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It’s entirely my fault that my reading habits while growing up consisted mostly of Robert Ludlum (“The Bourne Identity”) and Stephen King (“Dreamcatcher”), not to mention every western ever written by Louis L’amour. To be sure, H.P. Lovecraft isn’t what you would call a contemporary writer — he passed away in 1937, presumably eaten by a giant evil squid God or some tentacle monster of the ilk he’s fond of writing about. In any case, be forewarned that I don’t have the proper literary IQ to either appreciate or fault Stuart Gordon’s “Dagon”, which is based on Lovecraft’s writings.
“Dagon” opens off the coast of Spain, where vacationing business guy Paul (Ezra Godden) and his girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Merono) are resting on the boat of Howard and Vicki — presumably their friends, although the other couple is much older. After a storm appears out of nowhere and shipwrecks Howard’s boat against a jutting rock, Paul and Babs races to a nearby coastal town for help. Instead they find the town overrun by freaks that hides their deformed faces and bodies behind masks fashioned out of the skin of unlucky bastards that wandered into the town by accident — sort of like Babs and Paul!
As it turns out, this particular town has sold their souls to an evil water God named Dagon, who in turn gave them fish and gold (literally) from the sea. In short order, Babs disappears and ineffectual Paul is left to fend for himself against an army of pursuing townspeople. Paul learns by way of a local drunk name Ezequiel (Francisco Rabal) that the townspeople are slowly transforming into squid-like lifeforms that will allow them to live in the water. Which is why they can no longer walk, because some now have tentacles instead of legs and arms. With Ezequiel’s help, Paul searches the town for Babs, all the while getting into all sorts of trouble — such as a long chase scene that goes on for, oh, 40 minutes or so.
“Dagon” was written by Dennis Paoli, whose career runs parallel to that of director Stuart Gordon (they debuted together in 1985 with “Re-Animator”). The film is produced by Brian Yuzna, who has made a career out of making “American” movies shot in Spain and utilizing the local industry for cast and crew, but always careful to include an actual American just for, you know, authenticity’s sake. Because the film is set and shot in Spain, this explains why Godden is the only American of the bunch (or at least he sounds American). The rest of the cast is Spanish, including Merono, whose character disappears for a large chunk, only to resurface again in the end. While “Dagon” was released theatrically in Spain, it never made it past the video shelves and the Sci-Fi Channel in the States, which is a shame because “Dagon” is a better horror movie than most of the nonsense that makes it to 2000 theater screens on a regular basis.
“Dagon” starts out very well, utilizing a deliberate but effective pace, and by the 30-minute mark the film becomes a race, with hordes of squid people chasing Paul through the slick cobblestone streets of the rain-drenched town. Ezra Godden, who has more than a passing resemblance to Stuart Gordon regular Jeffrey Combs (star of the “Re-Animator” series), is very believable as Paul. Although the film offers up a short background for Paul — he’s supposedly some business genius — Paul is by no means Rambo. The guy is almost below average in terms of physical ability, which makes his constant last-second escapes from the persistent squid people very suspenseful. But I have one nitpick: seeing Paul constantly groping for his fallen glasses was effective during the long chase, but the fact that he seems oblivious to the lost of said glasses later on in the movie (with no discernible ill effects on his vision!) left me feeling just a tad cheated.
Stuart Gordon directs “Dagon” with a feel for morbid gothic horror. The movie looks very good, and since the bulk of the film takes place over the space of one rainy night, the atmosphere is dark, moody, and filled with dread. As to gore, there are a number of bloody scenes, including a literal “de-facing” of a character, but the film isn’t really drenching with blood. Stuart also throws in nude scenes involving his two main female characters, Merono and Macarena Gomez as Uxia, the town priestess. But even when the film offers up gratuitous nudity, it’s done in the Yuzna style — that is, with a healthy dose of perverse eroticism.
The script by Paoli is very efficient, blending the constant running and fighting with ongoing exposition by the Ezequiel character. But as previously mentioned, the film’s middle goes on for much too long and could have used a good trimming. As for the titular Dagon, the film wisely keeps the squid God out of the movie except for a very brief appearance near the end. But since the film is more about the transformation of the town that has sold its soul, and not really about Dagon himself, this seems to be a good choice. Also, showing the squid God, with all his CGI tentacles, for long stretches might have exposed the film’s small budget.
After “Dagon”, I will definitely be looking for future works by director Gordon and writer Paoli. In fact, going back to 1985’s “Re-Animator” to start things off seems like a good idea…
Stuart Gordon (director) / H.P. Lovecraft (short stories), Dennis Paoli (screenplay)
CAST: Ezra Godden …. Paul
Francisco Rabal …. Ezequiel
Raquel Merono …. Barbara
Macarena Gomez …. UxÃa