Stuart Gordon has solidified a reputation as one of the horror genre’s heavyweights through a very narrow margin of good work. The immediate standouts of course are the classic “Re-Animator,” and from my point of view, the superior “From Beyond.” Personally, “Dolls” only squeaks by because it’s heavily greased up in nostalgia. Outside of a few titles, Gordon’s resume is rather disappointing. There were strained efforts to rekindle Gordon’s heat over the years, though their failure had more to do with the economics of Full Moon. I remember sitting through the not-even-awful-enough-to-be-laughable “Robot Jox” and thinking, “holy shit, this is by the guy who made 'Re-Animator?'” It wasn’t until the “Castle Freak” affair that I was fully discouraged from ever giving another shit about what Gordon was doing. As with most Full Moon films at the time, the only cool thing about the movie was the action figure tie-in, and even still, the movie itself was impossibly shitty, so it made it hard to even wanna own the thing.
Fast forward to a cozy, rainy afternoon some time in the mid-2000s fit to be wasted on Sci-Fi channel originals. This was back before some woman had disfigured the network’s reputation with her gynocentric re-titling. I was probably poised for my third horrible feature of the day when Brian Yuzna’s Executive Producer credit prompted eye-rolling. But wait… hold on. Directed by Stuart Gordon? This was a winning combination. Yuzna had sporadic hits with the live action “Guyver,” “Return of the Living Dead III,” and I even really loved “Bride of Re-Animator.” The works that defined Gordon as one of the “masters of horror” were produced by Yuzna, and it was very apparent that once that team parted ways, the quality of Gordon’s work declined. Say what you want about some of his movies, bottom line is that Yuzna is a great producer, and Charles Band is not.
The film that once again united Yuzna and Gordon was titled “Dagon,” yet another HP Lovecraft inspired horror jaunt, this time inspired by “The Shadow over Insmouth.” Ten minutes in, and it was very apparent that these two guys were still very capable of creating palpable atmosphere – something Gordon’s post-“Dolls” productions lacked completely.
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Rarely do so-called Lovecraft adaptations closely resemble their source. That’s been the main criticism from fans for years. However, since most of Lovecraft’s stories are relatively short, they require a great deal of embellishment. Of all the Lovecraft films floating around, “Dagon” is easily in the top percentile in terms of its faithfulness to the source material, though it still takes quite a few liberties. Gordon’s robust reverence for the Lovecraft universe feeds and makes healthy the overall spirit of the production, while Yuzna brings great value to the production. Everything from the production design, locations, and special effects are wonderful. All ingredients spun together conjure an atmosphere strong enough to stand toe to toe with something kind of Giallo. Not that I’m saying this is Giallo, but the vibe is rich enough to compete in that class.
My only criticism toward the film will probably seem odd to most, but there is a fairly graphic torture scene where an urchin who’s been aiding Paul has the flesh skinned from his face. It’s not that I’m squeamish, but this part kind of feels out of place compared to the rest of the film. Otherwise, this stands as one of Gordon and Yuzna’s best efforts to date. It’s a shame we never got a follow up.