Believe it or not, the release of Dagon back in 2001 should have been a briny and salty big deal and yet I’m wagering that not a lot of you have never even heard of it.
Rewind the clock back to 1985 and first time director Stuart Gordon nails a gruesome, hilarious bullseye with the riotous H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, ReAninmator, causing the horror community to sit up and take notice. It is the first of many Lovecraft inspired movies helmed by the director and sure as sugar, he did it again in a year later with the outrageously slimy From Beyond establishing Gordon as THE go to guy for productions based on the author’s work.
This, however, is where things start to slowly drift out to sea because in 1991 Gordon and company attempted to make Shadow Over Innsmouth and even got as far as to have a script, creature maquettes and copious amounts of concept art ready to go but unfortunately the project remained unrealised due to budget constraints (a familiar problem concerning adapting an author who regularly writes about ancient inter-dimentional monster-Gods, reality warping space debris and the human body generally mutating into something awful). This went a good way toward creating the question: why is it so hard exactly to get Lovecraft adaptations made? Even the Oscar winning Guillermo Del Torro couldn’t get the novella At The Mountains Of Madness make and that had Tom Cruise in the damn cast, what chance has a low-budget (but talented) filmmaker like Gordon has?
And yet, eventually, the money was painstakingly scraped together to mount some kind of loose version of the story (behold the cartoonishly long list of film companies that pop up in the opening credits) which sets the story during the modern day (cheaper to film) in a forgotten coastal fishing town in Spain (cheaper still) instead of a New English seaport during the 30’s (bloody expensive), yet despite all this perseverance, the filmmakers only managed to offer up an intriguing what-might-have-been instead of belated and triumphant rise of the Old Deep Ones…
Paul Marsh is trying to enjoy a boating vacation of the coast of Spain – I say trying but he’s being plagued by reoccuring nightmares involving an altercation with a seductive, yet razor-toothed mer-maid and not even his free-spirited girlfriend Barbara can get him to chill out. A practical, business man, Paul, Barbara and the two friends they are holidaying with are suddenly jumped by a freak storm which unceremoniously runs them into some rocks a short paddle from the sparsely populated and oddly moist town of Imboca (a Spanish translation of Innsmouth) and so Paul and Barbara hop in a raft and row to civilisation in order to get help. To the surprise of no one except the soaked couple, the townsfolk of the fishing village all seem substantially dodgy, from the priest with the webbed fingers to the fishermen who insist on keeping their faces covered, everyone seems to be shuffling around, spines bent, as if their frames can no longer support them but our leads persevere and foolishly split up.
Barbara promptly goes missing and so Paul is left alone to slowly work out what exactly is happening in this forgotten little corner of Spain as the town’s population get steadily more violent and it gradually dawns on him that the people of Imboca aren’t really people anymore and day by day are becoming more and more “of the sea”. To the casual layman this means that thanks to a steady diet of worshiping an undersea deity and a semi-regular course of human sacrifice the Imbocians are turning into fish people complete with gills, scales and the old tentacle here and there for good measure. Aided by Ezequial, the town drunk and the only human left in town who doesn’t look like the result of their dad fucking a guppy, Paul tries to find his girlfriend and get the hell out of dodge before succumbing to a mob and their fishy fingers but things get a whole lot more complicated when he stumbles upon Uìxa, who may very well be the aquatic jezebel who’s literally been swimming through his dreams.
The best thing about Dagon is probably that it ever got made at all as true Lovecraft movies are frustratingly thin on the ground despite the author being such an influence on the genre in general (2020’s The Lighthouse features enough tentacles and insanity to definitely be classed as such) but the lack of budget and production values ultimately drag the movie into the darkest fathoms of mediocrity. Despite being somewhat of a return of the ReAnimator team (Gordon is joined by long-term producer Brian Yunza and screenwriter Dennis Paoli whereas Paul looks an awful lot like actor Jeffery Combs and Barbara may well be named after Barbara Crampton) this exercise in fishy frights simply casts it’s net too wide for it’s meager Spanish budget to stretch to, giving the whole thing an anti-climactic feel that often just comes across as silly.
In fact you’re often unaware if a scene is actually fishing for laughs or is just poorly planned, like the bit Paul desperately tries to affix a tiny bolt onto a door to secure it against the mob chasing him only for it to hold like a bank vault. Further confusion is thrown in when confronted with a predictably down beat ending and the tonal swings here can’t hope to come close to the expert balancing of the uncomfortably horrific and the ludicrously absurd delights the filmmakers managed with previous collaborations.
The practical effects are passable (with the reveal of Uìxa’s octopus legs being a highlight) but the CGI is routinely awful, looking as polished as the graphics from a game for the Playstation 1 – I guess the Spanish funding didn’t really spread as far as they hoped.
Further hampered by the fact that lead character Paul isn’t really that likeable and that he spends vast stretches of runtime blindly wandering around town like a kid lost in a supermarket, Dagon can only be considered a disappointment to fans and an utter waste of time to anyone else an is really only for hardcore completists of Lovecraft and Gordon respectively.
Other than that, it flounders…