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