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Dagon

It's a shame that it has to come to this. It's a shame when artists of proven talent have to bend over backwards to get their most intriguing projects on the big screen. Stuart Gordon has been trying for years to get H.P. Lovecraft's "Shadow Over Innsmouth" filmed, first with Full Moon Pictures and then with producer Brian Yuzna. Yuzna has also been looking to reunite with Gordon after successful collaborations in the past. It seemed like every horror fan and their little sister wanted this to happen. But, the film was in development for over a decade while films like SORORITY BOYS and JACKASS are shot into the cineplex at lightning speed.

Finally, Gordon's pet project arrives, after a fashion, with DAGON. Yuzna's Spanish-based Fantastic Factory produces, along with an amazing array of companies. So many companies are credited with the production in fact that it takes over a minute to list them all as the film begins. The cast also is very international.

The script, appropriately enough, also utilizes a number of sources - Lovecraft's "Innsmouth" and very short "Dagon" as well as original contributions from screenwriter Dennis Paoli who has written just about every great Gordon film.

The good news is that after much waiting, the finished product is a real treat for those who like their horror gristly, intelligent and far from the beaten path. It may not on a par with RE-ANIMATOR, but it is still worth checking out, delivering more jumps than any other straight-to-video effort in ages.

The film opens with two couples taking a much needed vacation, a vacation which quickly turns into the Worst Boat Ride Ever as their ship is wrecked on some jagged rocks. Recent millionaire Paul ( Ezra Godden ) and his girlfriend Barbara ( Raquel Meroo ) go into the quaint and mostly deserted coastal town Imbocca for help. Sure, the townspeople are a bit creepy, what with their bleached white skin, their webbed hands and their tendency to wear black on all occasions. But hey, these people are desperate since one of their crew as injured in the wreck.

The wreck is soon given up as Paul becomes separated from Barbara and he realizes everyone in town is out to kill any human being that shows up. We find out the reasons why from Ezequiel, the town's only completely human resident, Ezekiel ( Francisco Rabal ), a homeless alcoholic who is insane from several years of guilt and servitude. Apparently, the townsfolk are no longer completely human thanks to their devotion to an elder god of the sea named Dagon. And that's all I'll say about that.

Most of the film is a cat and mouse chase, with Paul trying to escape the town and not become one of Imbocca's many casualties. This is the film's most intriguing paradox. Since most of the film is a chase, the whole thing seems simple. Yet, as readers of Lovecraft know, there's a lot of mythology floating around here and a much more complex chain of events ready to be unleashed.

Gordon does an exquisite job here, proving he's still got it after a few years out of the spotlight. Gordon treats this like a labor of love. The crashing thunder, rapidly degrading architecture and mythical horrors are classic examples of what has made the Gordon/Yuzna team one of the most amazing team-ups in horror around.

The gore of their previous collaborations is also apparent. Gordon gets to exploit many ideas that previous budget constraints didn't allow him to pursue. The folks at Yuzna's Fantastic Factory seem to be pushing things to the next level a bit when it comes to unique and memorable creations. The "tits and ass monster" from FAUST, for instance, is permanently ingrained on my brain.

It should be noted, unlike RE-ANIMATOR or FROM BEYOND, there is virtually no humor in DAGON. This is straight horror with real scares and shocking violence with no sign of satire in sight.

The international cast does a fine job. In his film debut, Godden has the dubious honor of being in every scene. His Paul looks more and more like a young Jeffrey Combs as the film wears on. Like a new version of the Volkswagen Bug, he is doomed to be compared to the earlier model. Of course, this is not helped by the fact that he sports a Miskatonic University sweater throughout the film. Still, Godden is very easy to root for, although the film's only major fault comes with his character. Long after he finds out what is at stake, he occasionally tries to bargain with the Dagonites, bribing them with money or making wise-cracks about his cell phone. This comes completely out of left field. Not only is it tiresome, it is inconsistent with a character who has shown apprehension regarding his newfound wealth.

There are little snippets here and there that made me do a double-take, because they were inconsistent with the quality work in the rest of the film. After some incredible and thought-provoking exchanges between characters, a bomb that the Bad Dialogue Police failed to defuse will go off. Regarding an ancient fertility rite, the hero yells "Fuck Dagon!" to which the priestess responds "Yes!" Please.

