Sunday, 16 August 2009

Dagon (2001)

That hat? Yeah, it's just a little OTT.

Like many nerds, I really like H.P. Lovecraft. Sure the dude couldn't plot a story to save his life and had no idea how human beings speak or behave and he was kind of a racist and an anti-Semite and I think he was afraid of vaginas, but damned if he didn't know how to use lots of big, scary-sounding words. It's probably because of these qualities that his stories have had such a rocky time making the transition to the big screen. Stuart Gordon has made some of the more enjoyable (if not exactly faithful) attempts by injecting some levity into the source material. Of course there's 1985's The Re-Animator, the gory horror-comedy that earned him a cult following, and the following year's From Beyond that isn't as well known but still pretty good. Fifteen years later came Dagon, based on two of Lovecraft's short stories (Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, mostly the latter).

Paul (Ezra Godden) and Bárbara (Raquel Meroño) are a couple of fresh dot-com millionaires who have decided to buy a yacht and sail around the Mediterranean coast, along with their friends Howard (Brendan Price) and Vicki (Birgit Bofarull). Naturally Paul is a glasses-wearing nerd who can't stop checking his stock prices online, so his wife casually tosses his laptop into the water. This seems to happen a lot in movies but nobody ever gets too mad. I guess he's got a rigorous backup procedure. Off the coast of a remote Spanish fishing village they are hit by a sudden storm and their boat is blown onto some jagged rocks. Vicki is trapped below deck and as the boat slowly sinks Paul and Bárbara are forced to head into the run-down village of Imboca to look for help.

The inhabitants are some pretty weird and suspicious folks. Their skin is all pale and clammy, they hate foreigners and their hotels probably cop a beating on those online rating sites. It's a lot like Scotland (especially the weather) and like the Scots the people of Imboca have gills, webbed fingers and are murderously insane. A creepy priest agrees to help them out and the next thing you know Bárbara has been kidnapped, Howard and Vicki are missing and Paul is being chased all over town by a bunch of angry freaks. Eventually Paul runs into a crazy drunk named Ezequiel (Francisco Rabal), the only other non-mutant in town, who spills the beans about the history of Imboca.

During a particularly lean fishing season, a strange man came to town and suggested that they all start worshiping this fish-god called Dagon. Seems like a pretty crazy thing to do but it gets results and soon they raking in the fish. Jesus may have been down with the fishermen and done that thing with the loaves and the fishes, but did he make gold statues wash up on shore? Well Dagon did. At one point a guy mentions that they have the equivalent of 10 billion dollars in gold which by my calculations is about 1.1 tonnes, quite a bit in my opinion. The villagers are like "Jesus who?", so they strip all of the Christian junk out of the church and turn it into a shrine to Dagon, complete with crazy religious headgear and some sweet ceremonial daggers.

Unfortunately, with religion there's always a downside. With Catholicism you have to feel guilty all the time and send the Pope money so he can buy more gold leaf toilet paper. With Judaism lots of people will hate you for no reason. With Islam you have to live next door to a bunch of Jews. With Dagonism, however, you slowly morph into a gross fishperson. Maybe you get webbed fingers or gills or if you're really unlucky your legs turn into tentacles and you have to crawl around on a little cart and make clicking noises like Flipper. They also like to skin outsiders alive and then wear their skins like cloaks to hide their mutations. Don't hide your tentacles, be proud of your fishiness. WWDD? It's crazy Dagon fundamentalists like this that give Elder God worshipers a bad name.

Paul's visit to the village might be more than just bad luck, however. For a while now Paul's been dreaming about a sexy mermaid and it turns out that the high priestess of the village looks exactly like girl from his dreams. She's hot for his bod, ranting about true love and destiny, but unfortunately she's got tentacles for legs and as we learned from The Little Mermaid, these kind of above/below water relationships are nothing but trouble. Naturally she wants to use Bárbara as a sacrifice to Dagon (not a virgin sacrifice according to the opening scene) and impregnate her with his demon-spawn. They strip her naked and lower her into a pit while the crowd chants "Iai! Iai! Cthulhu fhtagn!" You'd think Dagon would be pretty pissed that they are worshiping another elder god during his ceremony, but Cthulhu's got all those tentacles on his face so I guess Dagon would be on friendly terms with him. Paul tries to rescue Bárbara and there's a couple of twists but it's based on a Lovecraft story so I wouldn't expect a happy ending.

It was filmed on-location in Spain with a mostly Spanish cast and crew so the film looks quite convincing, not like they are running around on a back lot in California with a bunch of Mexicans playing Spaniards. There's some pretty cool practical effects in this film, but unfortunately it's marred here and there by terrible CGI. If you want to show us a nameless horror from beyond but you can't afford big-budget special effects, just don't bother. Show us a tiny glimpse or just keep it off screen and let us use our imaginations for a change. The acting isn't great and Ezra Godden isn't particularly convincing as a nerd or when he starts kicking ass. He's just there, not very funny and not very badass. Most everyone else is passable and the girl who plays the priestess is so hot that you'd be willing to overlook the tentacles.

Much like Gordon's other Lovecraft adaptations, this is a slightly above average B-movie horror flick with only some themes, plot points and in-jokes (eg Paul wears a Miskatonic University t-shirt) to tie it to the source material. It isn't faithful to the tone and atmosphere of Lovecraft's books, which is the most interesting thing about them. That's never been Stuart Gordon's style though and to be fair his films, including this one, work pretty well for what they are. Cheesy horror fun. Cthulhu Fhtagn!

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