Director: Stuart Gordon
"We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y'ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory forever." -- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Shadow over Innsmouth."
Chances are if you are not awake to what's going on in the world of international fantastique, Spanish horror or the latest in Lovecraftian films, you may miss DAGON, a production of Spain's Fantastic Factory, a film studio based in Barcelona headed by Jamie Fernandez and Brian Yuzna. DAGON is the third film from Fantastic Factory, which has taken on a rapid production schedule with results not diminished in quality and integrity. Brian Yuzna's FAUST, based on the notorious adult comic of the same name, and Jack Sholder's ARACHNID, a big-bug jungle movie, were the first films emerging from the virgin studio. FAUST had difficulty meeting the demanding expectations of laying-in-ambush critics, while the arrival of ARACHNID was barely noticed.
It would be regrettable and unjust if DAGON suffered similar fates, because this third outing from Fantastic Factory is not only the best film that company has released in its short history, but one of the best horror films to emerge from Spain in recent time. Its aims are not as classically lofty as, say, Alejandro Anamabar's THE OTHERS, but it serves up a classy and exuberant horror ride, an intense pulp story of atmosphere and grue suffused with a wiser modern sensibility that scents the plot with fresh, youthful charm.
Denis Paoli's script has been waiting in the wings for years for producer Brian Yuzna to give it life. The wait probably crystallized the screenplay to a polished standard rarely achieved in horror films. Paoli fashions his carefully constructed script out of, primarily, Lovecraft's 1936 novella, "The Shadow over Innsmouth," intelligently transforming the coastal New England tableau to the fictitious Spanish town of Imboca. Symbols and clues hiding as portentous statements are as plenty as a school of fish and as easy to catch if you know, or can guess, what lies ahead.
Leaving behind a capsized boat and two companions, investor-geek Paul Marsh and his luscious female companion Barbara are swept by storm into the drenched port of Imboca, a salty and windy town of the sea, of persistent, splashy pools, underground grottos, and aqueous sounds that herald danger ahead and an evolving subterranean mystery below. Through the machinations of the townsfolk, Paul Marsh is separated from Barbara and thrust into a continual battle with the confounding elements and weird inhabitants of the town. Many close escapes follow, then re-unions and separations again, as the mystery of Imboca deepens until a climatic moment of a series of quick revelations, following the surprising but welcome Spicy Horror Pulp scene of a naked and bound Barbara, her body bleeding with punctures, descending to mate with Dagon, the demon god of the sea.
Filming in the impressively antique Galician port town of Combarro, Stuart Gordon stays true to his unique blending of flavorful horror and upscale humor, with nods to a grotesque tradition that is separate from the horror milieu -- the same idiosyncratic style he exhibited in such Lovecraft films as RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND. Because DAGON's need for atmosphere is more acute, the film is more evocative of the Lovecraftian world that has eluded many a filmmaker.
While several of DAGON's computer effects may call attention to themselves, and complaints may be lodged against the film because of that, I appreciated these effects and their romantic designs precisely because they lack the noticeable sheen of what a major studio can provide: seamlessness without inspiration.
With DAGON, Fantastic Factory proves that a horror/fantasy studio can be viable and artistically necessary in the 21st Century. Hopefully producers Fernandez and Yuzna will not diverge too much from the path they are on. A new line of films -- Fantastic Discovery -- meant to herald fresh talent is, in my opinion, problematic, as its pronouncements make impressions that are misleading (some of the new talent, though young, is not being introduced in these films; hence, no genuine "discovery"), besides veering energy and quality product/talent away from the Fantastic Factory line. Hopefully, producers Fernandez and Yuzna will not dissipate and divert their energies or their original vision with this or other film "lines," but keep mining the Fantastic Factory studio, as clearly this is a legendary film studio in the making, a Hammer Films of Spain.
It also would be well for Fantastic Factory to employ the talents of Paul Naschy, an actor situated right under its nose in Spain. Although the late Franciso Rabal does a stand-up job as Ezequiel, one of the remaining "old-timer" human inhabitants of Imboca, I would have loved to have seen Naschy either in that choice role or in some other, be it even in a cameo position. Naschy would kick up by several impressive notches the impact of any role he assays and provide a greater spectrum of marketability and interest in any film he appears in.
My review is based on an import Brazilian DVD in the NTSC format, in acceptable full-frame. DAGON will released in America in the widescreen format in late July. Take note.
-- Reviewed by Mirek
The American DVD of DAGON can be
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