Can’t really do a proper Mermaid themed Review Festival without visiting some of the quaint antediluvian submarine horrors of H.P. Lovecraft’s Deep Ones, now can we? Although our “little mermaid” in this one has more resemblance to Ursula the Sea Witch than Princess Ariel, I’m thinking Stuart Gordon 2001’s Lovecraft inspired film “Dagon” fits in just fine. But then I’m a sucker for romance and even freaky octopus girls need sweet forbidden love too, now don’t they? Hehehehe!! 😉
Our synopsis reads like this: “Paul Marsh is yachting along the Spanish coast with three companions when a freak storm causes their boat to founder on the rocks. With the ship sinking, and one of his friends trapped in the wreckage, Paul and his girlfriend Barbara take a small boat to a nearby village to find help to free them. But the town of Imboca and it’s locals seem odd and freakish, and their behavior grows increasingly strange and threatening. Soon it’s clear that Imboca is a place mired in a shadow of evil that threatens them all unless they can somehow get away. But… once Paul meets a local girl, who has appeared in his recent nightmares as a mermaid, he realizes that the fearful world of his dire dreams is now a deadly reality… a reality which he may never escape.”
So, if you, like a wee Catgirl, also have a taste for the icky cosmic horrors that inhabit Lovecraft’s tales of terror, then “Read On” o’ Gentle Visitors and lets all find out some of those secrets “man was not meant to know…”
The film opens with a dream sequence in which our hero Paul Marsh (played by Ezra Godden) is scuba diving and discovers weird cyclopean sunken ruins at the bottom of the sea. They are covered with odd runic glyphs and raised motifs of prehistoric sea creatures that he soon discovers are inlays of solid gold. Before he can really consider the meaning of this he encounters a beautiful naked mermaid girl (played by Macarena Gomez), who swims up and removes his mask before seemingly embracing him for a seductive kiss. But… in a moment of nightmare terror, her luscious lips part to reveal a mouth of horror crammed full of needle teeth as she sweeps in to devour him…
Annnnd then he awakens with a start in the arms of his girlfriend Barbara (played by Raquel Meroño). Yep… it was just all a dream… Or was it? Lovecraft loves to have his tortured protagonists suffer from prophetic nightmares and repressed memories, and director Stuart Gordon loves replicating the style of Lovecraft’s horror in his films, so naturally you just know our “mermaid” is gonna end up returning somewhere in the future. And somehow we also just know that’s not gonna be a good thing…
Not too long in the future either, because before we get much more than a quick introduction to girlfriend Barbara, and his yachting friends Howard and Vicki (played by Brendan Price and Birgit Bofarull respectively) a crazy storm blows up out of nowhere driving their boat up onto a reef, crushing a hole in the side and pinning Vicki below deck in the debris. Luckily, it would seem, they are right off shore from a little Spanish fishing village, so Paul and Barbara decide to take their inflatable launch ashore to get help.
The village, Imboca, is a dilapidated ramshackle place clinging to the land like the flotsam and jetsam left by an ill tide. With their rubber boat ruined by sharp rocks during the approach, they badly need to find someone to help before the yacht sinks. However, the village seems weirdly empty, but for eerie singing that they trace back to the local church. But this church is not your average church… it’s a freaky eerie place that definitely starts our little pair to worrying. Even after they find the oddly disturbing priest (played by Ferran Lahoz), who seems willing to help them.
They manage to get him to enlist the aid of some pretty sketchy fisherman and their boat to take Paul back out to the wreck, but the Priest convinces Barbara that she should go to the local Hotel to use the phone to summon a doctor for Vicki and contact the provincial police since there are none stationed in Imboca itself. Uhhh…. yeah… let yourselves get split up by the creepy locals… that sounds like a plan. It’s no surprise she gets assaulted and kidnapped by the “helpful” Priest and Hotel manager before Paul can return. 😉
Paul heads out with the fishing boat, but while he’s on shore, Howard and Vicki have already met their horrible fate as some unseen thing from deep beneath the sea, drawn by Vicki’s seeping blood, has already risen to the surface to pull them both into the dark briney depths. But don’t worry… we’ll see them both again…
By now, those of you familiar with Lovecraft’s stories already know what’s afoot. Imboca is some sort of version of Innsmouth, decrepit home of the degenerate Deep Ones, those mutant fish people cultists of Cthulhu and his ilk. This time out, all the fishy worship is directed at Dagon, another of Lovecraft’s favorite evil Great Old Ones, but it’s pretty much business as usual for the forces of cosmic freaky evil. And exactly what business would that be? Well, the sacrifice of all male outsiders to the glory of the great Dagon, and giving all the unfortunate women to him for the vile purpose of breeding more crazy fish mutants. Ooops. I’m pretty certain poor Barbara isn’t gonna be happy…
With Howard and Vicki missing from the boat without a trace, Paul returns to shore and is told to go to the Hotel to rest, that Barbara has gone to a nearby town to fetch the police, and will meet him later. Left to wait for her in an old, filthy hotel room, he tries to vainly to sleep but dreams of the “mermaid” again and awakens in terror.
Before he can wonder where Barbara is, he is disturbed by a mob of the strange, fish-like locals approaching the hotel intent upon breaking into his room to seize him. Forced to make his hasty escape, he crashes into a tannery where macabre human skins are stretched across frame to dry. Here he finds Howard’s remains and knows at last the true danger that he is in.
