Wednesday, November 01, 2006

DAGON (2001) review

A lot of people have been sleeping-on this film since it's release in 2002 (2001 in Spain & Europe). Not-since his classic, ReAnimator in 1985 has Stuart Gordon done something so stunning, horrifying, and eerie. There aren't many directors who have captured even a smidgen- of Lovecraft's-abilities at atmosphere, but Gordon is surely the finest. Only one-other director I know-of has captured-this, and that is Dan O'Bannon in his brilliant (but sadly-butchered) The Resurrected (1991). It's a hard job capturing the feel of Lovecraft, and only the best directors can pull-it-off. For American-audiences, making a version of this story that actually works is a challenge; in an age of instant-communications, and few remote-areas in North America, the original-story simply wouldn't work placed in contemporary New England.

Gordon originally wanted to place the story on an island off of Maine, which could almost work, but telecommunications are too-fast nowadays. You could alert society to what was happening in-seconds and the plot would end. This wasn't so when Lovecraft wrote his short-stories, we didn't even have the interstate highway system at that time. And sure, we could have a 1920s period-piece, but how-scary is a story that is 80-years-remote? This is why there aren't many Gothic-horror tales being-made anymore--we are in the modern-age of horror, the scares have to be more-immediate. Gordon's choice of placing the story-location somewhere unfamiliar to-Americans is logical. In-fact, I think the eternal-qualities of Galician-Spain are really inspired, and are even evident in the Celtic-themes in the excellent film-score. Viewers should also be shocked-to-know that the film was made for $3 million, whereas it looks more-like $20 million. I've read that the film did respectable business in Spain, but that for the same-reasons, they found the story too-implausible in contemporary-Galicia.

Since most fans will be interested in this film as Lovecraft-enthusiasts, I won't bother retelling such an incredible-tale. Read H.P. Lovecraft, he is our other Poe. Based-primarily on Lovecraft's 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth' (a 1931 novella), and less-so on his early-short, 'Dagon' (1919), we are entreated-to the strange fishing-village through the story of some American yachting-tourists who find-themselves shipwrecked there. The locals don't look quite-right. Many of them never, ever...blink. Some are hideously-deformed, and there are strange croaking-sounds emanating-from everywhere. What is this place? Was that--it isn't possible. That priest's hands were webbed! Who are these people? What are they? It's always-raining in this film, and it adds to the eeriness and oppressiveness of the story. There are some excellent moments of gore that have to be seen to be believed. You can feel Lovecraft's fear of the oceans and fish--he was known to leave a party if fish was on the menu, he was so-disgusted by ocean-life. If you share this loathing with us, you will be in for an added-repulsion, it's on-offer here. The story of Dagon is thematically-linked to Lovecraft's fear of going-insane, also. Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli home-in on this fact, and exploit it well. The main-protagonist is genetically-destined for a fate that would horrify most human-beings. Lovecraft was fearful he was doomed-to-madness by heredity. His parents were institutionalized before he was an adolescent. His gift for genius is how he was able to find the universal-threads of our common-destiny as a species, and he used science as his jumping-off point for many of his tales.

But, then, there is the pulp-side of Lovecraft that all of us fans adore: the Stuart Gordon approach that celebrates the wonder and imagination of fantasy. Our inner-child that just enjoys the slime, the monsters and the imagery. In-fact, there is as-much slime and gunk in Dagon as there is blood in ReAnimator (though Gordon's From Beyond wins on the slime-factor). There is so much more to enjoy in this movie. Stuart Gordon's films simply look great, almost like the juiciest Hong Kong cinema. The colors are vibrant, and present when they have the most-meaning, and his shot-compositions are excellent, just tons of eye-popping images to enjoy. It's ironic that the co-creator of 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids' still has to make films on such low-budgets, but it doesn't seem to faze him. If-anything, I think he sees it as a challenge, and it pushes him to excel with-less--to innovate. While we wait for Del Toro's announced-version of 'At the Mountains of Madness', Stuart Gordon has already done ANOTHER Lovecraft-adaptation of 'Dreams in the Witch House' for the Masters of Horror series (available on DVD). Nothing will stop this guy except death, and we should all be proud of Mr. Gordon, one of our finest directors of-horror. He's good because he's from the Midwest. Hurry-up, Guillermo, the world is ending.