Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #153
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 31 October 2001 (Spain)
Sub Genre: Fantasy Horror
Country of Origin: Spain
Box-office: EUR €212,699 (Spain)
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Stuart Gordon
Producers: Carlos Fernández, Julio Fernández, Miguel Torrente, Brian Yuzna
Screenplay: Dennis Paoli
Based on short stories by: H.P. Lovecraft (Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth)
Special Effects: David Martí, Montse Ribé
Cinematography: Carlos Suárez
Score: Carles Cases
Editing: Jaume Vilalta
Studios: Castelao Producciones, Estudios Picasso, Fantastic Factory
Distributor: Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment, Filmax International
Stars: Ezra Godden, Francisco Rabal, Raquel Meroño, Macarena Gómez, Brendan Price, Birgit Bofarull, Uxía Blanco, Ferran Lahoz, Joan Minguell, Alfredo Villa, José Lifante, Javier Sandoval, Victor Barreira, Fernando Gil, Jorge Luis Pérez
Suggested Audio Whelk
Carles Cases “Dagon Rises”
Stuart Gordon has long been a filmmaker whom I absolutely adore. Since giving us the legendary Re-Animator, he has gone on to direct a sequence of solid horror films including From Beyond, Dolls, The Pit & The Pendulum and Castle Freak as well as little-known gem Edmond, penned by David Mamet. HP Lovecraft’s works, in particular, have held a constant source of fascination to Gordon and Dagon represents one such labor of love.
Although this is adapted from classic Lovecraftian fiction The Shadow Over Innsmouth (and to lesser degree his book of the same name), it actually dates back to the Old Testament, long before Christianity. The biblical connotations alone make Dagon one of the writer’s most grandiose works and Gordon’s $4.2 million kitty suddenly seems meager when endeavoring to tackle a tale of such magnitude. In the wrong hands it may well have been catastrophic, but here is the guy who made Re-Animator and From Beyond on his own shoestrings, he must have felt like a rollover lotto winner.
Lovecraft’s original dark fable speaks of the ancient God Dagon, who skulked about the darkest recesses of the Earth after being banished in the days before light. Gordon’s tale chooses a contemporary setting but still maintains the Gothic feel of the source material, in itself, no mean feat. Once our wandering seafarers have dropped anchor we are up to our bulging eyes with cobblestone streets and decaying structures.
The storm-hit shanty town of Dagon is a most foreboding locale, filled with pressing peril and a hanging sense of dread. Our sacrificial lambs are goaded in by the sudden blackness which falls upon them as they drift to land and things take a distinct turn for the macabre when it begins to dawn that the occupants of this town are somewhat of a handful. A waking nightmare is what they are and they truly take exception to the holidaying couples for disturbing their ‘utopia’. There’s nothing heavenly about Dagon or its inhabitants. Webbed feet, flapping gills and gibbous eyeballs filled with blind hatred, that’s their remuneration for docking here.
Anyone familiar with Kuniomi Matsushita and Shinji Mikami’s 2005 magnum opus Resident Evil 4 will be fully versed as to the threat at hand. One imagines the pair drew great inspiration from these very streets as the amphibious half-breeds of Dagon share their tenacity and are just as oppressive. Another bummer is the incessant rain which douses every frame and almost seems to wash away any color on the screen. Grey is predominant here, even the townsfolk’s skin coloration is ashen, while the smoky cobbled streets are constantly awash with blackened shadows to tighten the town’s grip even further. This is a place we fully expect never to leave and, before we know it, we too are the hapless quarry.
Speaking of which, Ezra Godden who plays Paul has managed to do a bit of a number on Keeper. Upon primary introduction he comes across as spineless and sniveling but, as the feature wears on, he grows on you akin to affable algae. One manner in which he endears himself is through an absorbing sub-plot with a dream-weaving siren which culminates in her revealing her flappers to his great dismay and absolute horror. Bearing in mind that this ain’t Splash and Godden certainly ain’t Tom Hanks, he zips it back in and makes his polite excuses.
On one hand you feel for klutz Paul and wish to offer him a glass of port and Belgian truffle but, far more appealing, is the idea of rather enjoying his torrid time and gleaning delicious blackened comedy from his desperate pitfalls. Maybe it’s just me. Shucks, Dagon is a dark motherfucking movie and you have to get your kicks from somewhere right? Anyhoots, you try telling me that watching him fumble unsuccessfully with that lock didn’t cause the faintest wry grin. Exactimundo… Now begone with you.
Certain Lovecraft Nazis have stated their discord with Gordon’s treatment with such a beloved work. I say get over it and get a fucking eye-dog while you’re at it. He takes certain liberties with the retelling for sure but considering that parable was written in 1936 I’d say what exactly is your grievance? He gives it his own spin and I’m sure Lovecraft would applaud that. The bottom line here is that Dagon may well be the most faithful interpretation of his works ever to make the screen. Stick that in your harp and pluck it.
The make-up effects are top-notch. From flailing tentacles and extremities to the more subtle skin pigmentation and configuration of the hordes of embittered denizens, it all holds up. Mercifully, Gordon uses CGI sparingly and, bearing in mind this is the dude who brought us Re-Animator, that means that when splatter is called for, it’s damn well delivered. Actually, he delivers on pretty much every conceivable count.
Dagon is unlike any other movie in existence, a real one-off. It retains the hopelessness of Lovecraft’s works and is grimmer than a barrel of fish-heads. I have always been a little dismissive of our salamander friends and seen them as little more than pathetic flappers but, after viewing Dagon, I will say this – I’ll never eat another fish finger.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Flaying, face peeling, immolation and ritualistic sacrifices to a colossal sea-wiener. There is actually very little requisite for grue but, when we are granted the coulis, it is deep red and utterly piquant.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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