Dagon (2001): Lovecraft and the Fear of Losing Control

    I’m at the point now where I prefer Stephen King to H.P. Lovecraft. With Lovecraft you get a bit of racism, sexism and victimization and nothing that happens has any point, which would make a fun game but not a good story. This film is a shining example of nothing mattering and victimization. This works in the context of a horror film but given all the good Stephen King books I’ve read or films I’ve watched…I like my characters to be empowered, even if they lose they should die fighting and in Lovecraft, that doesn’t happen. This comes out in the adaptations and based off my own bias I have discovered in regards to what I enjoy in a horror film. The one exception I can think of a Lovecraftian horror film that doesn’t fall into this trap fully, is “The Void” which is well worth checking out.

The film was directed by Stuart Gordon and written by Dennis Paoli while being produced by Carlos and Julio Fernandez, Miguel Torrente and Brian Yuzna.

The story involves Paul who is on vacation with his girlfriend Barbara and another couple named Vicki and Howard. When a storm happens Paul and Barbara are forced to go for help at the town of Imboca, but all as not as it appears to be as horror unfolds upon their arrival.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Terror of a Lovecraftian World – Unlike “In the Mouth of Madness” “Dagon” truly captures the terror of what it would be like to have no control and be trapped and isolated. “In the Mouth of Madness” explores the terror of being a character in a story and having no agency, where “Dagon” is having your agency ripped from you. That is one thing that this film does really well and why it works as a horror film.

The Raw Perspective – The film isn’t filmed all that well in regards to the fact that it isn’t stylized and looks raw. This does a good job of contributing to the terror as it gives the film an almost documentary feel, and helps hide the bad CGI making the more practical costumes and effects stand out.

The Town and Setting – The town of Imboca (a translation of Innsmouth like the Lovecraft story of the same name) is terrifying. What would a town be like that was full of people who had been warped by an old one into half-fish people who worship a monster? In this we see that and how they have lost all their humanity and perspective. This adds terror as wherever Paul runs to, he isn’t safe as there are always monsters chasing him and his understanding of what he knows to be true is changed.

The Cons: Paul’s Transformation – We learn that Paul is part fish-person as after Dagon takes Barbara to be his consort he transforms and receives gills. The steps to get here aren’t believable though, it just happens and given how sudden it happens, his human motivations should not change but they do. He should be trying to save Barbara or at least fulfill her last wishes of wanting to die, instead he follows the High Priestess Uxia (his half-sister who wants to be his lover) into the depths where Dagon is.

Dagon’s Motivation – Why does Dagon need a consort? There is no reason for Dagon to take human slaves to have sex with…he is a giant tentacle monster that can warp people without giving birth to them. This I felt was pretty weak and given that Dagon is key to the story we never learn about what motivates it.

The Victimization of the Women – Vicki gets rapes and Barbara is going to be raped by Dagon. This is what happens to the women of the story who aren’t Uxia, whose soul purpose is to victimize women as sacrifices. This is awful and it doesn’t make any sense why an Old One like Dagon would even want this, this is Lovecraft’s warped perspective and honestly a major problem in his writing as this seems to happen to any woman who appears in his stories or stories adapted to film.

The acting isn’t great in this film but I don’t really know if that is a point against the film as it feels raw and real which contributes to the terror aspect of the film, so I can’t really include as a pro or con. This is a film that if you enjoy Lovecraft, you should check out. It captures the worst and best aspects of his writing and the themes within. What I enjoyed most was the terror of the town, which took me back to the town in “Resident Evil 4” where there wasn’t a safe place and you were always on the run. This and the overall tone and foreboding are easily what I enjoyed most, while the characters and events were what had the most to be desired.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Advertisements

12 Days of Doctors – The 1st Doctor – Season 1, Episode 1 – “An Unearthly Child” – An Okay Start

An Unearthly Child

“An Unearthly Child,” with William Hartnell is the first ever Doctor Who episode. The episode was broadcast on November 23rd, 1963. The writer for the episode was Anthony Coburn and Webber and the director was Waris Hussein. This was a big risk to take, no one had really done the concept of the time traveling man in a tv series before this. How does the episode hold up? Well I’ll get into that in the assessment.

“An Unearthly Child,” begins with two teachers Barbara and Ian worrying about their new pupil Susan who has been both super brilliant and in their minds oblivious on a lot of things. When they go to where she lives they find nothing there but eventually are drawn to a police box. From here they run into The Doctor her grandfather and the conflict unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

Pros: The idea – The idea is fantastic. A time traveling alien who looks like us visiting the present with his granddaughter. Why is he there? Why can’t he get home? These are the questions that are posed to us in the first episode as well as reveal how would a refugee alien interact with species that he is so much more advanced than technologically.

An Unearthly Child 13

The First Doctor – I like the First Doctor, you have a guy who tackles the world from a point of separation because for him most of this has already happened, not to mention he fears Susan getting hurt or people learning about who he is initially. It is only because of Susan that Ian and Barbara learn who he is and he deals with their denial of it (largely from Ian) for a good portion of the episode. I don’t know anyone who would willingly choose to put up with that. He is old but he is also childlike too, at one point he traps Ian and Barbara and when Susan says she will leave him with them…leaving him alone he turns on the T.A.R.D.I.S. (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) in order to run away from them revealing him to the world and running away from Susan leaving. This running is a major part of his character and why he wasn’t on Gallifrey in the first place. Hartnell is fantastic in the role.

TARDIS An Unearthly Child

The T.A.R.D.I.S. – Looks like a police box, inside is shows the larger interior of the space ship. It is a great introduction to this vehicle and we get to see it go back in time when the First Doctor runs away with them in it.

Okay/Con – The Companions – The teachers are concerned but are unable to accept the truth that is right in front of them, Susan is also pretty useless too. She is the innocent who must be protected and the one time she tries having agency leads to the Doctor running. Susan, Barbara and Ian are basically generic people in this…which is a shame since Susan is a Time Lord too, but we don’t really get that beyond her knowledge that she most likely got from the Doctor, making her no more than a generic human companion who those with agency (the Teachers and the Doctor) try to protect.

Execution – The teachers are stalking a student because they are worried, and Susan does not look 15. This would have worked much better at a British University or school where her disappearance tied to her age would be more noticed, or cast someone who looks like they are a teenager.

So, how is the first outing with the Doctor and our first time with the First Doctor? It is Okay. The T.A.R.D.I.S. and the Doctor are the best parts, but the script isn’t really elevated. I would have continued watching if I was watching it when it first aired cause I’d be curious where they were taken to and I would like to see more character development from the companions and learn more about the Doctor. I wish the Doctor had been introduced earlier in the episode, we don’t even meet him until it is already halfway though and Barbara and Ian cannot carry the script.

I recommend it because it is the first episode, but it is very average and forgettable. Going to give it an extra point because it does introduce us to the Doctor and the T.A.R.D.I.S. though.

Final score is 6 / 10.