Dagon (2001)

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It’s a Spanish produced film! That means it counts for foreign film month!

Paul and his girlfriend Barbara are on a boat vacationing with their friends Vikki and Howard. While near a small fishing town off the coast of Spain the boat gets caught in a sudden storm and winds up stuck amongst some jagged rocks. Vikki is hurt, so while Howard opts to stay with her, Paul and Barbara take a life raft and head to shore to get some help. 

When they get there, the small town is eerily silent, but they manage to find a priest and some local fisherman who offer to take one of them back to the boat. Barbara stays behind to contact the police, but when Paul gets back to the boat both Vikki and Howard are gone. Making matters worse, by the time he gets back to shore and heads to the hotel Barbara is supposedly staying at, he can’t find her either. As he tries to figure things out, the mysterious, and clearly deformed, locals come out of hiding and the ensuing angry mob doesn’t seem to keen on letting him live long enough to find out what happened to Barbara or his friends. Paul now has no choice but to try to escape the town before the angry natives can get their fishy little hands on him.

dagon_2Now, see, I would have noped out of this situation LONG before this point.

Dagon is a film based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, though it’s not actually based on Lovecraft’s short story titled Dagon. It’s actually an adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s other short stories, The Shadow of Innsmouth, though it does borrow some elements of the Dagon story and works them into the tale. The film is directed by Stewart Gordon, the same man behind the other well-known Lovecraftian films, Re-Animator and From Beyond, so you can go into the movie knowing that the man behind it has a pretty good sense for what he’s doing. Unfortunately, the film also languished in production hell for several years, with the original concept materializing some time in the mid 1980’s. So while it may have a good pedigree going for it, it’s also got some noticeable negatives.

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To start off with, the acting is kinda choppy. A lot of what’s seen here falls into the ‘meh’ category. The lead actor has his moments and is suitably geeky, but otherwise he’s really rather dull and unremarkable. Barbara starts off strong, but the script causes her to ultimately fall into the category of ‘eye candy.’ And poor Vikki and Howard are just horror movie fish-bait, and don’t have the time to do much of anything. The lone standout is Francisco Rabal, the beloved Spanish actor, who plays Ezequiel, the lone human left in the evil little town of Imboca. Rabal manages to add a bit of heart to the film which, up to the point of his arrival, had mainly focused on Paul skittering around like a scared church mouse. His one downside is that his English can be a bit hard to understand at times, but even considering that, he could still act circles around much of the rest of the cast.

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Another thing that’s kind of hit-or-miss in the film is the special effects. For the most part, the film sticks to using practical effects, and when it does that it does an excellent job (Yay!). Blood drips accordingly, mask and prosthetics are slimy and believable (or, as believable as half human/fish people can be), and the little touches of grime and dirt add to the film’s overall aesthetics. 

But then the moments of CGI kick in and they look….well, pretty damn bad. Colors don’t match, the lighting is way off and it just looks and feels so horribly out of place that not only does it stick out like a sore thumb, but it makes you feel bad for a film that, up until those points, looked pretty damn good. On top of that, they committed the sin of using their icky CGI on the Big Baddie reveal at the end, which at that point just adds insult to injury.

dagon_5No. Just….No.

dagon_6*Sigh*

So what does the film get right? Atmosphere. That, above all else, they nailed down. Everything about the town of Imboca creates a perpetual tone of unease and fear. On the surface, everything looks fine. But it doesn’t take long to notice that the streets are deserted, the homes are crumbling, and that everywhere you go everything seems to either be rotting or non-functioning due to lack of use. Add to this the dark, muted color palette, the cold stone walls, the dark, deceptive shadows, some creative light tricks and the constant rain and you’ve already created an abundance of tension long before the first member of the angry mob ever got a chance to raise his pitchfork. 

dagon_7Yeah…..I don’t think this is the place I want to die. We should probably jet.

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As a side note: This film was first brought to my attention some time ago by a friend who was convinced that Dagon was the inspiration for some of the setting/story of the video game Resident Evil 4. Now, of course I can’t confirm this, nor will I try to. What I can say is that I noticed that there are some similarities in the setting, the overall feel, and even the transformation of much of the townsfolk. But I’m not going to make any arguments to try to make anyone else agree with my musings. Instead I’m just going to leave these screen-caps here and let you decide for yourself whether or not any of the developers watched the movie.

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dagon_10I see you, Merchant Man. Don’t think I don’t.

So, is Dagon any good? I say it is. Despite some serious changes from the original story, Lovecraft fans will probably enjoy solely for being one of the few film adaptations of his work that doesn’t suck. Horror fans meanwhile can enjoy it for the tone, atmosphere, gore, nudity, cinematography and just general creepiness. The addition of the crap-tastic CGI does make it inferior to it’s more well known peers, but it’s still a decent little horror movie.

Dagon is available to stream for free on Tubi TV.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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