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Dagon (2001)
Director: Stuart Gordon

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

When Stuart Gordon made Re-Animator, he selected the ideal candidate for his style of gore and humour driven storytelling. As a result, even Lovecraft purists (myself included) found the proceedings perfectly reflected the overall tone of the original source material. Things became a little more discombobulated with From Beyond (1986), with Gordon using his directorial style on a story that possessed a more serious tone. Still, the movie proved to be solid entertainment.
   With Dagon, Gordon attempts to adapt A Shadow Over Innsmouth, but his directorial style is ill suited for the task, and as a result the film fails. Lovecraft's short story (it is long enough to qualify as a novella) is an exercise in the author's common themes, such as alienation, bigotry, and overwhelming forces seething underneath the veneer of what humanity considers 'normal'. Handled properly, a film based on this short story would have been riveting.
   Gordon's celluloid is the antithesis of every Lovecraft theme. Instead, it focuses on gore, lust, and more gore. The New England setting is replaced with one from Spain, and this change (most likely due to budget constraints) could have worked out if Gordon had taken advantage of the 'foreignness' of it all, but he does not, instead filming long, boring chases filled with 'monsters' of every variety.
   And therein lies another problem. The Deep Ones all are completely different, some of them even looking a little like Cthulhu himself. I have seen some of Berni Wrightson's original concepts (the film had been in development for close to 15 years!), and these were excellent. Unfortunately, what appears on screen is a mishmash of rubber appliances.
   Another issue is the absolute lack of tension. In Lovecraft's story, there is a sense of the main character being an outsider, and as the plot is unravelled, the reader finds that this is indeed the case. In the film, this element is poorly presented through terrible acting and a lack of directorial flair. And where the hell is 'the Innsmouth look'?
   The most important element lacking in Dagon is Lovecraft's sense of terror. Although there are monsters in Lovecraft's story, the true terror lies in that these monsters are trying to bring back Cthulhu and thus reign supreme over the earth. The point is reinforced when at the end of the story we discoverer that the narrator is in fact of Deep One stock as well. Readers of science fiction would then say, "watch the skies!"
   Here is one of Lovecraft's dialogue pieces to demonstrate how he went from horror to terror:
How'd yew like to be livin' in a town like this here Innsmouth, with everything a-rottin' an' dyin' an' boarded up! Things crawlin' an' bleatin' an' barkin' an' hoppin' around black cellars an' high attics every way ye turn? Hey? How'd yew like to hear the howlin' night after night from the Esoteric Order o' Dagon hall an' know what unholy things is doin' part of the howlin? Yew think this old man's crazy? Well, sir, let me tell yew that ain't the worst! That ain't the worst! That ain't the worst!
The film version has the twist ending, but instead its theme is linked to the narrator's love (lust?) of a mermaid/lamia creature (the 'Dagon' angle, I suppose) that has been haunting his dreams. So much for cosmic terror...
   As a B-movie, Dagon has its share of entertaining moments. As a Lovecraft-inspired film, it is abysmal.
Dagon
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