Tuesday, July 24, 2018

DAGON (2001) (Vestron Video Blu-ray Review)

DAGON (2001)

Label: Lionsgate/Vestron Video Collector's Series
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: R
Duration: 98 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Surround 5.1 with Optional English, Spanish Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Ezra Godden, Brendan Price, Javier Sandoval, Victor Alcazar, Francisco Rabal, Raquel Merono, Macarena Gomez

Dagon (2001) opens with our main guy Paul (Ezra Gordon, Band of Brothers) having a nightmare, in it he is scuba diving and discovers some strange underwater ruin, also encountering a toothy mermaid (Macarena Gómez, Witching and Bitching), startled he wakes up next to his girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Meroño). We come to realize he's on a boat sailing off the coast of Spain along with husband and wife Howard (Brendan Price) and Vicki (Birgit Bofarull), on some sort of vacation. Not long afterward a severe storm blows in and the boat becomes stranded on some rocks just off the coast of a small island called Imboca. Vicki is seriously injured during the wreck and her husband Howard stays behind with her while Barbara and Paul take a dingy to the nearby island. They arrive at a small fishing village that looks to be abandoned at first, but they eventually find a strange priest at a church, who in turn enlists the help of some fisherman to return to the scuttled boat with Paul and retrieve his friends. However, when they arrives his friends are gone, returning to the island empty handed he finds that his girlfriend is also now missing, and things just get weirder from there. 

It turns out the island is home to a race of fish-men who worship a deep-sea old god named Dagon, as they rain pours down ceaselessly he makes his way around the island looking for his girlfriend, eventually finding some help from a seemingly crazy drunkard named Ezequial (Francisco Rabal, Nightmare City), who appears to be the last full-on human left on the island. He spins a tale for Paul, explaining how everyone else on the island has been transformed into half-man, half-fish hybrids who worship an ancient undersea god.

The special effects of this one are fun, the webbed-fingers and deformed fishy features of the locals is eerie and weird, I like that as they mutate they lose the ability to stand on their own as their bodies morph slowly into tentacled appendages, it's a nice touch, with many of the locals hobbling around on rudimentary crutches and other wheeled devices. At one point Paul finds what looks to be a tannery full of human skins (including one of the friends from the boat), and he begins to see how truly desperate things are, coming to realize what exactly his recurring mermaid nightmare means, trying to save his girlfriend from becoming a breeding partner for the Lovecraftian water-god while also trying not to become another skinned ritual sacrifice himself for the same dark God.

The film is loaded with atmosphere and Lovecraftian intrigue, the ever present downpour of rain and the mysterious fish-men on a strange island makes for a good watch, enhanced by some attractive lensing and an powerful eerie score from Carles Cases (The Nameless). I really liked the main protagonist as played by Ezra Godden, he looks a bit like a younger Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) with similar looking cropped hair and spectacles, not helping is that he's also wearing a Miskatonic University sweatshirt. He balances fright, desperation and humor well, it's not slapstick funny but there's definitely some humor imbued into his performance, he's a bit inept, coming across almost like Ash from Army of Darkness at times, a reluctant hero. 

What didn't work for me are the poorly rendered and dated digital special effects, from the underwater shots of the boat early on to the emerging water-demon it's bad, real bad, so hopefully your invested in the story by that point so you can bee a little forgiving about, which I am. 

The story doesn't have a lot of narrative momentum, once on the island there's a lot of mystery and weirdness, with it becoming a chase film with siege moments, culminating in a show of Lovecraftian other worldliness, and there's a reveal that by the time they get around to has been strongly hinted at for long enough that it's not really a surprise in my opinion. 

Audio/Video: Dagon (2001) makes it debuts on Blu-ray from Lionsgate as part of the Vestron Video Collector's Series, not sure what the source for this one is but it's not an elevated transfer like we saw with Vetsron's release of Beyond Re-Animator. Presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.78:1 widescreen the image is off and on soft looking and sufferers from heavy digital noise reduction stripping it of grain, leaving skin tones looking waxy. Black levels are generally good but there's some artifacting and black crush that shows up as well. If I had to guess I would say that Vestron probably did not have access to the original elements and were supplied an older master provided by the licensor with some baked-in DNR and just went with it. 

The lone audio option is an English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 mix that has some effective use of the surround channels, especially during the shipwreck scene at the start of the film and with the continual downpour of rain, I kept thinking it was raining outside my house, the score from Carles Cases (Darkness) sounds fantastic in the mix, optional English subtitles are available. I don't generally critique menu screen but notably the audio volume on the menu seems to be set much higher than the feature presentation. I went into the other room as the title credit were rolling to do something and suddenly the score from the film was blasting through the house at a much higher volume, which startled me a bit.