Meroo is very sympathetic and manages to propel the character beyond the typical Dagon-bait you would expect. She also happens to be an absolutely stunning beauty.

Veteran actor Rabal, who passed away soon after his work here, is excellent. He uses just the right amount of emotion in his part, conveying a definite sense that this is a man who has suffered in the shadow of Imbocca's shameful legacy all his life. Cruel as this sounds, there are a few instances in the back story where it is hard to understand his very thick accent, but for the most part he remains the film's most interesting character.

Although DAGON has a few flaws, they are easy to forgive and forget. This is mainly because the film moves at much a perfectly brisk pace that nothing really seems rushed or padded for time. Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna have once again provided an original and terrifying little horror film, filled with terrifying set pieces and beautiful imagery.

- Scott W. Davis



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WHAT YOU SAID [VIEW]



#1 Posted by TvT on 20 January 2003 (2:00)
I loved this film, was blown away by it actually. Especially after all of the negative reviews I had heard about it. Nice review, buddy.

Tis a shame about Rabal. I did think he should've been provided with subtitles :), but that's just me.
#2 Posted by JohnShaft on 20 January 2003 (13:27)
Excellent review Scott.
God I cannot wait to see this one now. Since reading Finn's review of it on alt.horror I was pretty eager. Now I'm bleeding desperate. :blink:

I love the fact it's straight horror too. I must admit it's been an old wish of mine that someone would finally do Lovecraft straight, as he intended it to be taken. Let's face it Lovecraft didn't have a funny bone in his body. His writing is so unique and powerful because HE takes it utterly serious.
So, as much as I love Re-Animator, Dagon's seriousness is a big plus for me. It seems like you can move for humour in horror lately anyway.

I hope this one's even half as good as I've heard.....
#3 Posted by Scott W. Davis on 20 January 2003 (16:56)
It is, John. And thanks for the kind words. HE readership must be increasing. The first reply to this review hit while I was still fixing my dumbass mistakes with the layout. :D

And yes, Finn Clark's review is great. I hope he'll post that one on here one day.
#4 Posted by Monkeysmasher on 24 January 2003 (1:00)
Dagon was good. I like it better than the Re-Animators.
Most Lovecraft-based movies outright suck, but this one was like finding a diamond in a pile of shit. I'm quite a lovecraft fan, and had read all his books. Every video with a lovecraft based title i end up getting, and they usually are pretty poor examples of HPL's writing.
I'm anxiously awaiting the next one, 'at the mountains of madness' i believe it's called.
#5 Posted by JohnShaft on 15 February 2003 (22:00)
Finally got a chance to see Dagon and can say that it definitely lived up to my expectations.

It was refreshing to see a Lovecraft film that took itself seriously, (even though I do love Re-Animator) mobile phone jokes excepted.

One thing that suprised me was the lack of dialogue. But now that I think about it it would have been hard to have done it any other way. It's been a while since I read Shadow Over Innsmouth but IIRC Dagon seems very close to an attempt to put the full novella on the screen.
From the predicament of a lone man trying to escape the rabid townspeople. To the drunken old man who tells him the story of the town and how it came to be. Even the scene where he barricades himself up in the hotel room seem lifted entirely from the novella if I recall.
Pretty much a great job of putting one of HPL's best and most dramatic stories onto celluloid as is.

Rabal was excellent. He owned the scenes he was in. I can more than forgive him for his dialogue being occasionally unintelligible for the presence he brought to the film.

Godden was reasonable as a hero half way between Jeffrey Combs and Mr. Muscle (you get that in the States?) with a pinch of Clark Kent thrown in for good measure.

*** SPOILERS AND SEMI-SPOILERS ***
Now, what about the minuses?
Well for one I was slightly dissapointed by the look of the townspeople. I really wish they had gone with the deformed fish look of the Deep Ones, creatures neither entirely human, nor icthyic, but some bizarre, twisted hybrid. There's something really disturbing about HP's original concept of them. And I really think that Yuzna ditched them in favour of generic malformed mutants. Other than budget constraints I really don't see why this decision was taken. Damn shame.
The creature on the cover is pretty effective. Though it's not pure Deep One the teeth do give it somewhat of a piranha look. That's what I was at least expecting from the film for some of the townspeople. Did the cover creature even make an appearance? (I can't be sure, one person did look similar...)

