Before I start this review, I will confess that I have never read anything by Lovecraft, and so am unable to comment on how closely this resembles his work, but just take the film as a movie in it’s own right. The film was written 15 years ago as the film that Stuart Gordon was going to make following Re-Animator, as a fusion of two Lovecraft tales, the early “Dagon” and the late “Shadow over Innsmouth”. However the project got put on the backburner, & Gordon made From Beyond instead. Finally Gordon has been able to make the film, albeit on a low budget, in Spain with a Spanish cast & crew, as part of the Fantastic Factory venture, which has also given us Faust: Love of the Damned, & Arachnid. You may be pleased to hear that Dagon wipes the floor with both of those efforts.
Four Americans are in a boat off the coast of Spain, when a sudden storm arrives, & they get washed onto the rocks. One of them is hurt, so Paul (Ezra Godden) & Barbara (Raquel Merono) go to a nearby fishing town to get help. However, the town seems deserted, but there’s clearly something very wrong with the few locals they do find. Suddenly, Paul finds himself alone & in fear for his life.
The location of the fishing town used is terrific, a really creepy & atmospheric place channelling the same sort of energy as the town in Bava’s Operazione Paura, or the Venice of Don’t Look Now. The incredibly creepy mood is aided considerably by the beautiful cinematography of Carlos Suarez, who shoots the film almost entirely on hand-held cameras, giving it a convincingly vigorous immediacy. Composer Carles Cases contributes a wonderfully understated score, with some lovely Celtic-style music & some excellent choral writing – apparently using a text by Lovecraft himself. I’ve not heard anything by this composer before, but I really want to find out more about his work now.
For the most part, Dagon is essentially just a chase movie & after a brief introduction it simply doesn’t let up for a remarkably taut 98 minutes, with a breathless one-thing-after-another tension which keeps the film fraught with danger. Coming on like a paranoiac deep-sea version of The Wicker Man, it’s a film packed with deliciously off-kilter detail and thematic & intellectual depths that hold-up well to repeated viewing. It also boasts some very strong mechanical & prosthetic effects, although the CG does look unconvincing & reminds you of this films limited budget. There is actually relatively little gore in Dagon – but when it comes (in one show-stopping scene in particular), gore fans will most assuredly not be disappointed!
There are some good value performances to be had here too, including veteran Spanish actor Francisco Rabal in his last performance (although you may need subtitles to understand some of his dialogue) & Merona, who is something of a TV star in Spain, not to mention the assorted townsfolk who are a very odd & creepy bunch. The real find for my money though is Macarena Gomez, here making her debut & completely stealing the film with a brilliantly seductive performance that would have done Barbara Steele proud. I really hope that we will see more of her in the future.
It would be wrong to suggest that this is a perfect film, though. As mentioned above there is some rather dodgy CG effects, & you can never really forget that this is a low-budget film that has (unjustly IMO) disappeared straight to video. In addition, although he tries hard & has some fine moments, Godden is not the most sympathetic or likeable of heroes for the most part. It is really great to see how his character changes over the course of the film, though.
I think that possibly the best thing about Dagon is that it’s a horror film that isn’t afraid to be exactly that. Without any of the art- or teen- movie pretensions that have dominated the genre of late, Dagon’s straight ahead old-school style is a breath of fresh air that should find favour with serious horror fans everywhere. Gordon has satisfyingly welded his own pulp/B-movie sensibilities with Lovecraft’s more serious & literary sensibilities, & delivered what may just be his most satisfying film to date.
I’ve bought the R1 DVD from Lions Gate Entertainment, which comes in NTSC format. This is a very dark-looking film, & the constant rain could easily have given trouble, but the excellent transfer copes very well, & I didn’t notice any blemishes. Audio comes courtesy of an immersive & very active Dolby 5.1 track, with subtitles in English & Spanish. For extras, you get a trailer, 3 storyboard sequences & a production art gallery. The main extras are the two commentary tracks, of which the first is the best. Featuring Gordon along with writer Dennis Paoli, this discusses the film at a narrative & thematic level, explaining the difficulties in adapting Lovecraft. The second features Gordon again, this time with Ezra Godden, talking about it more from a production angle with some nice on-set anecdotes. This is worth listening to just for the moment when Gordon admits he’d probably have walked out had he not directed the film! Both are entertaining & full tracks with very few gaps, & not too much repetition. The disc lists something as “The Original Story”, but I could find no trace of any corresponding thing on the disc. Whatever, this is a great little disc that I don’t regret buying for a second.