Recommendation: Dagon (2001)
An adaptation of HP Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth done right.
HP Lovecraft has had an interesting history when it comes to adaptations of his work into film, hasn't he? His brand of horror, better known as Lovecraftian Horror, has been put on the silver screen since the 1960s and we have gotten films based on his works such as The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Shadow of Innsmouth, Herbert West - Reanimator, The Color out of Space and so on. A lot of these films are best described as 'hit or miss' partly for two reasons. HP Lovecraft's depiction of otherworldly horror is difficult to depict in a visual medium and that his brand of horror was deeply personal to him, which might not be as potentially scary to others who read or view his work.
While we have been getting a resurgence of films based off of his works, partly thanks to Richard Stanley's The Color out of Space (2019), it is also good to talk about other films that did HP Lovecraft right. It is tempting to begin talking about the 1985 film Re-Animator (a personal favorite), we are instead going to be discussing the movie Dagon, released in 2001.
Dagon, released by Fantastic Factor, directed by horror legend Stuart Gordon and written by Dennis Paoli, this adaptation of the classic story changes a few things, but still proves to be a great variation of the original story with a lot of tense and scary moments, great acting and cinematography.
The movie is based off of the short story The Shadow over Innsmouth and follows Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden) who takes a celebratory vacation with his girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Meroño) and his friends Vicki and Howard (Birgit Bofarull and Brendan Price) off of the coast of a Spanish town known as Imboca. But when disaster strikes their boat, Paul and Barbara go ashore and find the town is not what they think it is and the movie turns into a survival horror film as Paul tries to save his girlfriend and friends while trying to escape Imboca and the denizens who live there.
While the film makes a lot of deviations from the original story such as a change of main character, setting and key plot details, it is a great representation of Lovecraft's work. It keeps the spirit of the unknown and mysterious, while creating a haunting and tense film. The writing is kept focused without dead stops in the film and keeps the audience engaged throughout the entire film as they wonder how Paul and the others are going to escape Imboca. While there is a plot point or two that make you question the film such as why was Ezequiel (The late Francisco Rabal) was left alone and unchanged from the Church of Dagon. The story also has a lot of twists and turns that, if you read the original story, you might know what will happen, but if not, you will not see some of them coming.
The Characters / Acting
The characters of this movie are fleshed out (pun unintended) and made believable in the story. For example, Paul is kept as an actual everyman. He doesn't have survival skills, he doesn't know how to hotwire a car or even speak Spanish. He is just an ordinary person who is thrown into a horrific situation and doesn't know how he and the others will get away. The other characters are memorable too, with the most memorable being Francisco Rabal's Ezequiel, the lone human remaining in Imboca who is partially alive because, in his words, 'I drink'. But how we learn more about him, we grow to care for him and it actually is sad to see him die near the end. While we do not learn much about Uxia (Macarena Gómez) or the rest of the denizens of Imboca, we get enough details about them to understand why they are doing what they do.
The cinematography of this movie is a bit of a mixed bag. This movie had a lower budget and in some scenes, it is somewhat apparent. An example of this would be when Paul has to jump out of a building to escape the denizens and you can see the airbag under the glass ceiling. But budget aside, the film does use what it has to create some great shots and tense moments. There is always a sense of dread and gothic ambiance that lasts throughout the film. The costumes and set designs as well help create a believable town where the people have become warped and twisted over time, where building have become dilapidated and the people are half fish/ half people.
Dagon is not a perfect adaptation of the classic story, but it takes the elements of the original story and creates something unique and enjoyable to watch. It is not a film for everyone, but it is a horror film that is fresh, tense, scary at points and it always keeps the audience watching.
Dagon can be watched on DVD/Blu-Ray, Tubi, Vudu, YouTube Movies, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and Google Play Store.