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

1922 (2017): The Price of Toxic Entitlement

Netflix is the streaming service that is master of the great original shows and the okay to good movies. I have never seen a great movie on Netflix and this good film is a shining of example of a problem I see running through their films, and why they don’t reach that final point that I’ve seen come out of studio films. I’ll get into what I mean later on, as we continue Horror Week with “1922” a film adapted from a Stephen King book of the same name.

The film was written and directed by Zak Hilditch and produced by Ross M. Dinerstein and adapted from the Stephen King book of the same name.

The story involves a farmer named Wilfred (Thomas Jane) who plans to murder his wife in order to own the land and to do it with the help of his teenage son.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. Visually it feels like you are inside a dark storybook and the visuals of the ghosts, especially his wife and later his son is haunting. There is great use of the shadows and light to imply danger and I couldn’t look away while watching. It is easily the best looking Netflix film I’ve watched. 

The Cost of Toxic Privilege – This is a film that tackles toxic privilege, specifically in regards to males and masculinity. We see this in how he cares nothing for his wife and her interests and how he immediately plans to kill her when she is moving on and planning to sell the land and move to the city. He gets his son in on it too as his son fears moving away from the girl he’s dating. In both cases both his son and Wilfred get what they want through violence and control. Wilfred kills his wife and his son is robbing stores around the state to take in order to keep being the the neighbor girl. They never see past themselves and no one questions his wife’s disappearance because a wife in the 1920s, “Is a man’s business.” You don’t question the husband. This is toxic privilege and male entitlement and it is the demon that leads to his Wilfred’s end.

The Tragedy of the James Family – The main arc of the story is how Wilfred’s act ruins the family. In killing his wife his son loses his guide and impregnates the neighbor girl who is 14 like him. Together they run away and he becomes a crook before finally dying as all this time his wife’s ghost haunts him and forces him to confess after he losing everything he loves. The act of selfishness and murder based on something as stupid as land are Wilfred’s undoing.

Okay: Wilfred James’s Motivation – Wilfred was a small time farmer and Thomas Jane portrays his “man of the land” mentality beautifully. The problem is I felt like the jump to killing his wife felt so contrived. I get that entitlement, greed and privilege were major motivators of the act but the steps it took him to get there didn’t feel concrete. We needed to see more of their relationship falling apart before he begins justifying what he plans to do.

The Cons: The Character Arc of the Son Henry – His son loves the neighbor girl, he is worried about losing her so he helps his father kill his mother…I know 14 is a stupid age but I never believed his motivation. The fact that the actor isn’t very good doesn’t help. He was easily the weakest part of the story and film.

Most Netflix films are very clear in their themes, have small casts and look great visually. These are all reasons that I appreciate this streaming service as I haven’t ran into too many outright terrible films to come out of Netflix. They also never reach that higher place, often because they fail to develop the motivations of their characters to the fullest degree. “1922” has an amazing cast but I could not tell you fully what the motivation of the son and father was behind the murder. I know what I was told, but it wasn’t explored enough to fully make the impact it should have had. If you like Stephen King, you will probably enjoy this film as I did, just know it could have been more.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

The Langoliers (1995): A Good Idea that Didn’t Need the Monsters

   “The Langoliers” is an infamous Stephen King film. The Nolstalgia Critic did an early takedown of some of the more hokey aspects of it. This is not a good film, the acting and writing are awkward and it could have been cut way down in length. The thing is though, I don’t hate this film. The core idea and the tone are actually handled really well and the Stephen King theme of people being our own worst enemies is done beautifully given the other limitations listed above. I’ll get into what I mean deeper into the review.

The mini-series was directed by Tom Holland who co-wrote it with Stephen King. The film is inspired by Stephen King’s short story Four Past Midnight.