What else? Not much really. Maybe they could have had two of the characters together a little longer to allow for a little more dialogue. I think if the hero and his girlfriend had stayed together until the hotel scene and a little longer they could still have milked the drama out of the 'hunted down' scenes. Maybe more so.
This is a slight negative, if at all though. I really can't fault Yuzna for making it a typical 'lone man against a malevolent universe' story, as it IS pure HPL.
********************

For anyone that loves Lovecraft, and can take horror without the humour Dagon is a full-on recommendation from me. Be aware it's mostly an action film and I don't think you can go wrong.
#6 Posted by Juan Rayo on 14 August 2005 (1:44)
I have always tought it to be a shame that the writings of H.P Lovecraft and his followers (who improved on the Chtulu Mythos and really expanded on it) has not been really translated to movie format in a succesfull way. I guess it's to be expected, after all, it is not conventional horror at all, and I can see how it would be difficult to adapt to the big screen.

During the years, I've seen only a handfull of movies or short movies relating to Lovecraft's stories. From "PICKMAN'S MODEL" in the great (and old) tv series "Night Gallery" to "Cast a deadly spell" (1991) with Fred Ward playing "Det. Harry Philip Lovecraft". While I enjoyed both of these examples, they are a far cry from really capturing the writers demons.

So, when I heard about "Dagon", read the comments right here and Mr. Davis's per usual great review here at HE, I went looking for the movie like there was no tomorrow. I needed my Lovecraft Fix.

When I finally got it, I gave it the full threatment. Finished work early, no mates, no girlfriend, no beer (almost) just DAGON and my dog and myself. I didn't want anything to spoil this for me

All these preliminaries serve a purpose: as you guys can see, it was with very high expectations that I watched this movie, and that probably explains why I felt let down at the end. kind of. And at the same time loved it. Kind of.

I loved the details in this movie, the little things that don't have to be explained to fans of the source materiales: The Island is called "Inboca" (spanish for "in the mouth", one of the many original Lovecraft stories this movie takes from is called "The Shadow over Innsmouth" and you can see the reference) and Paul's sweater marks him as a Miskatonic U graduate. One would thing that, with the rate of mortality for the Miskatonic alummni, people would be happy just going to Harvard instead, but oh, well.

I also liked the fact that, as others have pointed out, the film takes itself seriously (and I agree the cel phone jokes really disrupted the flow of the thing) but, sadly, this also works against the film, as one can only laugh at some of the effects and acting in it.

I think the townspeople look great. Sure, they are not quite "fishman" as Lovecraft described, but seriously, how long would a village of Fishlike people survive undetected nowadays? it's more realistic to thing that they are slowly "evolving" and can therefore hide their look from tourist (or at least, from those they do not offer in bloddy sacrifice to ancient, pagan gods).

Rabal is great, and I liked Paul (Mr. Godden) as a hero. He is clearly not an action figure, but when the time comes to get nasty, oh man, can he deliver a gutfishing stroke like an ancient mariner!

What I didn't like: hard to explain, mostly, it made me laugh out loud at times and it wasn't supposed to, and that really kills atmosphere, right? the effects are cheesy I guess, and the towsfolk turn from strong monsters to wimps in the blink of an eye ("hey, let's just all stay perfectly still while he trows gasoline at us and sets us on fire!)

However, my dissapointment comes more from the fact that my expectations were so high (a clear mistake, one should see a movie for what it is) and I would definitely recommend Dagon to H.P Lovecraft's fans. While a definitive adaptation of his works is still to come, Dagon is a nice enough fix while we wait.

Five things about this movie:

1. My oh my, what a beautifull mermaid.. YIKES!
2. Worlds.worse.room.service.EVER.
3. The infamous "give us your face for no particular reason" scene. VERY NICE! Paul's revenge, wich inmediatly follows "I am NOT a helpless old man!" Great stuff.
4. Barbara takes a dip. You poor, beautifull, naked fishbait!
5. Hmm, there are many worse ways to spend the rest of eternity, me thinks.
#7 Posted by Beast on 20 July 2008 (4:48)
I prefer 'Faust: Love of the Damned', but this was quite a unique horror film. Has some truly cringe-worthy special effects (snake in the mouth, anyone?), but overall, it's certainly worth checking out. B+
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