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Long before Guillermo del Toro's magnificent "The Shape of Water" wowed audiences and critics alike with a supernatural fantasy of a woman falling in love with a "fish-man", Stuart Gordon, legendary purveyor of (often Lovecraftian adapted) horror films, offered his take on two of H.P. Lovecraft's famous short stories, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and "Dagon" respectively, in his 2001 film "Dagon." Filmed in Spain, "Dagon" is an ethereal horror film through and through, blending tremendous atmosphere, Lovecraft's legendary brand of dread and macabre, and Gordon's unflinching auteur's eye to offer nearly 100-minutes of well-crafted horror that will remain in your psyche after the disc is out of the case and back on the shelf. Long available on DVD, Lionsgate brings "Dagon" to Blu-Ray for the first sporting a digitally remastered transfer and a bevy of bonus features for fans and newcomers of the criminally underrated film alike.
Full disclosure: "Dagon" remains one of my favorite horror films and one of my all-time favorite Lovecraft adaptations. I have fond memories of discovering in, heavily edited on an early morning Saturday airing on SyFy (then still called Sci Fi). The film's methodical pace, dark visuals, and haunting score from Carlos Cases was instantly burned into my brain and acquiring it on DVD was an instant must. That aside, let's clear up any confusion about the film's content in relation to its title. Although titled "Dagon" and containing elements of the short story, the film itself has much more in common with Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" in terms of setting and guiding plot, although the oceanic themes do tie the two stories together here. The film begins with our protagonist Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden), his fiance and two friends stranded on a remote coastal fishing isle following a storm that sinks their boat. It's not long that Paul finds the village of Imboca (a clever Spanish play on Innsmouth) is harboring something truly unsettling.
"Dagon" is structured in a fairly standard three-act structure with each act very distinct in tone. Dennis Paoli's script allows Gordon to slowly eek-out the moments of dread or horror in a satisfying fashion as we get glimpses of Imboca's residents, clad in heavy clothes, many of whom have scarves over faces; by the time we begin to see the true nature of the residents, even though we know it's coming, the result is still unsettling, leading to a great "chase" sequence where Paul is physically capable of outrunning any pursuer, but bound by the unfamiliarity and isolation of Imboca itself. An argument could be made, the film's second act, largely built on a cat-and-mouse game of pursuit bogs the film down, and honestly, the film could be trimmed of a few minutes here-and-there, but Gordon's audacious pacing is what sets "Dagon" apart from the generic genre piece and amidst the dark, rainy locales, Paul's dread is felt to the bone.
While I obviously won't speak of the film's third-act in too much detail, it's here the film becomes viscerally upsetting with events alluded to in one of the films' earlier and most brilliant sequences, a flashback to the founding of the Esoteric Order of Dagon as relayed by Imboca's only "normal" resident, Ezequiel (Francisco Rabal in a fantastic, final performance). The haunting score and madness relayed in the flashback are transformed into outright horror and "Dagon's" final act is unsettling and as memorable as the seeds it's sprouted from. The make-up effects are top-notch and on full display here, with the only major disappointment (of perhaps the whole film entirely) being a bit of really so-so CGI that was needless to begin with.
"Dagon" is truly one of the more underrated genre offerings and among the finest of any H.P. Lovecraft adaptation brought to the big (or small) screen. It's truly fitting that the master himself, Stuart Gordon is behind the helm and the decision to shoot in Spain while largely for budgetary issues is a final piece of perfection in the crafting of an expertly made horror film. "Dagon" for me is just as ethereal and spooky as the first time I saw it neary 15-years ago. It is a must own for genre fans and a must-see for fans of unknowing dread.
The 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen transfer definitely lives up the moniker of being digitally restored, however despite a clean transfer, pitch-perfect contrast (a must for a film largely set in rainy, dark outdoor sequences), and haunting color palette, the overall level of detail leaves much to be desired. There's nary a hint of original film grain and in fact a lot of the detail itself seems to be sapped from the image, with the indicators of overly liberal DNR work being applied. The presentation is a definite improvement over the older DVD release, but it would be an outright lie to say to anyone: fan of the film or newcomer alike, the visual presentation is a noted disappointment.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track is thankfully more in-line with a modern HD release than the transfer. It's a rich and aggressive at times for thematic effect, reproducing the wonderful score in an enveloping fashion. Surrounds are used to key effect to provide a sense of confusion and dread, while dialogue is crisp and clean. Overall, it's a powerful audio mix that honestly exceeded every expectation from a film of this nature. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
Arriving from the previous DVD release are two stellar commentary tracks: one featuring Gordon and screenwriter Paoli, the other featuring Gordon and the star of the film, Ezra Godden. The first track is arguably the best in terms of hearing two creators discuss their creation.
The rest of the disc is loaded with interview segments (all running in the 20-30 minute range). Mick Garris interviews Gordon in "Gods & Monsters" about the production in a recent piece that makes reference to the success of "The Shape of Water" which obviously shares some thematic similarities. Brian Yunza is also interviewed in "Shadows Over Imboca" and in "Fish Stories" the subject is Lovecraft expert and author S.T. Joshi. All three featurettes are well-worth a viewing and provide solid-insight into the production and source material. Additional archival interviews of cast and crew are included as well as a vintage EPK featurette. Finally, a storyboard gallery, conceptual art gallery, still and trailer gallery provide a little more insight into the making of this classic.
"Dagon" makes its way onto Blu-Ray in a truly must-own package. Apart from the disappointing transfer (which is still a major upgrade from DVD), there's little more that could have been included to make this a comprehensive release. "Dagon" remains a criminally underrated, early 2000s horror offering. It is some of Gordon's all-time best work and easily one of the most thematic and affecting adaptations of Lovecraft's work to date. Highly Recommended.