While running in terror he encounters a lone drunkard named Ezequiel, the last human left in Imboca (played by Francisco Rabal). That’s handy because by this point we need somebody to fill us in with Imboca’s dark history. It’s a pretty standard tale. The village fell on hard times after the fish stocks became depleted. A merchant Captain Orpheus Cambarro (played by Alfredo Villa), already corrupted during his journeys to the Far East, introduces the village to the worship of Dagon. He promises both the return of the fish to Imboca and wealth from the sea in the form of gold, and at first the villagers are more than happy to abandon their Catholic Priest and the worship of a seemingly impotent God. Things only turn bad when Dagon begins to demand live sacrifices and human women to breed with. By then, with the murder of their original Priest on their hands, the villagers are damned and unable to say no.
He convinces Ezequiel to help him, and he gets led to the Mayor’s manor, so he can try to steal the town’s only car so he can escape to bring back help. Our hero isn’t much of a car thief, and nearly gets caught, but is saved from the mutants by the beautiful daughter of the Mayor named Uxia (also played by Macarena Gomez), who looks just like the mermaid from his dreams. She’s not surprised to meet him either… and seems to have been having the same recurring dreams about him as well. There’s some inexplicable connection between them and Paul feels it at once. She’s eerily seductive, and almost mesmerized Paul is drawn to her charms only to discover to his horror, that she’s in reality a half woman, half octopus mutant that sends him fleeing in horror despite her poignant pleas to stay by her side. (And here I thought mermaids with their fishy “lady bits” were nasty…)
There’s a bit more chasing around, but you know that eventually our hero will find the mind shattered Vicki, following her rape and now carrying the monstrous spawn of Dagon. She doesn’t last long, committing suicide rather than enduring the horror any more. Ezequiel and he get caught, and Ezequiel is skinned alive in a particularly horrible sequence. That leaves our shaken hero to face the mutants after Uxia intervenes on his behalf. Luckily for Paul… if anything in this movie can be called “lucky”… as the daughter of Mayor Xavier Cambarro, direct descendant of Captain Cambarro, Uxia is the High Priestess of Dagon and she has decided Paul is her destined soulmate. She implores him to join with her and revel in the gifts of Dagon rather than suffer the same terrible fate as Ezequiel. Some choice huh?
Paul seems to accept her proposal, and Uxia orders the Priest to make the arrangements for their marriage while she sees to the cult’s sacrifice of Barbara to the lusts of Dagon. Once she leaves Paul goes all apeshit and kills both his guard and the Priest and grabs a can of kerosene to follow the eerie chanting deep into the catacombs beneath Imboca. There the Imbocans are riotously reveling as Uxia tortures Barbara, who is chained to a winch above a deep well that leads through deep subterranean passages to the sea.
Paul arrives and uses the kerosene to break up the celebration, but not before Barbara is cast down the well into the grasp of Dagon. Paul pulls her up to the surface again… but it is too late. Dagon has had his filthy way with Barbara and all she wants to do is die. Luckily for her, Dagon lurches out of the well and tears her to bits right before Paul’s eyes, before plunging back into the Stygian depths of the well.
Then comes the prerequisite Mythos ending… for the hideously deformed Mayor Xavier Cambarro, reveals himself and tells Paul that the dreams he has been having prove that he is really Paulo, his long lost son, stolen away years before by Paul’s mother, another of the women lured to Imboca as breeding stock for the cult. This makes Uxia his half sister… and she implores him again to join them as her incestuous lover and rule the cult with her once her father has left the land to join Dagon in the depths for eternity.
Paul’s mind is close to shattering as he realizes the truth in what they have revealed… and he wants no part of it. He douses himself with the last of the kerosene and tries to kill himself by self-immolation, only to have Uxia throw herself and him into the well, where he discovers that the fire has opened the strange birthmarks along his side and revealed them as gills. His mind shattered… he surrenders to his fate as Uxia embraces him… and leads him deep into the ruins he’s dreamed of since the beginning of the film where they will apparently live forever in the domain of Dagon. Run those credits!
So that’s that. Not a bad little movie, but not much in the way of a character driven piece. It feels for the most part like a short story rather than a whole book… appropriate in a way, since it was inspired by short stories. Given the speed with which it moves, the suspense suffers a bit in favor of the gore. That’s somewhat at odds with Lovecraft’s style, which was more about making you feel the dread of his stories and situations than in bludgeoning you with shocks. Still, all in all, Gordon manages to capture the “body horror” aspect of Lovecraft’s work in his portrayal of the decaying and corruptive mutation that Dagon inspires among his cultists. I give it a pretty solid 3 “Meows” out of 5 for giving you the Heebie-jeebies in all the right ways.
The DVD was the Region 1 release, available for right around 10-15$ most places. It’s presented widescreen and letterboxed in mostly in English language… and also quite a bit of Spanish dialog as well. Thank goodness for the close captions… definitely worth a look if squishy horror of a cosmic nature with evil mutant mermaids is your thing. (And if it is your thing, perhaps you should seek professional help… Hehehhe… 😉 )
Naturally there’s a Trailer, so prepare yourselves Gentle Visitors for the mind blasting cosmic horror that is… “Dagon”…