Fog. Mist. Grey-ish off white skin with, “webbed hands and feet, shockingly wide and flabby lips, glassy, bulging eyes, and other features less pleasant to recall..” Gargled gasping gurgling gab. Neck gills. These are the people that inhabit this strange Innsmouth-like town somewhere along the coastal waters of ESPAÃ‘A. Here they worship DAGON.
Who is Dagon? What is Dagon?
Search your old testament, this isn’t a creation. No fiction of Lovecraft.
“Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.” Jdgs 16:23
“And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.” 1Sm 5:4
Dagon is a God worshiped by those that believed not in the God of Abraham. Dagon was a fishy creature, that the people of the sea worshipped for the bounty the sea would give them. They would perform sacrifices unto Dagon, and in the early days of Judaism, many of the fish lore of the Bible was said to be there to bring the worshipers of Dagon into Judaism, long before the time of Christianity.
So when Lovecraft wrote of Dagon, when he talked of the ancient ones, he talks of those that ruled the Earth in the days before light. Those that retreated into the darkest recesses of the Earth, banished from the surfaces of a planet that was once theirs.
Lovecraft explored the madness of the dark times, the nameless ones and the ages before the light, and how the darkness once again wanted to spill out and over the lands of man. Angry demon gods. Gods with tentacles and vicious prices to be paid upon the worshippers for their blessings and incantations.
DAGON is a dark mythology, a bleak black fable about wandering seafarers and distant lands. It is also a bit of madness, for Lovecraft didn’t exist in the land of logic, but in the worlds of dementia… His terror existed between the morphine drips of unquenched pain. And his horror has never been put to screen quite like Stuart Gordon did with DAGON.
Stuart’s budget was less than one tenth that of the upcoming SPY KIDS 2, which is more than a hundred million dollars less than STUART LITTLE 2. For that penance of pennies, Stuart had to make the most of what he had, which was a coastal town that sells witches on street corners in the south of Spain. Cobblestone streets of various states of disrepair. Buildings cut from bleak stone. A coastal town that is drenched in cold wet weather. A town filled with natural creepy locales. A village with natural fog and rain. There isn’t a dry scene in the whole film. Wet, cold with heaping helpings of despair. This is a Lovecraft film that I adored.
A movie made of Nightmarish Logic, filled with the strange and the bizarre. The horror comes from the terror of the situation. Let me set it up for you…
The film begins with a couple upon a boat on their vacation. There’s another couple on deck sunbathing. Things go astray when they hear chanting / singing from a far off coastal city, and a storm rolls in as if a black sheet grew from behind this town reaching its fingers of wind and rain and lightning to pummel their vessel against the rocks.
The second couple is trapped on the boat, as the lead couple takes the ‘away’ boat to town for help. The city is abandoned. No signs of life in the grey, wet village. There is the sound of chants amongst the roaring storm, and it leads them to a cathedral with no signs of Christianity. There are no crosses, no saints, no apostles. Instead there is a strange eye, symbols made of gold in the form tentacled protrusions. What is this place of pews with no Jesus? This is the house of Dagon.
The chanting went as soon as they cracked those doors open. The pews were empty. Their calls for help unanswered. Just as they turn to leave, a man dressed in black, a priest of some sort… The white of his collar spilling down the front of his smock… the white, a shade off the grayish slimy ick of his own skin. His hair oily, his eyes reddened and bulging. His lips an off purplish color, and fuller than that of a man’s. Not so much as to be unbelievable, but enough to be… disturbing.
That’s the key for a lot of this movie. DISTURBING. This is a movie about the tone of something gone wrong. That unease you get when you walk home at night and swear someone is following you, and then when you turn and you see them. The idea that they may be going in the same direction as you replaced with the paranoia that… “They’re coming to get youuuuu… Barbaraaaa!”
The priest offers to help, you meet two fishermen… the same grayish skin… the pupils of their eyes blacker and bigger than most eyes you’ve seen. Dressed in slickers a deader grey than their own skin. Our main characters dressed in bright colors. Standing out against this drab black and white world. Grey sky, grey water, grey skin, grey buildings and grey mud. The only colors the warm yellow-oranges of fire and blood… and not all blood here is the same.
I’m ahead of myself. The next part. The man, our main character returns to the boat for his friends, while his girlfriend goes for a doctor and the police. When she asks for “La Telephono” she is directed to a hotel in the center of town… The priest’s hand… Webbed. She catches glimpse of it for a second. A second that registers alarm on her face. But we live in a world of sad genetic abnormalities. We read about Ape-boy in the papers, some read websites of the malformed, in the modern age we take note, but move on.
