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DAGON

This H.P. Lovecraft adaptation by Stuart Gordon didn’t look particularly promising, but I’m pleased to say I quite enjoyed it. Exciting and outrageous, it gives Lovecraft-inspired filkms–which outside of Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND haven’t been particularly auspicious–a good name.

The Package
     DAGON is reportedly based on H.P. Lovecraft’s six page story of the same name (his first published work), but it’s actually heavily inspired by “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” another Lovecraft story that Stuart Gordon has apparently wanted to film for years. Gordon is of course the screen’s pre-eminent Lovecraft adapter, having concocted two great movies (RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND) and one mediocre one (CASTLE FREAK) from the maestro’s writings. Other films inspired by Lovecraft (who hated movies) include bummers like DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965), THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970), THE CURSE (1987) and NECRONOMICON (1994), all of which demonstrate just how accomplished Gordon’s first two films are.
     It may not be the best, but DAGON is definitely the most Lovecraftian of Gordon’s films. Lovecraft’s fiction was relentlessly misanthropic, inhabited by isolated first person protagonists given to fainting spells and a frequent inability to finish their descriptions (the man was famous for his hyperbolic “it’s so horrible I can’t describe it”-type sentences). Then there were the otherworldly fishlike critters, which were always patiently awaiting their turn to take over the earth (while in the meantime harassing the aforementioned misanthropic protagonists). His most famous works were the “Cthulhu Mythos,” of which “Dagon” and “Innsmouth” are pre-eminent examples.
     DAGON hits most (if not all) the Lovecraftian bases, including the fishy monsters, isolated protagonist, otherworldly atmosphere (it was Lovecraft’s work that inspired the term “cosmic horror”) and, most importantly, a decidedly unhappy ending.

The Story
     The script, by Gordon”s regular screenwriter Denis Paoli, basically stacks up like this: the first act is decent and the second so-so, but the conclusion is GREAT.
     New Englander Paul (played by British actor Ezra Godden, sporting a convincing American accent), out for an apparently leisurely sail with some friends, crashes his boat off the coast of a small, foreboding Spanish fishing village. He and his girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Merono) enter the town in search of help, while something invades the boat and drags its other two passengers into the depths of the ocean.
     Back on the mainland, Paul and Barbara are separated, and Paul finds himself pursued though the town by the locals that, it turns out, are actually fish-people who worship an aquatic deity called Dagon. Furthermore, Paul’s his own link with the townspeople may be deeper than he initially realized.
     The middle act’s capture/escape formula grows monotonous after awhile, but the film springs back to life for an outrageous climax involving a human sacrifice presided over by the seductively evil demoness Uxia (played with lip-smacking glee by Spanish TV star Macarena Gomez), an apocalyptic conflagration and an unexpected transformation. And the final scene, with its unforgettable mixture of wonderment and foreboding, is simply perfect.

The Direction
     Although I haven’t liked recent Stuart Gordon productions like CASTLE FREAK (1995) and SPACE TRUCKERS (1997), the fact is that when he’s “on,” nobody can make a better B movie. Yes, DAGON, like Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, DOLLS and FORTRESS, is very much a B movie, and makes no apologies for it. Working with an all-Spanish crew and a modest budget, he’s fashioned a slick and sprightly film that’s a perfect match for Lovecraft’s fiction (which originally appeared in trashy pulp magazines).
     Like Lovecraft, Gordon takes his horrors seriously, a daring and refreshing approach in these days of (SCREAM-influenced) “hip” irony. Furthermore, he never shies away from the gore, and isn’t afraid to go clear over the top-which he does quite often.


Vital Statistics

DAGON
Filmax/Lion’s Gate Films

Director: Stuart Gordon
Producers: Julio Fernandez, Brian Yuzna
Screenplay: Denis Paoli
(Based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft)
Cinematography: Carlos Suarez
Editor: Jaume Vilalta
Cast: Ezra Godden, Frecisco Rabal, Raquel Merono, Macarena Gomez, Brendan Price, Birgit Bofarull, Uxia Blanco, Ferran Lahoz, Joan Minguell, Alfredo Villa, Jose Lifante, Javier Sandoval


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