s a lot of outcry in Italy about like, ‘where’s [Inspector] Bloch?’…[and I'm] like, ‘well, Bloch’s not in New Orleans because he lives in London!’ That was always my answer.
So I realize maybe I should’ve, looking back, maybe mentioned something more specific, saying like, ‘the continuing adventures of…’ or whatever. In some way paying homage a little bit more to the fact that all of those things already happened. That was sort of like the one thing that I was looking back thinking, ‘maybe I should’ve been more overt’. Because I never meant for this one to sort of come off as being like ‘this is the very first adventure that he’s ever had in his life!’, you know? It was hard. I’d rather not have gone into one of the…like, pick Issue #57 and then adapted it. Because then you’re really messing with specifics, and that just doesn’t…
BD: Well, it definitely came through that he’d been a supernatural investigator before and that he’d given it up. I think American audiences probably won’t pick up on that near as much as an Italian fan of the comic would.
KM: I’m a people pleaser though…
BD: As far as the rating goes, was it always a mandate to make it PG-13?
BD: Because you’ll hear people saying how it’d be great to have it be ‘R’-rated. But obviously there are financial considerations as well.
KM: I love the fact that we live in a world, though, that we’re getting to a point where people are okay with the financial considerations of doing an ‘R’ movie. I mean…’Shaun of the Dead’ shouldn’t be a PG-13 movie. For that shtick to work, it just functions best at that level. The PG-13 [mandate] had been from the beginning…they just said it needed to be PG-13, under 120 minutes runtime, and whatever else the other stuff is.
BD: How was the MPAA with it? Were there any cuts that had to be made?
KM: No, they were fine with it. I mean, you saw it, it’s so not at times a Bloody-Disgusting movie at all, and I recognize that, but at the same time it was never meant to be…it was funny, I went back and forth for ['TMNT'] than I did for this one.
KM: Yeah, [on] ‘Turtles’ there were a whole bunch of [cuts]. Cause [the Ninja Turtles] are technically kids, and it was CGI, so therefore they think ‘cartoon’. There was a scene where Leo and Raphael are fighting, that big rooftop fight scene. And he pins his brother down, and [in] the first cut he took his…weapon and pointed it right at his eye…and the MPAA said ‘no, that’s not [okay], cause kids will take a fork and [do the same thing]‘…
BD: The tone of the film reminded me a bit of Joss Whedon at times, specifically ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. Was that an influence at all?
KM: You know, what’s really funny is ‘Buffy’ wasn’t a huge influence to me, because it hit when I was in college I think, whenever ‘Buffy’ was really big. So it wasn’t really like ‘oh my god, I have to watch this every night.’ So I think we must have a lot of the same sensibilities, because I like all of Joss’ stuff. It’s really great. ‘Firefly’ is great. The Joss stuff is funny, because I remember seeing on one chat where someone was like, ‘this is such a horrible Buffy rip-off, it sucks, it’s so old’, and some people were like, ‘oh my god, it’s just like, Buffy, that’s awesome!’, you know? So it’s one of these divisive things…
BD: I happen to like ‘Buffy’ so…
KM: And I do too…I like the practical effects, and I like just everything. I like the sense of humor. I like that it’s self-aware but it doesn’t jeopardize [the scariness of] the threat that’s in the episode or whatever’s happening…so I think I definitely gravitate toward that.
BD: What else do you have in the works? I heard something about ‘El Zombo’, the adaptation of your comic book.
KM: We have a script written for it, and we’re actually working with Radar Pictures now and trying to find a home for that. I’m not sure if I’m gonna direct it, it just depends on when it gets set up and where it’s gonna be. I’d love to do it. I’m just a huge ‘Santo’ movie fan, so I just love guys walking around with masks, it’s just funny to me. And this one is like…we actually added a mythology to the whole world of masked wrestlers, going all the way back to Aztec times. It’s this really big epic kind of thing. It’s really cool.
And then ‘Olympus Heights’ is another comic book I did, and we’re developing it as a T.V. series right now that would be very ‘Buffy’-like in the sense that it’s like one big world and this guy discovers that his next door neighbor is Zeus, and all of Zeus’ family is all broken apart and all living around…and this kid…ends up becoming sort of this pseudo-son for Zeus, and Zeus ends up finding a little family in him.
Zeus is like a raging asshole. He’s like Nick Nolte in ’48 Hrs.’, that’s when you meet him. And then it’s basically all about redemption, and every week he’s gotta try to solve something that he screwed up in the past kind of thing. So it’s really fun, and the two guys who are writing on that are really funny. So hopefully we’ll get that going soon, cause that’d be really cool. And I’d love to do the pilot on that one.
BD: As far as a sequel for this, do you have any idea where you’d take it if a sequel did happen?
KM: I would love to take it to London. I would in a heartbeat go to London, and then I’d probably pop over to Italy for a little bit…I would love to open up the world for the American fans…if it had a sequel and it had a fanbase, I would love for American fans just to go…I would love for audiences to go back to London and be behind Dylan as he’s walking down the street or into a building and people are recognizing him, and you start filling in who he was. I really think that’s kind of cool, and London would be great.