H.P. Lovecraft had a talent for bringing the macabre to life that few writers can match. When you combine this with director Stuart Gordon’s eye horror you can expect great results. Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR was based on a Lovecraft story and that film is considered a classic of horror. However, that was not the only Lovecraft tale to be helmed by Gordon. In 2001 Stuart Gordon turned H.P. Lovecraft’s short story DAGON, into a feature film as well.
The story follows a wealthy stock broker named Paul (Ezra Godden) who is vacationing on a yacht in the Mediterranean with his girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Meroño) and some other friends. Paul’s mother is originally from the region of Italy they are near and he hopes to learn more about where she came from. Paul is also plagued with strange dreams of swimming with a beautiful mermaid around a giant, intricately carved hole in the sea floor. He can’t explain the dream but it haunts him.
When their ship draws near the small coastal village of Imbocca, a storm suddenly rises up and smashes the vessel on the rocks. Paul and Barbara go to the village for help as their friend Vicki is trapped below decks with her husband Howard. The villagers seem strange with pale, almost slimy skin and vacant eyes but some agree to help. Barbara and Paul are separated and while Paul discovers his friends missing, Barbara is taken by the strange villagers. Now it is up to Paul to save Barbara and unravel the mystery of the village of Imbocca. A mystery deepened by his discovery that the girl from his dreams is very real and lives in the village.
Stuart Gordon’s DAGON is an interesting film that works well on several levels. Fans of Gordon’s other Lovecraft adaptation, RE-ANIMATOR, may be disappointed that DAGON is not knee deep in internal organs like the earlier film. However, there is enough blood and guts to keep horror fans happy. In fact the ritual skinning scene could make hardcore horror fans squirm a bit in its realism. Gordon also builds tension well through the movie. His villagers are creepy and obviously abnormal, but he doesn’t bring their deformities to light all at once. That revelation is done more slowly to create both anticipation and dread for Paul and for the audience as we only catch glimpses of their true forms through their clothes.
This isn’t to say that DAGON is without problems, particularly the CGI special effects. Many of the film’s computer graphics stand out as almost cartoonish insertions into the movie, which causes them to fail to elicit the horrific responses the scenes are aiming for. Since the CGI effects are not prolific throughout the film, the solid story and acting help overcome this shortcoming. Additionally, the traditional make-up effects for the deformed villagers are very well done. It is unfortunate that it was most likely budgetary constraints that forced the use CGI for many of the film’s bigger scenes.
Overall DAGON is definitely a film worth checking out. Fans of Lovecraft’s work will not be disappointed by Gordon’s version of the story. Importantly though, you don’t have to know any of the author’s work for DAGON to stand on its own. So grab a big bowl of calamari or your favorite sushi and check out Stuart Gordon’s DAGON.