The story involves a bunch of passengers who find themselves trapped on a plane in which all the passengers have disappeared. From here they must find out what is going on, where the other passengers are and where they’ve been transported to.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Tone – The tone of this tv show is actually pretty great. There is a sense of foreboding, isolation and paranoia. The characters are trapped and it pervades the piece in how the music and scenes are presented. We get scenes of silence where we are in the head of our characters and the mystery author being a major character leaves the trap as something to be un-weaved, increasing the sense of isolation and paranoia.

Isolation and the Consequences of It – Stephen King loves exploring what fear does to people, especially when people are cut off from society. “The Mist” film did this extremely well and the book “The Stand” and even aspects of the Gunslingers world encapsulate this too. This theme is handled decently in this film. We see how isolation drives our characters insane and causes conflict between them, eventually leading to one of the folks who is already unstable, going off the deep end and breaking down, becoming a threat to everyone else who is still alive.

Unseen Terror – We don’t see the Langoliers (the time monsters) until the end and it is the fact that we don’t see them that really helps increase the foreboding tone and sense of isolation. We see time collapsing on itself at one point and that is terrifying enough as our characters are in a race against time and don’t even know if they have a way out. It is in the fact that we don’t know what these creatures are that keep up the tension, we hear them approaching and see how it makes the characters afraid and that is enough.

Exploring the Nature of Time – At the end of the day this is a time travel story. Our crew passes through an event where they find themselves in the past and learn that time gets destroyed by the Langoliers as it catches up to the present and as they pass into the future they realize they can get ahead of the present as well.

The Cons: The Writing – The writing is not very good, it is actually kind of bad. The characters are all tell and no show and it is a major thing that brings the story down. The best parts of this film are when characters are silent or the moments of implication in a backstory. A character not sharing their backstory is when this film is strong. This was co-wrote by Stephen King, but that couldn’t save the problems in the script.

The Performances – The performances are a bit stilted (this is made for television) but some characters are great in just how hammy they are. Bronson Pinchot is enjoyable in how over the top he is and I did enjoy Stockwell’s mystery author. He was the only one who seemed to know what he was doing. A lot of the others felt like they didn’t really know what they were doing.

The Langoliers – The Langoliers are a joke. Special effects of this era in television weren’t good and these creatures are a shining example of it. They clearly look like bad CGI and they aren’t scary in the slightest. The thing is this could have been easily avoided, we should have never seen these things or not had them at all. Time become erased as it comes to the present is a scary enough concept as is without adding badly done teeth monsters. When they popped up on screen I burst out laughing….that’s how bad they look and how all the tension and build up was immediately canceled out.

This was a film that could have been good if it hadn’t shown the Langoliers (or gotten rid of them all together) and with some better casting and writing decisions could have even been a great mini-series. Sadly this is not the reality we are in and it was the length, performances and finally the Langoliers that made this film merely okay. I’m not ready to write it off as I did enjoy the idea and Bronson’s over the top performance coupled with Stockwell’s exploration of unraveling the premise was enjoyable. So I didn’t hate this film, though there is so much that doesn’t work. If you like Stephen King and his works, this is worth checking out for how he explores time but besides that…you have to really enjoy King to get enjoyment from this work. I understand the infamy of this film, even if I don’t share the hate.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10 Not good, but fun.

Halloween Horror Week

It is once again that time of year for me to do “Horror Week.” The month of October has been busy so I finally got around to it this week so it won’t be a month of horror like what I’ve done on the blog in the past. This month the two themes I’m exploring are films inspired by Stephen King books and Lovecraftian inspired films.

On the Stephen King side I’ll be reviewing the newest “IT,” “1922” and “The Langoliers” and on the Lovecraft inspired side I’ll be reviewing “In the Mouth of Madness” and “Dagon.”

Both of these authors are ones I enjoy and the otherworldly horror is such a cool concept in fiction, and seeing the different ways it can be brought to film is part of what makes the film media so amazing. How do you show the abstract and make your audience through fear? These films all do that to varying degrees and that is one thing I’ll be exploring as well as any philosophical ideas that may enter the works.

So without further ado, so being 2017’s Halloween Horror Week.