HP Lovecraft adaptations aren’t that easy to do. One needs more than a few rubbery tentacles and a ‘Yog Sothoth’ thrown around here and there to evoke HPL’s sense of other-worldly dread. It’s even more difficult to get that right and make your subject matter sexy in places as well. HPL’s writings weren’t exactly known for their throbbing eroticism, and while purists may throw up their hands in horror one of the reasons I like Stuart Gordon’s and Dennis Paoli’s approach to the material is that they have a fine sense of the sexy as well as the horrific. Not that it always works - FROM BEYOND, their follow-up to the wonderful REANIMATOR, was a bit of a misfire, but thankfully a few years later all went very well indeed with DAGON. In some ways that shouldn’t be surprising, as their version of HPL’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH had been on the cards for years, first with Charles Band’s Empire Pictures before languishing in development hell for so long by the time it appeared under this new title many fans had all but forgotten about it. Thankfully DAGON was worth the wait. It’s hardly a faithful adaptation but its depiction of some standard Lovecraftian tropes (the rotting fishing village, the ever-present motif of water, sunken ruins leading to even deeper horrors) are among the best ever put on film. I’ve always loved DAGON, not least because it always reminds me of holidays in Wales when I was a lad, when it was always raining and the soaked narrow streets of whatever God-forsaken village we had ended up in this time were bereft of all but the gloomiest of locals. My imagination didn’t have to do much to put me in horror movie territory.
In fact it’s partly because Gordon et al have got the atmosphere nailed so perfectly that I’m willing to forgive the sometimes cheap-looking digital effects and the sometimes rubbery-looking tentacles. The fact that said tentacles are often seen in association with Macarena Gomez (probably the sexiest high priestess in movies for many a year) or clutching at a naked Raquel Merono (who essays the helpless struggling victim role very nicely) while she’s suspended in chains over a pit probably helps. A lot. When not causing or being in peril both these actresses acquit themselves admirably otherwise as well, and Gomez in particular should have been used in more horror pictures (apart from an appearance in TO LET from the TV series PELICULAS PARA NO DORMIR I’ve not seen her in anything else). The actors fare a little less well but Ezra Godden is very good in the lead as the doomed Paul Marsh. Francisco Rabal in his last movie role is old Ezequiel and sadly despite numerous viewings of DAGON I still have to switch the subtitles on when it’s his turn to speak.
Special effects are plentiful and may well be a bit rubbery but thankfully some skilful editing dwells more on the suspense of the various chase sequences rather than the monsters who are doing the chasing. Finally, Carlos Cases’ music score is really rather good and does a much better job of encapsulating Lovecraft for me than any number of avant-garde electronic dub artists I’ve had the misfortune to experience in the last couple of years. Sadly it’s not available on disc, and it should be.
DAGON is a great piece of low-budget horror cinema, filmed in Spain with a cast of extras who for the most part look as if they were born to play their roles. Perhaps the biggest shame is that Gordon et al didn’t get to do more of this kind of thing with the same crew, and possibly even the same cast. I for one would have loved to see Macarena presiding over a Cthulhu cult At the Mountains of Madness.