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Dagon (2001)

DVD Cover (Lions Gate)
Genres:
Creature Film, Horror, Supernatural Horror
Director:
Stuart Gordon Stuart Gordon
Starring:
Ezra Godden Ezra Godden
Francisco Rabal Francisco Rabal
Raquel Meroño Raquel Meroño
Macarena Gómez Macarena Gómez
Brendan Price Brendan Price

6.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: January 03, 2009
Rob Zombie and Sid Haig. Quentin Tarantino and reimaginings of grindhouse trash. Eli Roth and gratuitous violence. There are some pairings in the world of film that go together like two peas in a pod, and "Stuart Gordon and the work of H.P. Lovecraft" is no different. Gordon has brought us numerous films based on Lovecraft's writings over the course of his career, with some releases faring better with genre fans than others. Dagon, one of his more recent films, seems to be one of those "love it or hate it" movies - some call it Gordon's most faithful Lovecraft adaptation to date, some call it a masterpiece, some call it a piece of shit.

This is a movie that I caught midway through during one of its late-night reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel, and I distinctly recall being sort of neutral on it; I didn't think that it was a bad movie, but at the same time, I didn't rank "see this movie in its uncut entirety" anywhere near the top of my priorities. However, after recently watching and thoroughly enjoying The Black Cat, I was in the mood for a little more Gordon / Lovecraft tag-team, and thus, here we are with Gordon's foray into the world of Sci-Fi Channel premieres.

It all begins when two couples - Paul (Ezra Godden) and Barbara (Raquel Meroño), along with Howard (Brendan Price) and Vicki (Birgit Bofarull) - decide to go sailing somewhere off the coast of Spain. They soon come across a small, decrepit fishing village and hear loud chants coming out of the town square, and they decide to stay as far away from this little town as possible; however, fate will have none of that, as a storm comes out of nowhere and rams the boat up against some rocks. Paul and Barbara board a small raft and set out for the town to get help, but when they return to the boat with help in tow, they discover that Howard and Vicki have vanished. Bad sign.

The two decide to return to the island and wait for the police to arrive, and before you can say "bad sign number two", our loving couple has been split up. The remainder of the film follows Paul and his quest to find and rescue his loving wife, but as he will soon find out, something's not quite right in this little town: people have webbed fingers, gills on their necks, and some even have tentacles coming out of their face. It seems as though everyone in the town has a little bit of fish in their family tree, and our hero will soon discover that there is a solid connection between this and Dagon, the God of the sea that is worshiped by everyone in this town. Things get even more bizarre when Paul quite literally encounters the girl of his dreams, a young lass named Uxía (Macarena Gómez), and after hearing the history of this town from local drunkard Ezequiel (the late Francisco Rabal)... well, I have to leave a little something for viewers to discover on their own, right?

As I mentioned earlier, it has been said that this is Gordon's most faithful Lovecraft adaptation to date. I can't weigh in on that as I haven't read the source material (The Shadow Over Innsmouth - not Dagon, oddly enough), but I can say that any horror fan worth his or her salt need only take a quick look at this film to see that it has Lovecraft's fingerprints all over it. The bizarre townsfolk, the mutations, the decrepit town, the college student in the leading role, and of course, the titular Ancient One all add up to a film that will certainly appeal to Lovecraft fans regardless of how true it may or may not be to the source material.

With the comparisons out of the picture and viewing the film as a standalone project, I have to say that I really enjoyed the storyline. It was certainly an original film (well, as original as an adaptation can get), and it provides us with plenty of material that you just don't see very often in the world of horror. How many horror films can you point to that feature Gods taking control of an entire town and said townsfolk slowly turning into creatures of the sea? If for nothing else, you have to give Dagon points for creativity.

It has been rumored that the studios offered to immediately greenlight this film if Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna changed the creatures to either vampires or werewolves (a rumor that I have no problems believing), and let me tell you, the film just wouldn't have been the same with those generic creatures as the antagonists. Thankfully, those two gentleman stuck to their guns, and even though it took them fifteen years to get this bad boy completed, the end result was well worth it.

