Horror Movie Review: Dagon (2001)

“No one leave Imboca. People come, but no one leave.”

Dagon (released in Spain as Dagon: La Secta del Mar) is a 2001 Spanish horror film directed by Stuart Gordon and written by Dennis Paoli. Despite the title, it is based on H. P. Lovecraft’s novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth rather than his earlier short story “Dagon” (1919).

Paul Marsh has a dream that he discovers a mermaid with razor-sharp teeth while scuba diving into a strange underwater building. Paul awakes on a boat off the shores of Spain, where he is vacationing with his girlfriend, Barbara, and their friends Vicki and Howard. A sudden storm blows their boat against some hidden rocks. Vicki is trapped below deck and Howard stays with her while Paul and Barbara take a lifeboat to the nearby deserted fishing village of Imboca. During their absence, an unseen creature from the deep attacks the two in the boat.

On the shore, Barbara and Paul find no one about and venture into town until they eventually reach the church, where they find a priest. Barbara convinces him to help them. The priest speaks with two fishermen at the docks, who volunteer to take either Paul or Barbara to the wreck. Despite Paul’s misgivings, Barbara stays to try to find a phone in order to call the police and a doctor while Paul goes to help their friends.

Vicki and Howard are mysteriously missing, however, and Paul is taken back to Imboca, where he is sent to the hotel that Barbara was supposed to have gone to. But she is missing as well and Paul is left to wait for her in an old, filthy hotel room, where he dreams of the mermaid again. His fitful rest is disturbed by a large gathering of strange, fish-like people approaching the hotel. Hsdde is forced to flee. He ends up in a macabre tannery full of human skins, where he discovers Howard’s remains. He escapes the tannery by starting a fire and finds momentary safety with an old drunkard named Ezequiel, the last full-blooded human in Imboca.

Ezequiel explains to Paul that, many years ago, the village fell on lean times. A fishing ship captain Orpheus Cambarro (based on captain Obed Marsh) convinced the locals to worship Dagon rather than God. Xavier’s first offerings to Dagon brought Imboca enormous wealth in the form of fish and gold. This caused the locals to make him as high priest of the Church of Dagon and help him dismantled the local Catholic church and killed the priest to establish the church in Dagon’s honor (based on Esoteric Order of Dagon). However, the wealth brought upon by Imboca from worshiping Dagon had the terrible price as Dagon demanded blood sacrifices and human women to breed with. These were, respectively, the fates of Ezequiel’s father and mother who resisted Xavier’s heretical practice.

Over time, the people of Imboca eventually began to die off leaving only the half-fish/half-human offspring of Dagon. Dagon’s offsprings themselves to settle in the village who would kidnap unexpected trespassers to sacrifice to Dagon while Ezequiel watched the village go to ruin and lamented the villagers’ foolishness in worshiping a demon for short-lived prosperity. Paul begs Ezequiel to help him escape. Ezequiel relents and takes Paul to the Mayor’s manor, so he can steal the town’s only car. Ezequiel distracts some Imbocans long enough for Paul to slip inside, but he accidentally honks the horn while trying to hot-wire the engine. Forced to flee into the manor, Paul finds a beautiful woman named Uxia, the mermaid from his dreams.

Can Paul escape this nightmare island and save the one he loves? Watch and find out.

We’re all made to believe that no 80’s style movies came out beyond the 80’s but this film proves that wrong. Stuart Gordon pulls out another banger of a movie here and shows that he can make a film without Jeffrey Coombs. Although, Paul did look suspiciously familiar, it shows that the true genius behind the movies is in fact Stuart Gordon’s brilliant directing.

Ezra Godden does a fantastic job. His delivery and range of emotions keeps you captivated and he has some great one liners. A gory, creepy movie with underlying black comedy elements. That’s truly a good mix.

A few negatives for me are that the CGI is in a word: terrible. It is almost like a cheap video game. But it was saved by the most incredible practical effects work. An example is a man’s face being entirely peeled off – truly awesome. Once again it shows that practical effects always hold up, so don’t cheap out! Additionally, there’s a lot of Spanish spoken without translation. It’s frustrating. I understand you’re supposed to be as confused as Paul but it was just too much.

A funny comment, not even a criticism, just something I noted is Paul’s glasses. They’re glued to his face for over half the movie then suddenly they’re gone and it’s as if he never needed them at all…

A lot of films don’t have the balls this film has. The ending is dark and bleak. However, it’s very Stuart Gordon to have the hero fail.

Overall, Dagon is reminiscent of a movie like Braindead or Evil Dead. It’s about a guy just surviving relentless, unstoppable odds. Where great numbers of terrifying enemies keep coming for you, no matter what. How Paul survives I’ll never know but I suppose he simply has the natural instincts to act quickly. You root for Paul to live on and I believe if this film had come out in the 80’s it would definitely be more notable and recognised.

Someone cast Ezra Godden in something!!




Dagon
  • The Final Score - 8.5/10
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