Dagon


Year 2001

Ezra Godden as  Paul Marsh
Francisco Rabal   as Ezequiel
Raquel Meroño as Bárbara
Macarena Gómez   as Uxía Cambarro   
Birgit Bofarull as Vicki   
 
Director   - Stuart Gordon
Screenwriter - Dennis Paoli   

Based upon the name of this site, you've got to realize that I'm a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. The horror, the mood, the sense of otherworldliness that is inherent in the man's works is almost impossible to destroy in a movie. You'll note that I said, "almost". But, have no fear, this isn't the movie that is the exception to the rule, although it tries hard to "improve" upon a master's work. No, the Lovecraft torpedo is The Shunned House unceramoniously undermined by Ivan Zuccon. That doesn't mean to say that Dagon is a good movie. It just means that the influence of H.P. Lovecraft isn't buried under five tons of fertilizer.

At first glance, everything bodes well for the foundation. Lovecraft? Check. Stuart Gordon, the director of Re-Animator? Check. Brian Yuzna, the producer of Re-Animator? Check. Dennis Paoli, the screenwrite for Re-Animator? Check. Woo-woo.

But something goes amiss. First off, there's the title, "Dagon". Day-GONE! DAY-GONE!!! Eh. Unless there's some sort of Italian-American joke in there somewhere like, "What do you call a dead Italian?"

But, the full title is really "H.P. Lovecraft's Dagon". Now Lovecraft did write a story called "Dagon". It's the story of a shipwreck survivor having an island rise under him one night. The smell of fish is overpowering. So is the temple he stumbles across.

In the movie, it kicks off with a creepy dream (always a Lovecraft staple) and a shipwreck. Five minutes into the movie, including time to show the opening credits, and the entire content of the short story is over. Now what? There's still an hour of movie time left.

Ooh! Ooh! There's another Lovecraft story that involves Dagon. It's called "Shadows over Innsmouth". The rest of the movie culls some events from this other Lovecraft story. Why didn't they call the movie, "Shadows over Innsmouth"? I guess it didn't have that ol' Dagon ring.

This:
Doorbell: Ring! Ring!
Protagonist: Who's there?
Dagon: Shadows over Innsmouth!
Protagonist: Can we do this another time?

Or this:
Doorbell: Ring! Ring!
Protagonist: Who's there?
Dagon: DAY-GONE!
Protagonist: Run away! Run Away!

Here's the plot of that short story. A young man travels by bus from Newburyport (pronounced Newbrypaht), Massachusettes to someplace south like Boston or something. Maybe Salem, I forget. The bus breaks down in Innsmouth and the protagonist has to spend the night in a fishing village that has seen better days. He wanders around examing the architecture and buying booze for an old man who tells him the whole horrid truth. Now, the hero has to run away! Run away! Finally, there's the shock at the end.

Here's the plot of the movie. A shipwreck leaves four people stranded in a Spanish fishing village. The protagonist is given a reason to wait around for a while. The villagers have gills. He runs around, not being able to grasp of the concept of "away" until he runs into an old man who tells him the whole horrid truth. The hero's three friends die horribly one by one. There's a ritual. There's a shock in the middle and it's repeated at the end in case you missed it the first time. Everybody dies. Yay! Or do they live "forever"?

Spanish is tres importante for these films. Like Beyond Re-Animator Gordon, Yuzna, and Paoli opted to make the film outside of the US. It makes sense then that a sleepy, nearly catatonic, Spanish fishing village isn't called "Innsmouth" (probably pronounced Innsmith). And "Shadows over Santa della Toria" (or whatever the town was called) probably wouldn't capture that all important Lovecraftian demographic.

There's a negative point here. I'll explain why in a second.

In the short story, it takes the protagonist a while to figure out that something is seriously wrong with the people of Innsmouth. Not everyone has gills, or fish eyes, or webbed fingers, or scales. Just some of the people. This building creepiness helps make the short story compelling.

The movie just dumps everything on the audience at once. Everyone is immediately shambling, barking, breathing through gills, etc. Well, maybe not barking, but you get the point. There's no pacing. The suspense of clue upon clue being slowly discovered would have been quite effective. Here, it appeared to be a game of "Beat the Clock". There is no misdirection by the villagers. It must be Gills Pride week.

And the Spanish language? This could have added to a sense of alienation and the surreal. Instead, it comes across as a production decision rather than a plot device. Minus instead of plus points are added here.

There are a couple of other "Why are they doing this?" moments. For example, in the short story, the hero checks into a hotel, sees that there is no lock on the door, and transfers the lock from the shared bathroom to give him privacy. The aspect of foresight is a nice touch. In the movie, the lock transfer is used, but only after people are banging on the door to get in. The chance of this working is slim to none. The aspect of foresight is also lacking.

The flight through the hotel in the movies matches the one in the short story. It works in both media. But, jumping into a greenhouse outside of the hotel like is done in the movie doesn't work. (Doesn't every sleepy Spanish fishing village park its single hotel within greenhouse leaping distance?) The idea of leaping into sheets of glass and getting a bruise instead of a shard stake through the heart is also ludicrous. In fact, if you didn't know it before this movie, after watching it you'll have to conclude that movie glass is actually clear sugar.

In the movie, there is a fileted person. No reason is given unless the denizens of the sleepy Spanish fishing village are into Leatherface. It's gross and unnerving, but how come? I mean, what's a single skin tuxedo going to do for a town of hundreds?

And what's up with the whole mermaid with tentacles instead of fins look? Hey, Macarena! Nice face, body, eyes, etc. But why are you there? Just to show some skin? Why not have Birgit Bofarull show some skin, too, if that's all this addition was needed for. Oh, the movie ending is more exciting than the one in the short story. Still, some scenes just seemed plugged in as excuses to show off Macarena's good looks. She is kind of cute, actually.

So why isn't this relagated to the Nasties? Well, it's based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. It sometimes follows the story. The acting, especially that by the support characters like Ezequiel (Francisco Rabal) is quite effective. Not really good, but effective. The main character reminded me too much of Eddie Deezen and I expected him to break into a nasally twang at any moment.

When the short story is followed, there are some definite creepy moments. For example, the hero is running...somewhere. Maybe it's away. He ends up in a house. Fish must have poor night vision, for his pursuers pass him by. Now, he's alone with a normal looking young man. Is this person really normal? After a couple of seconds we find out. But, in the short story, the gimmick was that people changed over time and not everyone changed at once. Normal appearing people were represented. It built suspense. Here, it adds to the weirdness. But that's good, too.

The movie also had me thinking. What is the price of living "forever"? What would I do to live forever? I mean the world will end eventually and even six or seven billion years is nothing compared to eternity. So is having fun for a good six billion years or so worth trading for a remaining eternity of boredom? Kind of puts the message of Christian religions into perspective. Be good for a mere seventy or eighty years and you get an eternity of contentment. (Yeah, I go off on thoughts like these.)

So, if you want to see a movie about a fish god and the people who love him, this could be your icy finger up the spine. Don't expect verbatim H.P. Lovecraft. Do expect scenes thrown in for no other reason than they're "cool". Do not expect continuity. Do expect blood and people having gills on their throat or abdomen depending upon what might be more unnerving at the time.

Although the movie had me doing a bit of thinking, it's not the going to stick with me as long as the Lovecraft short story. Still, a viewer could do worse. Oh, there isn't much Chick Flick potential here unless the girl you're with can breath through the side of her neck.


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