Friday, October 11, 2013
Despite the overlap of creators, Dagon differs greatly from Re-Animator in a number of ways. Re-Animator, featuring a mad scientist using his secret formula to raise the dead, was an outrageous, darkly funny barf-bag movie, featuring scenes of gory death and mutilation in which heads are lopped off by shovels, intestines take on a life of their own, and of course the head gives head sequence. By contrast, Dagon is more or less a straight-up, serious movie with a few laughs that despite some gruesome moments has a stronger emphasis on atmosphere than splatter, ironically making it more faithful to the spirit of Lovecraft than Re-Animator.
The movie actually combines two Lovecraft stories: "Dagon" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." Following some sort of lucrative business venture, Paul Marsh (Godden) and his girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Merono, who deserves the Barbara Crampton Good Sport Award) vacation off the Spanish coast with another couple, Howard (Brendan Price) and Vicki (Birgit Bofarull), when their boat crashes into rocks as a storm hits. Paul and Barbara head into a nearby decrepit fishing village for help, but when night falls, the weird townspeople begin to act hostile and chase Paul after he is separated from Barbara. Some of the townspeople also seem to have tentacles and gills, and what do Paul's dreams about swimming underwater with a mermaid (Macarena Gomez) have to do with anything?
Dagon includes a number of Lovecraft's tropes, namely cults that worship monstrous gods, leviathans emerging from the ocean, and family bloodlines that reveal a terrifying legacy. The people of the town, we learn, worship Dagon, a god from the ocean, and the mutated people with gills and tentacles are his children, the offspring from the human women who have mated with their deity. The movie notches up the creepy ick factor when Paul is nearly seduced by the village girl, kissing her until he pulls back the blanket to reveal her tentacles. There is also a harrowing scene where a tied-up Paul can only watch as another victim has his face carved off, knowing that the same fate awaits him.
Not helping matters is Godden's performance. It's not bad, but Godden, who is so much better in one of Gordon's Masters of Horror episodes, comes off as too modern and a bit condescending to be endearing or sympathetic. As Herbert West, Combs nicely underplayed the mad scientist part and made him a fun, memorable character in an over-the-top movie, but Godden should be more like Bruce Abbott's character, the average guy we can relate to and root for. He always seems to be complaining about something, and for the tone the movie's going for, he just feels out of place, like he belongs in something more comedic. To be fair, he does much better toward the end of the movie when things start getting really grim.
Overall, Dagon proves to be an effective if occasionally underwhelming Lovecraft. It's not as good Re-Animator or From Beyond, but Gordon demonstrates he still knows how to bring Lovecraft's words to life.