Is Dagon one of the best H.P. Lovecraft adapted movies? In saying, “no” I would be lying. It is in fact an amazing adaptation of two Lovecraft stories, Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth. It’s been awhile since I’ve read either one of these delightfully creepy little tales, but I can assure you that the devil is in the details. With plenty of terrible Lovecraft adaptations and only a few real gems (Necronomicon people!) I was definitely skeptical when I heard that this was the good egg I was waiting for (Thanks Fango 300).
I guess it’s best to identify what Lovecraft does that makes us a little freaked out. Everything is ambiguous. Aside from the generalized location and setting of each story the tales are timeless. The city could really be any city near you. I live in New Jersey which is one hop, skip or jump away from New England where most of these stories are set so, it’s not even remotely hard for me to envision an Lovecraftian setting (unless it’s the mountains of the Antarctic or the pyramids of Egypt… different stories anyway). Lovecraft makes you the narrator. You are recounting your own journaled exploits. You never see anyone’s face. You see the monster in half truths and near misses. There’s something fish like or tentacled or slimy. It’s left up to your imagination. Howard Philips was writing at a time before the outbreak of sex and extreme gore in pop literature. You’re getting only what your mind will allow.
So why does Dagon succeed? I’ll say first that it fails through the first hour of the film. Stuart Gordon tries to be funny and ham it up. He relies heavily on bare breasts and cheap jump scares to get you going. To get the heart beating. There’s a twitch of mystery in the odd little fishing village discovered in Dagon, but I assure you that it’s done at the comedic expense of our protagonist. So if you like topless European women sunbathing on a dingy, you’ll get your fill in the first ten minutes of this picture and can move on to Screwballs or Meatballs or Porkys (or some other film with balls in the title). If you want to get Lovecraft on the brain and keep him there until you scare yourself silly and maybe even gross yourself out… fast forward promptly to the end. The last thirty five to forty minutes will do you nicely.
Brief synopsis: Two couples have sailed off for a magical vacation aboard a way too small boat. Couple one likes to sun bath and get funky. Couple two stays below deck, one of them dreaming for adventure and real relaxation, the other concerned with his business portfolio. When a strange force pushes their boat onto the rocks and kills one half of the sailing party things start to get fishy (pun pun pun pun puuuuun). The surviving couple makes their way to a small, less than friendly fishing village where they are met with anti social residents that appear to be hiding something. Little do they know they will soon have their will’s tested by a bunch of half fish/half human, all Cthulu creatures looking to make Earth safe for the dark ones once again.
So like I said before, fast forward directly past the boat wreck, the introduction to the creepy little town, the chase scene and go directly to the capture and kill sequence. Our protagonists are fighting against the power of Dagon and Dagon’s minions. They’ve been chained to various immoveable objects. The local residents have removed their cowls to reveal tentacled, deformed faces that mirror their sea dwelling master. You are eye witness to the awakening of Leviathan (not the Satanic one… the Cthulu one). Witness the beautiful hands, above the beautiful wrists and two steps below those hands… the severed limbs of your former girlfriend dangling from chains as Dagon makes the rest of her an appetizer. We’re talking ambiance and suspense and all the good horror/Lovecraft stuff. It takes you sixty minutes to get their, but it’s spooky and sexy (Dagon’s daughter is kind of a semi-mer-creature octo-vixen) and in the end everyone goes under water for some submersion family bonding. It’s touching, really. The only thing they do wrong that is very un-Lovecraft is to show the monster way too much and with a bit too much CGI for my personal taste. Too much in this case if probably less than fifteen seconds. For Lovecraft, that’s too god damn long.
For all the negative things that the first sixty minutes of this picture had me thinking, the last bit was worth the wait and the long, powerful sighs. I think the first thing that had me guessing was the location of this adaptation. We’re in Spain and not Innsmouth. Why Spain? Cthulu takes a vacation! (Of course). Gordon is the master that brought you Reanimator, From Beyond and Castle Freak. He’s no slouch what so ever. Maybe he starts off Dagon so amazingly dead pan because he wants to break the Cthulu over your head like a baseball bat rather than throw it at you it at you like a baseball. It almost feels like Hostel in that regard (or Hostel feels like it in that regard). Give the audience a good forty five minutes of weak character/plot development and then hit them with an equal amount of bad ass/awesome shite (not limited to but included a facial skin removal and voluptuous squid bitches.
Dagon is an uneasy sleep that wakes you up into a nightmare.
P.S. … Cthulu is waiting for breakfast in bed and warm coffee. Don’t disappoint him… k?