Now, I can't rightfully say that this film was all peaches and cream, as it did have a handful of problems that prevent me from giving it a solid, no questions asked recommendation. For starters, it does have a number of holes in the plot and there are certain pieces of the storyline that are really hard to swallow (no easy feat given the nature of the storyline). An ancient God transforming an entire town into merfolk? Sure, I can accept that. A certain revelation that comes up later on in the film? Now that is just crazy talk. Again, I haven't read the source material, so I can't say how much of this is a fault of Lovecraft's writing and how much of it came down to sloppy work on the part of the film's writers, but I do know that at least one plot hole - the history of the drunkard - was properly explained in the original novella.

Speaking of that drunkard, Francisco Rabal plays a rather large role in the storyline and is an important character when it comes to revealing certain parts of the storyline and the general history of the town. The man was easily one of the best actors in the film, and I'm not just saying that because this was his last role before he died - Rabal really brought his A-game to what was really nothing more than a b-movie. I have nothing but praise for him in just about all regards, but his accent... my word, his accent. I watched this through a streaming video service where subtitles were not an option, and there were entire pieces of dialogue that I simply could not understand thanks to his extremely thick accent. To put it into perspective, there are characters in here that speak Spanish instead of English, and I understood more of what they were saying than I did when Rabal spoke... and I know roughly a dozen words in Spanish. This wouldn't have been such a big deal if he wasn't explaining key points of the plot that you sort of have to hear in order to understand where the storyline is going, so it really would have been nice if he had spoken a little more clearly. He wasn't the only one with an accent, but considering that he was the one explaining huge pieces of the storyline, he is the one that the blame must fall upon.

Problems aside, I can't say that I didn't enjoy the overall film. It features an interesting and unique storyline, it features some damned fine monster effects (brief instances of sketchy CGI not withstanding), and yes, there is a facial skinning that is sure to stick in the minds of gorehounds for quite some time. Dagon is not a perfect film and it's not even a must-see, but it's certainly an enjoyable movie that horror fans will probably like and Lovecraft fans will likely love. 7/10.
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Greg Follender #1: Greg Follender - added 01/03/2009, 09:18 AM
I haven't watched this film in awhile... I saw it when it was first released and then immediately bought the DVD once it was released.
I'd almost forgotten I even had the thing;)

Still, i have very fond memories of it... probably because it seemed to truly ooze the sort of atmosphere that a Lovecraft tale ought to.
I have read the source material (and while it seems to be based on only one tale {Shadow over Innsmouth}, it borrows imagery and theme from many) and while it differs from the basic rank and file of the text, the basic tenets of the story and the mood are spot-on.

The task of creating a decrepit town of half-transformed fish people without CGI was a daunting task that I am happy to say the filmmakers embraced with great relish and success. The spare use of digital effects is to be lauded in my humble opinion...

I don't know... perhaps I'm just a sucker for a well-realized "Lovecraftian' tale, but this effort sits quite high on my list for movies of this specific genre. It just seemed complete and seamless as a film world to me.

It ain't high art... but I found it quite satisfying. I think Lovecraft would have approved of at least the damp suffocating atmosphere of the piece. I give it a generous 8/10 for staying true to the source material's vision.
bluemeanie #2: bluemeanie - added 01/06/2009, 11:26 AM
I have this on DVD and I don't know why. I remember watching it and remember enjoying the atmosphere of the film. It's definitely a sleeper in some ways and it takes a little too long to get started, but solid enough. 7/10.
Ginose #3: Ginose - added 01/06/2009, 05:23 PM
Actualy, I'm in the same boat as Chad: Turned on the TV once after work and this was on Sci-Fi... ofcourse, I only got there at the end, so alot of the film's effect was easted on me, but they were giving the Cthulhu chant, there were fish-people, fire, breasts and Dagon, so I knew I had to find it. Found it at Blockbuster, slapped myself when I saw it was a Gordon Lovecraft adaptation that I didn't know about, went home and loved every minute of it. Truly one of my favorites, even if it does drag o n at parts.

Probably number 4 in my list of favorite Lovecraft adaptations. 8.4/10
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