Dagon
review by KJ Doughton, 21 June 2002

First, he brought us a re-animating fluid that looked suspiciously like Mountain Dew and activated the most ravenous, insatiable zombies this side of George Romeroís Dead trilogy.  Soon afterwards, he took us to another sensory dimension where brain-hungry beings roamed free while writhing, worm-like pineal glands exploded from foreheads.  Since the gory glory days of Re-Animator and From Beyond (1985 and 1986, respectively), however, director Stuart Gordon has veered away from horror to tackle big-budget screenwriting and producing (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), sci-fi (Fortress), and fantasy (The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit).  Granted, heís always thrown his fear-film loyalists a bone here and there (Dolls, Castle Freak), but his days of being known primarily as a horror specialist have long since passed.

Until now. Dagon is Gordonís latest fright film, and itís the first since From Beyond to really go for the gusto and push the envelope.  While not a perfect movie, Dagon crams its wild, over-the-top concepts down our throats with so much conviction that we canít help but get swept along for the ride. Just like Re-Animator sold us on the idea of a lecherous severed head, and From Beyond made a case that the pineal gland might well be the encasement of a sixth sense, Dagon tosses us onto a Spanish beach where mutant fish people prey on hapless visitors.

Thatís right. Fish people. 

Before you chuckle at such a preposterous concept, try to envision anything more terrifying than the shark attacks in Jaws.  Gordonís aquatic offering couples a fear of the water - and all that lurks beneath -- with the notion that humans might be genetically linked to a strain of gill-sprouting sea mutants.  It might sound hokey (indeed, Dagon was passed over by numerous studios who, in the words of Gordon himself, found the story "just too damn weird"), but thereís something inherently creepy about scales, tails, and murky depths that gets under the skin (Indeed, author H.P. Lovecraft, who provided the source material for Dagon, allegedly despised fish to the point of leaving dinner parties where seafood was served).

Dagon begins as young lovers Paul (Ezra Godden) and Barbara (Raquel Merono) toast the success of lucrative business ventures from aboard a sprawling yacht.  Paul comes across as a money-fixated yuppie who prefers tinkering with his laptop to making out with his frustrated love interest.  Soon, sheís tossing his computer overboard, and urging him to loosen up.  Unfortunately, the relaxation is short-lived. A freak storm impales their vessel on a sharp reef, and the duo is forced to abandon ship.  Soon, they wash up near an unnervingly quiet fishing town.  Residents gradually shuffle out of the woodwork, but they appear flat, emotionless, and physically incomplete.  Bulging, buggy eyes remain open when they should blink. Strange, aquatic sounds drift across the village, like murmurs from a vocal school of dolphins. Clearly, thereís something fishy in the dilapidated streets of Imboca.

The remainder of Dagon sees the couple fending off the growing legions of mutated townsfolk, through a series of chases. The film culminates in a scene of ritual sacrifice, with the foxy Merono dangling over a pit, while a mammoth, barnacled beast chomps at the bit beneath, eager to snatch up the tasty human morsel.  Think of the climactic set piece from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, seasoned with a gory twist.

Dagon is a larger production then its predecessors, with all the strengths and weaknesses that this bigger scale entails (or should that be entrails?).  There are scenes shot underwater, on land, and underground, creating an epic reach, but some are clumsily staged (the opening storm hosts thunderclouds that look like something recycled from an outdated Hammer vampire flick you might find on the tube at 2:00 a.m.). Under the strain of this massive scale, much of the fiendish, witty humor that branded Gordonís earlier Lovecraft-inspired outings is missing (the film is sparse on dialogue).  However, the directorís legacy lives on with gore galore and another trademark damsel-in-distress image that falls in line with Gordonís earlier, rather sexual set-pieces (remember Barbara Crampton fending off fiends Carl Hill and Dr. Pretorious?). 

Stuart Gordonís twisted imagination has been re-animated with Dagon.  Call it the dark, scaly underbelly of  "The Little Mermaid."


 

Directed by:
Stuart Gordon

Starring:
Uxia Blanco
Ezra Godden
Jose Lifante
Raquel Merono
Francisco Rabal

Written by:
Dennis Paoli  

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
accompanying parent
or adult guardian.

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