Based on a H P Lovecraft novella, the film opens with watery credits accompanied by Carles Cases' orchestra - and immediately this feels like a film that is going to get the most out of it's modest budget. Don't worry about the wealth of European-sounding names in the credit titles either, because the two names you only really need to know are those of the producer (Brian Yuzna) and director (Stuart Gordon).
Yuzna and Gordon, of course, owe their careers to their first on-screen collaboration RE-ANIMATOR. Neither one of them has achieved anything as interesting since, though Yuzna's THE DENTIST is worth a look for a spot of wince-inducing molar fun!
So, being touted as a major return to form for both men, DAGON had high expectations to live up to ...
... Let's start at the beginning.
Paul (Ezra Godden) and Barbara (the lovely Raquel Merono) are a wealthy young couple who are holidaying as guests on an older couple's boat as it traverses the European Oceans. The plot joins them on Spanish waters and wastes no time in introducing a severe storm that sends the boat crashing into a nearby cluster of rocks. Luckily (?!) the foursome are not far from land, as they had spotted a quaint-looking island moments before the black clouds and demonic winds appeared.
Paul and Barbara volunteer to take a raft to shore as the older couple - Howard and Vicki - look after the boat. While the affluent young couple fight the tide however, Howard and Vicki are attacked by an unseen menace in the sea ...
Once on the island, Paul and Barbara find its cobbled streets to be deserted. The couple flee the rain and make for the local church. Paul is understandably perturbed when he notices the eye-shaped motif above the church's entrance. It's identical to an image that appears during his reoccurring nightmare of a vampiric mermaid.
In the church Spanish-speaking Barbara is able to communicate with a man who agrees to help, and enlists a couple of locals to ferry a boat out to inspect Howard's sinking vessel. Paul joins them for the journey, and is dismayed to find the boat empty. During his absence, Barbara is directed to the island's hotel in order to use a telephone and call the police. However the hotel receptionist has other plans for her ...
Paul returns to the island and is told that he can find Barbara at the hotel. He makes his way there, only to discover Barbara is not there - although the fact that her cigarette lighter sits on the reception desk indicates she had been there previously. The mute receptionist, however, is giving nothing away!
Things get even odder for Paul when he books himself into the hotel for the night, checks out his dwellings (frankly, you'd complain if you paid for his room!!) and looks out of his window only to witness the townsfolk gathering in hooded masses, ready to storm his room baying for his blood!
Understandably, Paul goes on the run and upon meeting the drunken old tramp Ezequiel (the late Francisco Rabal) demands to know just what the fuck is going on. Good on you Paul, because at almost half-way through the film, it's about time the viewer knew what was happening too!
A flashback to the tramp's youth reveals a town that turned its back on Christ and began worshipping the monstrous God of the sea, Dagon. The main perks of such a practice included finding gold in the sea and the promise of eternal life. But, immortality comes with a price - Dagon insisted upon human sacrifices at regular intervals. Which now poses a problem for the locals as they are all mutating into ... how can I put this? ... fish.
Okay, it could be that this all sounds like a load of old bollocks. But, it's not.
Well it is, but it gets away with it because Gordon wisely keeps the fishy business to a bare minimum. Instead, the film is propelled by a quick pace that jumps from one chase scene to the next, only stopping on occasion to throw another plot-twist into the works (like Paul's fateful meeting with the girl of his dreams/nightmares - Macarena Gomez, with her seductive "I've been waiting for you" line).
DAGON looks great - the locations (shot in various Spanish towns) are ideal, picturesque yet creepy. The incessant rain and dull colours add great atmosphere to the location, and if Gordon was looking for a setting that was oppressive - he found it!
The music may be hammy at times but definitely adds to the overall experience. And while the acting may not be the most proficient the genre has ever offered, the cast are generally reliable - Brendan Price grates as Howard, but that's purely a personal thing for me (I hate the Brit accent in international casts!).
The storyline is handled well, and most potential plot-holes are covered in a believable fashion (the puncture in the raft; the fates of Howard and Vicki). The 'fish-people' angle shouldn't put potential viewers off, as it really is peripheral to the plot - if on paper/screen the whole premise sounds ludicrous ... just give it a go!
Personally, what I found less believable than a town full of webbed "freaks" (Paul's words) is Paul's sterling ability to keep his glasses on and hair tidy, despite rolling down concrete steps in the rain, being chased by angry mobs, a bedtime romp with a tentacle beauty and a nasty-looking fall through a glass ceiling. Still, after an hour or so the glasses come off for good ...!
DAGON has a lot to recommend, and is arguably the best thing Gordon has done since RE-ANIMATOR. It never bores, and stays focused throughout it's 96 minute running time in telling its story while throwing as many chases into the bargain as it possibly can. The humour, thankfully, is well tempered too.
Gore-wise, DAGON delivers infrequently, but does offer a truly eye-opening scene involving the skinning of one character's face. Whoa, that was gory! Elsewhere, look out for the ever-controversial blood-on-breasts, and a pretty sweet throat slashing. Thankfully most FX are prosthetic-based (the Spanish ensemble DDT are responsible) and the use of CGI is very limited indeed.
So, rent DAGON at the very least - and see what you think. As a film, it's definitely worth seeing. Whether you'll want to pick it up to add to your collection is debatable, but you owe to it yourself to see what Gordon and Yuzna are still capable of. And, to address the 'return to form' issue I raised at the beginning of this review ... yes, I believe this is a return to form. Okay, it's not as good as RE-ANIMATOR (though to be honest with a more believable lead than Godden it would've fared better) but this still knocks the shit out of most of the dross masquerading in the multi-plexus as 'horror' movies nowadays ...
Check out the trailer for 'Dagon' by clicking here
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Metrodome|
|Rated - 18|