I’m not sure who’s to blame for my never having so much as heard of Stuart Gordon’s Dagon, which opened back in ’01, until last week, but I expect whoever it is to bravely accept responsibility, that I may taunt them a second time. Because Dagon (I’ve now watched it), Gordon’s third H.P. Lovecraft adaptation (after Re-Animator and From Beyond), is kind of wonderful.
Is it the masterpiece that is Re-Animator? No. It is not. But it’s at least in the realm of From Beyond. Dagon even resembles, to some degree, Evil Dead II for its non-stop manic wackiness and the amount of abuse heaped on its milquetoast lead, Paul Marsh, played by Ezra Godden. Who, granted, is no Bruce Campbell (who is?); he’s no Jeffrey Combs, either, but in appearance he’s close.
He’s an H.P Lovecraft lead, in other words. Bespectacled and wimpy, in no way prepared to face The Ultimate, Indescibable Terror of The Infinite. Which is what everyone in Lovecraft stories must contend with.
Dagon is set in a little fishing village in Spain (New England in the story it’s based on, but you know how financing goes sometimes; if your investors are Spanish, you shoot in Spain). We meet Paul, his girlfriend, Barbara (Raquel Meroño), and another couple on a small boat, enjoying a vacation. Suddenly a storm rears up. And say, what’s with the eerie singing/chanting coming from the village on the coast? Their boat is tossed into the rocks. The other woman is injured. Paul and Barbara take the rowboat and fight the waves to reach the village.
Only where is everyone? It’s deserted. They find their way into a church. But what strange icons line these walls…
The upshot is that the entire town worhips the demon sea-god Dagon, who in the past blessed them with fish and gold, and have done so for so long they’re all turned into half-human/half sea-creature monsters, and they ain’t gonna help out any strangers. Well, except for the squid-legged lady. She wants to help Paul. And she’d like to feed Barbara to Dagon. That sort of thing.
The make-up effects are solid. All the fishy demon-people are horrendous and goopy and tentacled and wet in all the right ways. The occasional CGI effects, most notable in the opening scenes, are rather cheap and absurd looking, but don’t let that bother you. What’s important are the creepy monsters swarming after Paul in the rain.
It’s always raining. Paul spends the whole movie in his soaking wet Miskatonic sweatshirt and befogged glasses. He stumbles into an actual non-fishy human at one point, an old, old man, who in a too-thick Spanish accent (I understood maybe a third of his lines—but no matter! Fish monsters! Coming to get us!) relates the history of this accursed town. The man isn’t especially helpful when it comes to escaping, though, leading Paul to the old mansion where the king of the demons lives with his lovely daughter. Well. Lovely from the waist up. Or so. Octopus aficionados may disagree.
Did I mention the fishpeople wear the skin-mask-faces of their skinned victims? No? Probably for the best. You won’t forget the skinning scene soon.
As evidenced by Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon has a demented sense of humor (as does Dennis Paoli, screenwriter of Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dagon), which is perhaps less on display in Dagon than in the earlier movies. So while the non-stop nutty action and the sad-sack protagonist learning to fight demons reminded me of Evil Dead II, Dagon never goes fully down the comedy path. I think if it had, it might not be so unknown. It remains ever on the edge of turning into comic madness, but stays just on this side of weird/creepy/gruesome. As such, cult status has never quite been achieved.
Too bad. I liked it. If you’re a fan of Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations, you’ll like it too. If you’re not so into monsters and tentacles and Infinite Abysses of Unfathomable Doom, you are advised to pass on by.