What happens from here… I will not divulge, that is the set-up. Suffice to say, it all goes… to DAGON. The black history of this town told by a drunken scarred Francisco Rabal as the ‘last man’ of this cursed town. He was a child when it all went bad. However, ask yourself. You are a fisherman on a town against the sea. One day, the harvest of fish ceases. You go out in your boat, you search the ocean, only to come back each day with a penance of fish. The harvest of the ocean has dried up. You turn to god, and pray each night only to be turned away each day upon the sea. A man comes to town. He tells of a god that does answer prayers, that does give. To prove this he conjures his god, Dagon from the sea and the ocean pours forth fish for the city to sell and eat. The ocean spills out more than fish though, the nets bring not just the ocean of flesh, but gold as well. Suddenly how do you not worship. You could not guess the price brought upon your city, your people and your land. After all… you’re a simple fishing village.
This movie plays the topic serious. The horror is genuine. Imagine the madness upon being stranded in a city of not quite humans. A mass of grey-skinned rain soaked folks with harpoons and limps. Black shadows against a rain drenched night of madness. That’s what this film is about. That horror.
You see what comes of your friends, your lover, yourself. This isn’t a happy film. This is madness. The madness of having everything you know about the world you live in come apart. You know tentacled gods are not real… right? You know that a town filled with webbed hands and feet, shockingly wide and flabby lips, glassy, bulging eyes, and other features less pleasant to recall that are hunting and killing and fi…. No, for that you must see the movie. However, you know this doesn’t happen. A city with people like this… It would be stopped. A town populace mad with murder and mayhem. This is no Shangri-La. This is definitely no Brigadoon. This is the other side of that coin of utopian societies. This is the evil Lost Horizon. You’d never want to find it again, but you don’t have to worry about that, because YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE.
I loved this nightmare. It isn’t a straight telling of DAGON or SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, but it is the straightest telling of the intent of Lovecraft I’ve ever seen. This isn’t wacky or funny. This movie has few moments of laughs, usually the nervous type… Ezra Godden’s Paul’s fumblings with a lock… Terrifyingly hilarious… but not really. It isn’t funny at all, but to stay latched onto the horror of his moment, it is too much, that nervous giggle is all that keeps that dry cotton mouth of yours from screaming a string of “Oh shits!”
Why do people that hate this film, hate it? I’m not sure. It might have to do with either a lack of familiarity with Lovecraft or too much. Like I said, this isn’t a straight adaptation. Here, Stuart Gordon has taken the intent of Lovecraft, the tale, the atmosphere, the horror and the fear of Lovecraft… and he’s placed it in a setting that is modern. Our world, not some safe story of long ago, but a tale for the modern world. That decision could throw some purists. The mere mixing of DAGON and SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH might do it. HOWEVER, to hate this film for not being exactly the sacred text of Lovecraft, who has never been so wonderfully adapted before, is to miss the forest for the trees.
Like Raimi did with SPIDER-MAN, Gordon did with DAGON. He made changes, took what he needed to tell this story to a modern audience, and changed it and turned it into something new, but old.
In a way the film reminds me of three past genre films. John Carpenter’s THE FOG. Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD, the original. And lastly, Alan Parker’s ANGEL HEART.
From THE FOG you really get the drippy wet dreary world of a fishing town gone bad. The fear of the unknown and the different. From Raimi’s original EVIL DEAD, you get that sense of no-nonsense meanness and terror. This isn’t the slapstick world of the second film, this is a mean horror film that takes a toil on its characters. It doesn’t play fair. They’re in a nightmare of fish people and gods from the deep. And lastly it has that same descent into madness that ANGEL HEART has… that same sense of decadence and sense of place. Sense of Place for me means that Stuart Gordon knew exactly where this film took place. It is that little fishing village that no cruise ship pulls into, where no tour guide takes you. As you boat up a coast, you may see this city, you may think about going ashore, but something unknown keeps you from putting to land. Something tells you to keep going, to Passover this village.
This is that road you missed. That dysentery that you suffered was fine, a good enough tale of travel woe. Count your blessings, and make note that you did not end up in this place. Pray you never do, but whatever you do, don’t pray to those nameless ones, because if you do, your fate… well, it’d be worse than an encore showing of BOYS & GIRLS… well, maybe not, but it’d suck pretty bad.
Lastly, I hate that LIONS GATE isn’t going to be bringing this out in theaters this October. Here is a no nonsense horror film. A nightmare. Miles better than the sequels we get. Sure I enjoyed the self-aware cheese of JASON X, but frankly… any day of the week and twice on the Sabbath, I’d prefer to watch an original horror film of the quality of DAGON. And I’d love even more to see a studio actually finance the script for Stuart Gordon’s SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH.
With the exception of SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, this is the best horror film that LIONS GATE has had yet, though I hear MAY is quite good too. It would be so cool to have LIONS GATE pull the DVD / Video release in favor of an October limited theatrical release. I know it won’t happen. I know they feel that the film wouldn’t find an audience, but I do know that it had an audience on Saturday night. Sure, that was an audience of fans that came far and wide to meet Stuart Gordon and to see this film on the big screen, but believe me there are others that would give this movie their time and money.
Don’t count on that though folks, if you live within driving distance to Austin, Texas. Come see this at the Drafthouse this week, I’ll definitely see it at least one more time in its run. A 5 day North American Theatrical run. Sometimes madness isn’t just at the end of Lovecraft’s pen.