Movie Review: Dagon


220px-DagonmovieposterH. P. Lovecraft is heralded as a genius for his nightmare visions of horror and for establishing the entire universe surrounding the Cthulhu universe (multiverse?). That mythos alone has gotten more writers rejected from gatekeeper publishing than any of us could count; ask any agent – one immediate way to be shot out of the gatekeeper system faster than you can say “archaic and stupid method of publishing” is to include the words “elder gods” in your query somewhere. Boom…rejected.

While the style of storytelling Lovecraft uses to tell his tales isn’t to my taste – I mean, can you say “show don’t tell” kiddies? I knew y’could – he nevertheless continues to influence and impact the imaginations of his cult-like followers, writers new to horror and dark sci-fi, and folks who just love to read a good, creepy story. His ideas and worlds are what captured so much attention. And, while Lovecraft’s imaginings are the stuff of late nights and things going bump in the night, they also make for horribly difficult translations to the big screen.

Well…they have so far, it seems. Any reasonable attempt to do so faded into the annals of obscurity, where they languished as cult classics or perhaps campy B-movie relics.

Until 2001, that is.

In 2001, a Spanish movie called Dagon attempted to capture the creep factor of Lovecraft’s 1931 story The Shadow over Innsmouth and infuse it with the whole elder god notion of Dagon, Lovecraft’s fish-frog god of the depths. While Lovecraft’s earlier story Dagon is the source for the title, the story of the movie follows TSOI instead.

In any case, making a movie of a Lovecraft story is no mean feat, and if you’re not familiar with Lovecraft’s work, that statement doesn’t mean much to you.

Shadow_over_innsmouthThe Shadow over Innsmouth, however, is a great and riveting story, despite the weaknesses of Lovecraft as a writer. In what I consider one of his finer works, he weaves a story of increasing tension and horror which have the reader tied in knots before long. The narrator discusses a government investigation of the town of Innsmouth, MA, which has been ruined and run down. On an architectural and antique-hunting expedition around the region, the narrator ends up taking a bus (driven by a very peculiar-looking fellow indeed, with creepy hands) to the town of Innsmouth. He soon discovers things there aren’t as desolate and uninteresting as they seem.

Not wanting to spoil either the movie or the story for anyone, I’ll leave it there. Suffice to say, it’s a novella of five chapters, so if you’ve never read it, please do so. You won’t be sorry you did, if you’re open to creepy stories and don’t mind wading through old-school English from the first part of the 20th century.

The movie, Dagon, takes place in a small town on the coast of Spain and involves a completely different set-up than the original story. There are also a couple of other elements which are serious deviations from the original story, though I can’t say whether they’re parts of the original Dagon story or not (since I haven’t read that one). (UPDATE: Yes I have. My bad. And while the story Dagon has the same fish-god mentioned, it also bears no similarity whatsoever to this movie.) The ending text, presented in a similar twist of events to Lovecraft’s ending, is taken directly from The Shadow over Innsmouth, though the ending is a radical departure from Lovecraft’s.

Despite not having the best special effects or a high budget, the film does manage to present a fairly taut tale of running and fear and fleeing for ones life, only to have everything turn south. I found the film an admirable attempt to bring Lovecraft to life, and sort of wonder if there’ll be more like it in the future. The time is ripe now to do Lovecraft’s work justice on the big screen, and if Hollywood wants to try big money effects-fests, H. P.’s work is a relatively untapped source of material for years to come.

If you like horror without a lot of gore and slashing, but with plenty of creepiness, I’d say Dagon is a good movie. I sure liked it, and so did the kids, believe it or not.

It also has nothing to do with sandwiches, thereby lowering its cool factor a bit.

-JDT-

Copyright 2011 DarcKnyt, All rights reserved

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4 thoughts on “Movie Review: Dagon

  1. No sandwiches!! What?! Forget it.

    🙂

    Good review, I’ll have to check it out.

    Nope, no sandwiches. I don’t even know why you’d MAKE a movie without sandwiches. Sheesh. Do check it out anyway, though.

  2. I like Lovecraft’s style, and I detest Edmund Wilson, Stephen King, and their ilk as vulgar charlatans.

    “Charlatans” is an interesting description. I don’t love everything they do, of course, but I think Lovecraft is lauded not for his ability to write but his ability to create. I’m not sure he warrants comparison with other renown writers in his genre aside from his visions.

    Hollywood movies are an inapproppriate medium for Schopenhauer’s philosophy, for whose representation Lovecraft’s prose is skillfully optimised; thence Lovecraft’s work should not be forced into movies.

    It’s hard to bring other dimensions to life without the proper visionary to do so, yes, but this wasn’t a Hollywood movie. Neither was it a purist’s recreation of “Shadow Over Innsmouth”. You should see it for yourself and watch it in the same vein as seeing the new “Sherlock Holmes” movies and TV shows – not as canon, but as their own independent works.

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