Vestron offer-up some new interesting extras produced by Red Shirt Pictures, the first being an interview with Stuart Gordon conducted by Mick Garris, with Gordon revealing how he came to read Lovecraft, as a kid and how this was actually supposed to be his follow-up to Re-Animator, but apparently the idea of fish-men was even too ludicrous for Charles Band and Empire to want to do. So it ended up being produced in Spain years later with Brian Yuzna producing it through his Fantastic Factory production company. Gordon speaks about combining elements from Lovecraft's Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and what it was like shooting in Spain, and finding the fishing village location. He also teases us with some spooky ghost stories from the location, what it was like working with actress Macarena Gomez and what a find she was, proving brave enough to jump into a pool of cold water that was deemed too cold for the stunt people, who then had to do it since she was willing to do it. There's also discussion of the make-up F/X and he touches on Lovecraft's anti-semitism - it's a solid watch with loads of information about the production, it even opens with Gordon telling the story of how when he was working for Disney on one of the Honey I did something to the damn kids movies that none other than Roy Disney caught him screening a rough cut of Dagon in the Disney screening room, and he liked it!

Up next we have a new interview with Producer Brian Yuzna who also speaks about wanting to follow-up Re-Animator with Dagon through their deal with Empire Pictures, but they balked at the idea of a fish-men story, reviving the project years later when he moved to Spain and had a production deal with Filmax, shooting in Spain and deciding along with Gordon that they needed to tone down the appearance of Dagon onscreen, knowing from experience on his own film Faust: LOve of the Damned (2000) that Spain just did not have the resources to do at the time. He also describes the rainy wet condition as being miserable, having been shot in the winter he enjoyed being nearby in a bar that served whisky with imported Scottish ice cubes and Cuban cigars while the cast and crew suffered.   

Then onto an interview with S.T. Joshi, author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft -  you can tell he's a passionate fan of Lovecraft so that makes his conversation all the more interesting. He speaks about the source material for the film, Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, how they were originally published, the author's fascination with the sea and world-ending deities, and the cults who spring up around them. Also giving his opinion on how this adaptation fares, and speaking of Lovecraft's disdain for seafood and film in general. The last of the new extras in a 9-min Art Gallery from Artist Richard Raaphorst, lots of gorgeous conceptual art from the director of Frankenstein's Army (2013).

Additionally Lionsgate saw fit to carry-over what looks to be all the extras from the previous special edition DVD release, this includes two audio commentaries,  the first with Director Stuart Gordon and Screenwriter Denis Paoli, the second with Gordon and star Ezra Godden, of the two I went with Gordon and Paoli, they paint a fuller picture of the production and have a great rapport with one another. We also get 22-min of vintage interviews, a 27-min EPK, storyboards, still gallery and theatrical trailer. 

The single disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, I dig the new illustration Vestron went with, it has a woodcut charm about and it captures the essence of the film nicely, I believe it was done by Justin Osborn whose done loads of covers for Scream Factory. The same artwork also adorns the slipcover and the disc, the slipcover branded with the Vestron Video Collector's Series banner and the spine of both the slipcover and artwork are numbered.

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon and Screenwriter Denis Paoli
- Audio Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon and Star Ezra Godden
- NEW – “Gods and Monsters” – A discussion with Director Stuart Gordon, Interviewed by Filmmaker Mick Garris (22 min) HD
- NEW – “Shadows over Imboca” – An Interview with Producer Brian Yuzna HD
- NEW – “Fish Stories” – An Interview with S.T. Joshi, author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft
- Vintage EPK (27 min) HD 
-  Archival Interviews with Stuart Gordon, Ezra Godden, and other Cast and Crew (22 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) 
- NEW – Conceptual Art Gallery from Artist Richard Raaphorst (9 min) HD
- Storyboard Gallery (9 min) HD
- Still Gallery (5 min) HD

Shortcomings aside I think Dagon holds-up surprisingly well as a hybrid Lovecraft adaptation, Stuart Gordon is the go-to guy for this sort of thing, so much so that when I think H.P Lovecraft adaptation on film his name is always second on my tongue after Lovecraft, and there's a reason for that, he had a real affinity for bringing these to the screen, and even this later entry in his career manages to bring the otherworldly magic. Not all the special effects hold-up though, the digital stuff is bad, but the tone, atmosphere and locations are pretty fantastic, it's not perfect but it'll do the job when you're craving a Lovecraftian vibe. Vestron did good with the new extras, they're rather excellent, and the audio sounds fine but the video transfer on this one seems a bit iffy, better than the old DVD but not up to current standards of HD by any means.