Dagon Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
Residents of a fishing village tempted by greed evolve into freakish half-human creatures and must sacrifice outsiders to an ancient, monstrous god of the sea. (From Vestron’s official synopsis)
Stuart Gordon’s career spans a plethora of genres and subjects, but the critical acclaim behind Edmund (2005) and the growing cult following behind Robot Jox (1990) will always pale beside the legacy of his breakthrough H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). He continued dabbling in horror, sci-fi, and even made one more Lovecraft-themed movie (Castle Freak, 1995), but it took him sixteen long years to adapt one of the author’s most famous works, Dagon (an oft-repeated short from The Shadow over Innsmouth, pub: 1931). Gordon’s Dagon (2001) was, in keeping with much of his career, made in Spain on a shoestring budget with assistance from original Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna. Like all of the director’s best films, it was ambitious beyond its means. However, this time, such aspiration was marred by the state of the B-movie industry during the early part of the 2000s. Whereas Gordon’s ‘80s/’90s work embraced budgetary restraints with an abundance of charming physical effects, drawing from an array of artforms, and rich, vibrant photography, Dagon was his first movie to feature extensive digital effects work. His lack of experience and money, combined with the inherent limitations of the technology and choice to shoot largely handheld, make for an unattractive, anonymously styled movie. Fortunately, Gordon’s talent for suspense and penchant for disturbing imagery helps him to overcome some of his more regrettable visual choices, especially as the film enters its raucous climax.
Though Dagon also overstays its welcome, Dennis Paoli’s screenplay offers some surprises and the cast is game to chew some scenery in the true Stuart Gordon tradition. That said, sometimes, the actors seem to be performing in at least three different movies, which makes me think that the Spanish-to-English language barrier was quite broad. There’s a prevailing sense that the filmmakers are trying to recreate the Re-Animator dynamic, such as the themes of cursed love and blasphemy creating monsters. But, the most Re-Animator-like thing about the movie is probably lead Ezra Godden, who seems to have been modeled to include elements of both the nebbish mad scientist, Herbert West, and his lovesick straight man counterpart, Dan Cain (though he’s described by Gordon as ‘Woody Allen meets Harold Lloyd’). Godden can’t quite match the appeal of Jeffrey Combs or Bruce Abbott, but he isn’t a terrible substitute and helps to center Dagon during its less polished moments. The dreary, rainswept tone works quite well for the expositional flashback at the center of the film. This sequence is one of the few pulled directly from the short story and it is strong enough to stand on its own, possibly in some kind of repurposed anthology that could draw upon other overlong Gordon/Lovecraft adaptations Castle Freak and Dreams in the Witch-House (2005).
Dagon was released on DVD throughout the world, including one from Lionsgate in the US and two-disc sets from Filmax Home Video in Spain and Sunfilm in Germany. The first Blu-ray was put out via Vertriebs GmbH & Co. in Germany, but it was an interlaced transfer and featured a slightly censored cut of the film. Fans have more to look forward to here from Vestron’s full 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer. Dagon has always looked to me like it was shot using early digital video, despite all available specs claiming that Gordon used 35mm cameras. My assumption is that the look is the result of the 35mm footage being scanned using a not great CRT machine in order to add effects. Whatever the cause, this new Blu-ray transfer doesn’t correct the issue, nor should it really be expected to. I’d like to think that rescanning the original negative would produce a better result, but I suspect that the digital effects were applied to an already subpar scanned source (there’s also considerable digital grading, which likely does not exist on an original film source anymore). Anyway, the issues here are typical compared to other Vestron releases, pertaining mostly to softness and lack of texture. The digital-y look doesn’t help mitigate either problem, but edges are sharp and fine details improve the Lionsgate DVD. That DVD’s haloes and hotspots have been largely corrected, leaving some slightly blocky gradations (these are most significant during blue-tinted shots) as the only particularly notable digital artifacts.
Dagon is fitted with a single 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio English soundtrack. Though filmed in Spain with a largely Spanish cast & crew, Dagon was shot in English, so viewers aren’t missing anything with the lack of additional language dubs. The aural field is full-bodied throughout, often in a nearly-successful bid to cover up some of the budgetary constraints. Dialogue-heavy sequences are a bit threadbare, but they’re usually contrasted well by big scare cues, thundering storms, chugging ocean waves, and directionally-enhanced creature noises. Composer Charles Cases crafts a relatively epic original score, which also helps to broaden the scale of the film, though it isn’t used very often.
Commentary with director Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli – This first archival track is a pleasant discussion between the director and writer, who reunited for the fifth time for Dagon, following Re-Animator, From Beyond (1986), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), and Castle Freak. Gordon and Paoli are full of charming anecdotes and informative behind the scenes stories.
Commentary with Gordon and actor Ezra Godden – The second archival track offers Gordon a chance to cover information he missed the first time around, as well as cover some of the cast’s side of the production via Godden.
Gods & Monsters (22:26, HD) – Filmmaker Mick Garris (the guy behind just about every Stephen King TV adaptation released during the ‘90s) interviews Gordon about his interest in Lovecraft, casting, shooting in Spain, locations, special effects, and trying to premiere the film in the aftermath of 9/11.
Shadows over Imboca (19:53, HD) – Producer Brian Yuzna discusses the long development history of a Stuart Gordon-directed Shadow over Innsmouth movie, the many changes to the adaptation over the years, and finally financing and making Dagon.
Fish Stories – S.T. Joshi, the author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Hippocampus Press, 2010) – who can also be seen talkin’ Lovecraft on Scream Factory’s Resurrected BD release – offers a crash-course on the author’s fear & fascination with the sea and the publishing history of the short story Dagon.
Conceptual art gallery from artist Richard Raaphorst
EPK behind-the-scenes featurette (27:17, SD)
EPK interviews with Stuart Gordon, Ezra Godden, Julkio Fernández, Raquel Meroño, and Francisco ‘Paco’ Rabal (21:32, SD, English/Spanish with no subtitles)
Storyboard and still galleries
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.