DagonDagon is a 2001 horror film from Stuart Gordon, filmed in Spain and produced by Brian Yuzna’s Fantasy Factory, aka Filmax, the prolific company who have essentially revuneated Catalan genre filmmaking (credits include the likes of KM31, REC, The Machinist etc etc etc). It wasn’t the first time Gordon had worked in Europe, his 1995 film Castle Freak was filmed in Italy, and it’s also worth remembering that his biggest successes – Reanimator (85) and From beyond (86), both of which were also produced by Yuzna – were made for Empire, a company owned by Italian producer Charles Band. Anyway, prior to this, Gordon had been quiet for a number of years: his previous genre film was 1996’s Space Truckers, with his only other directorial work in the meantime being a 1998 comedy, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, that sank without a trace.

Like the previous Yuzna / Gordon films, this is an adaptation and update of an H.P.Lovecraft story. Or, rather, two stories, The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Dagon. Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden), is on holiday in a yacht in Galicia with his girlfriend (Raquel MeroƱo) and a couple of chums. He’s not enjoying it much: his dotcom business has just been sold for a fortune and he’s not entirely confortable with his newfound wealth, he’s not particularly keen on Spain (a country he left with his parents when he was young) and he doesn’t really like boats. Moreover, he keeps on having disturbing dreams in which he meets a sinister mermaid.

Unfortunately, his vacation is about to get considerably worse: after a sudden strom, the yacht crashes into some rocks, and he’s forced to make his way to a nearby town to get some help. Unfortunately, the town seems rather… weird. The residents have an unhealthy pale complexion and, apart from a creepy vicar, hardly say a word. Many of them also have strange deformities, and none of them seem particularly welcoming to strangers. Things become steadily creepier: when he makes his way back to the yacht his companions have disappeared, he finds a hotel but it looks like his room hasn’t been cleaned for fifty years or so, and a visit to the local church reveals that it doesn’t seem to be very… christian.

It turns out that many years before, during a time in which fish stocks were down, the residents had started worshipping a sea god called Dagon. As a result, they’d started finding gold treasures on their beach, bringing them all the wealth they needed. Unfortunately, it also had the effect of slowly turning them into fish-like creatures, with a predilection for sacrificing any incomers to their demanding deity.

This is all good fun. There’s a considerable amount of atmosphere – which is at least partly down to the setting (Combarro in North Spain) – and the premise is enjoyably leftfield. It actually remined me a lot of some of the old Spanish chillers from the early 70s, such as The Vampires Night Orgy, in which metropolitan intruders come a cropper when they meet old-world, rural Spain.

There are a couple of downsides, though. Gordon’s direction has never exactly been stylish, and here it’s sometimes incredibly flat; in fact, if you ignore the gore and nudity, it all plays rather like a TV movie. There’s also some intrusive, amateurish use of CGI effects; CGI is fine for some things, but for creature effects it simply doesn’t have the weight of latex, even if it’s done well.

Furthermore, the acting is, well, variable. British actor Ezra Godden throws himself with some energy into his part, and actually seems to have based his performance on Jeffrey Combs’s protagonist from Reanimator, which is quite a nice touch. But he actually seems more comfortable as the events he’s surrounded by become more fantastical and gruelling. This was just about Francisco Rabal’s final film, playing an old soak who – for some reason – has been able to escape the town’s curse, but his dialogue is almost unintelligeable for the most part. There’s also a small part for Brendan Price, a British character actor who seems to have continued the tradition of people like John Karlsen and Geoffrey Coppleston by making a career for himself in mainland Europe, appearing in numerous Spanish films throughout the 2000s (British TV fans may remember him from the 1977 serial Target, co-starring Patrick Mower and Philip Madoc.

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