aka Dagon – Sect of the Sea : Spain 2001 : Stuart Gordon : 94 mins

ONE-LINE REVIEW: Saucer-eyed actress Macarena Gomez is a real find, but this new Barbara Steele is wasted in a shoddy HP Lovecraft adaptation from the man who – unbelievably – once made Re-Animator.

Stuart Gordon has had his ups and downs over the years, but he’s never come close to matching the impact of his kick-out-the-jams 1985 debut Re-Animator, from one of H P Lovecraft’s lurid tales of from-beyond horrors. So expectations were high when it became known that his long-gestating project based on the same writer’s longer (and, in many ways, much better) story ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ was finally going into production.

It’s a mark of Dagon‘s failure that many fans of Gordon and Lovecraft may still, at the film’s end, be wondering whether this is, in fact, the ‘Innsmouth’ movie at all. Only the barest, crudest aspects of the story are retained: we still have an isolated, dilapidated fishing community (but on the coast of Spain, not New England) which, we find, is dominated by a pagan religious cult conducting unwholesome relations with undersea nasties. But pretty much everything else is Gordon’s brazen, cack-handed improvisation.

Here, the (literally) God-forsaken town is discovered by American yuppie Paul (Ezra Godden) and his Spanish girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Merono) after a violent storm that wrecks their yachting holiday. Seeking help, the pair explore the run-down port, and try to check in at a spectacularly dingy hotel. It isn’t long before Barbara is abducted by a sinister, pasty-faced ‘priest’. forcing Paul to unlock the town’s terrible secrets. Aided in his quest by the local booze-soaked oldster Ezequiel (legendary Spanish thesp Francisco Rabal), Paul finally comes face to face with Uxia (Macarena Gomez), an alluring temptress who holds the key to his past – and his destiny.

Gordon’s approach is stodgy at best, with a couple of stilted, gauzy flashbacks when the ‘Capitano Birdseye’ like Ezequiel handily fills in Paul – and us – on the town’s back story. But the director makes the most of the one unambiguous trump card at his disposal: Macarena Gomez is, on this evidence, a proper, old-school scream-queen. It isn’t just that, with her striking black hair, pale skin and unfeasibly enormous eyes, she’s a dead ringer for the legendary 60s horror icon Barbara Steele, except a little less alarming-looking – she could plausibly be cast as Laura Fraser‘s sister in a ‘straight’ drama. And she’d hold her own: though Uxia can be commandingly scary when required, she’s also sexy, sweet, and appealing, even when we see she’s got great long tentacles instead of legs.

Even working in English, Gomez acts everyone else off the screen – though this isn’t a difficult task alongside the lacklustre likes of Merono and Godden. Merono, thankfully, doesn’t get much screen time – but we get far too much of Godden, who starts off looking like Re-Animator‘s nerdish protagonist Jeffrey Combs and, by the end, has made an unconvincing transformation into a Bruce Campbell-style action hero after ditching his geeky specs. But the newcomer is equally unsuited to either role – he’s even upstaged, in the early scenes, by his in-joke ‘Miskatonic University’ sweater (the alma-mater of Sandra Dee in 1969’s Lovecraft classic The Dunwich Horror) Like the movie, he’s neither one thing nor the other: veering in tone between horror, b-movie cheesiness and awkward comedy, Dagon feels much longer than its alleged 94-minute running time. There are some rather desperately gory bits in the second half to break up the tedium, but these can’t compensate for the fact that the title character – a submarine Leviathan-god – turns out to be a terrible disappointment when he does finally deign to put in an fleeting appearance.

2nd July 2002
(seen 15th April, De Balie, Amsterdam : 18th Fantastic Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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