As if to make up for the lack of theatrical exposure Stuart Gordon's Lovecraft-based DAGON received, Lions Gate has prepared a DVD release that is certainly better than that received by most theatrical releasescertainly those that lose money at the box office. The only negative is the DVD's misleadingly cheesy cover (instead of some mysterious wispiness and co-star Macarena Gomez, we get a dark shot of a howling half-human creatureleading one to think this movie is the sort of exploitative cheese that it's distinctly not.)
As I've said before on this site, Dagon is one of my favorite horror films, having landed on that short list after its release this summer. The movie is a remarkably creative piece that accomplishes two seemingly at-odds mean cinematic feats: it successfully adapts H.P. Lovecraft, one of the last century's most unfilmable writers, and it does it with humor that enhances from the horror rather than detracts from it.
The movie opens with a boating accident, as two couples sailing off the coast of Spain hit a sudden storm and wreck on some high rocks. With one of the party injured, the young couple Paul and Barbara take a raft in the storm to the decrepit fishing village they see nearby.
Stuart handles these early moments brilliantlyit's rare to see so clearly that moment when the characters cross a threshold into another world, as the atmosphere suddenly turns foggy and strange and the pair begin to search the deserted village for help. They find a strange, dilapidated church, and a priest whose distant eyes would tell you or me not to trust him at all. Gordon plays the shouldn't these guys get the Hell out of this town motif well by keeping us aware that the heroes are trying to help their injured friends. By the time that duty is less compelling, it's too late.
Where recent DVD releases of movies like THE HOWLING have appalled me with the sort of accidental manner in which things are thrown on, DAGON has the goods I'm looking for: subtitles in two languages, a library of production art shots and storyboards, and most importantly, commentaries.
Both commentaries on the DAGON DVD feature director Gordon, one with lead actor Ezra Godden and the other with screenwriter (and Gordon's former college roommate) Dennis Paoli. This is a brilliant idea, because we get the thoughtful Gordon focusing on story-construction issues with his writer and production issues with his actor. By focusing the conversation, the talks seem more genuine and helpful than a lot of DVD commentaries I've reviewed, where various people are thrown in and just sort of ramble.
We learn a lot of neat tidbits, such as that Macarena Gomez, an actress I regard as her own special effect, was willing to do her underwater scenes in freezing coastal water. Or that the whole film was done with a handheld camera, leading to its claustrophobic sense. As a writer, I'm most interested in the director's reports of various drafts of the script, and how shifting the action from New England to Spain changed the feel of the film. I also found that some of the commentary vindicated the director for some of his choiceswe learn he deliberately avoided subtitles in the theater, to heighten the confusion felt by the lead.
DAGON is one of those films that makes you shake your head in sadness at the odd machinery that gets some poorly made films released, and some well-made films swept straight to the home. What is beginning to be different is that with the right DVD support, that doesn't have to be a tragedy.