Release Date(s)2001 (July 4, 2018)
Studio(s)Lionsgate Entertainment (Umbrella Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
[Editor’s Note: This is a Region Free release.]
Stuart Gordon has basically made a career out of adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s work, and nowhere is his love for it more prevalent than in Dagon. Based upon the short story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, it’s arguably one of the finest Lovecraft adaptations. After having recurring nightmares about a beautiful but deadly mermaid, a successful young businessman and his girlfriend find themselves marooned off the shores of Spain during a torrential downpour of rain. They go to the nearby village of Imboca for help and are immediately separated from each other, subsequently hunted by fish-like people who are armed with claws and rows of sharp teeth. Their survival depends solely on them finding each other again and making their escape, but revelations about the young man’s past, including his connection to the village, have yet to be uncovered.
Dagon is an unusual film, to say the least. While it has horror elements, it’s not really a horror film per se. It’s more of a dark fairy tale, which sounds pretentious, but anyone who’s seen it would have to agree. Blood is occasionally spilled, including one scene that’s fairly horrifying, more so because of who it occurs to rather than the act itself; but for the most part, it’s an oddly compelling journey of discovery rather than an exercise in violence. It also doesn’t seem to have that satirical edge that many of Stuart Gordon’s films tend to have. The overcast environment wherein it’s constantly raining at all times gives the film a viscerally dark and gloomy atmosphere, not to mention that the characters are soaking wet at any given moment.
The biggest flaw of the film is its use of CGI. It’s used judiciously, but it just doesn’t hold up over time at all. Obviously it was something that couldn’t be helped due to the low budget, but it looks worse the clearer that you can see it. What does manage to hold up are all of the amazing practical and creature effects, which even outside of the other elements, are worth the price of admission alone. It’s also shot fairly competently, outside of a few shaky cam bits that were, thankfully, few and far between. The performances are, well, not all good, and the movie definitely takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s quite engaging and enjoyable.
Umbrella Entertainment’s Worlds on Film: Beyond on Genres – Vol. 3 release of Dagon features a presentation that’s similar to the one found on the Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray release of the film in the U.S., but with some obvious differences. The same excessive DNR seems to be present, and any colors in the underwater environments have a much deeper blue. The color palette elsewhere features some nice crimson hues when it comes to bloodshed, while some of the interiors, particularly during the final scene, have a nice variety of colors. There’s also some minor differences in skin tones during the opening moments. The Umbrella release also appears brighter, but only during the opening scene and the climax. Black levels in many shots are much deeper in the Vestron release with obvious crush. I also noticed more sharpening applied to the Vestron release, particularly during the opening titles. Otherwise, everything else looks virtually identical, mostly during scenes in the fishing village. Most of the footage of Paul running from the villagers, especially in close-ups, looks too smooth. And while detail may be lacking, there’s still plenty to be had, especially on Paul’s rain-soaked glasses, as well as the finer details on the creatures themselves. The overall image on both releases is also stable throughout aside from the opening credits.
For the audio, two separate English 5.1 DTS-HD tracks are included with optional subtitles in English (with Spanish as well when it’s spoken). The only major difference I could gather from the two tracks is that one is a bit louder and fuller than the other. On both tracks, dialogue is always clear and discernible, even during the steady rainfall, which thankfully doesn’t dominate either soundtrack. Sound effects and score have plenty of room to breathe and fill up the rears nicely. There isn’t much in the way of speaker to speaker activity, but ambient sounds and low end moments come through often.
For the extras package, it’s a mix of mostly vintage material, some of which is exclusive to this release (I’ll get into that more in a minute). There’s 4 minutes of behind the scenes B-roll footage; four roundtable interviews (a 13-minute interview with actor Macareno Gomez, an 18-minute interview with director Stuart Gordon, a 14-minute interview with actor Raquel Meroño, and a 20-minute interview with actor Ezra Godden); 2 on-set interviews (a 3 1/2 minute interview with Stuart Gordon and a 2 1/2 minute interview with Ezra Godden); a theatrical trailer; a teaser trailer; and 2 TV spots (which could only have been shown on TV in foreign countries given the amount of nudity in them). Also included on the reverse artwork is the original “Dagon” short story by H.P. Lovecraft, which is a very nice touch.
The Vestron Video release contains a bevy of new and exclusive content, but it doesn’t carry over everything. It features an audio commentary with Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli; another audio commentary with Stuart Gordon and Ezra Godden; Gods & Monsters, a 22-minute discussion between Stuart Gordon and filmmaker Mick Garris about the making of the film; Shadows Over Imboca, a 20-minute interview with producer Brian Yuzna about how the film got made in Spain; Fish Stories, an 18-minute interview with S.T. Joshi, author of “I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft”, who covers the original short story and Lovecraft’s obsession with the sea; an animated still gallery featuring on-set photography, behind the scenes photos, and promotional materials; an animated conceptual art gallery by artist Richard Raaphorst; an animated storyboard gallery; and a theatrical trailer. Where things get tricky is with the interviews. On the Vestron release, there are only 28 minutes of the aforementioned roundtable interviews, meaning that they’re shorter by 37 minutes. Also different are the on-set interviews. Only about 6 minutes’ worth are included on the Umbrella release, whereas there’s about 18 minutes’ worth on the Vestron release (minus the addition of the B-roll footage), which includes additional interviews with producer Julio Fernández and actors Raquel Meroño and Francisco “Paco” Rabal. So in other words, in order to get absolutely every piece of supplementary material for this film, you would have to buy both releases. As for which is the better overall package, you be the judge.
With a Wicker Man sensibility to it, Dagon is a surprisingly satisfying film from an era when horror films weren’t at their most creative. It took Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna almost fifteen years to actually get it into production as they wanted to make it immediately after the success of Re-Animator, but thankfully, it came to be, and we have one more Stuart Gordon film as a result (which is never a bad thing). Umbrella Entertainment’s release of the film isn’t perfect, but with all of the old extras in tow, as well beautiful cover artwork, it’s still a package worth picking up. Recommended!
- Tim Salmons