Paul Marsh, along with his girlfriend Barbara, vacation with their friends Vicky and Howard aboard Howard’s sailboat off the coast of Spain. A sudden violent storm rolls in and the vessel is thrown onto the rocks, beaching it and damaging the hull. Below deck, Vicky is trapped in the wreckage and the boat is taking on water fast. Unable to free her or call for help on the radio, Paul attempts to get help from the town by firing a flare gun. When no one responds to the signal, Howard tells them to take the rubber life boat to shore for help. As Paul and Barbara race to the shore, the rubber raft strikes something in the water and begins to take on water and they barely make it to the dock before it sinks.
The town is devoid of life and all the buildings are dilapidated and shuttered. They locate the church, bearing the name Esoterica Orde de Dagon, and Barbara speaks to the priest in Spanish, enlisting his aid. They return to the dock and the priest has two very pale fishermen take Paul back to the stricken boat while Barbara remains behind to contact the police and doctor. Barbara is directed to the hotel to use the phone but when she arrives at the hotel, she is attacked by the clerk and priest. Not able to find Howard or Vicky on the boat, Paul returns to shore and the priest tells him Barbara left for a neighboring town to contact the police and asked him to wait in the hotel for her.
When he arrives at the hotel, Paul notices slits like gills in the neck of the clerk when he gives him a room key. Upon entering the room, Paul finds it dilapidated and filthy. Looking out the window, he notices a group of townsfolk, all deformed, gathering outside the hotel. When they notice him, the residents converge on the building to attack him. Paul barricades the door and as they break their way in, busts into an adjoining room and leaps from the window, falling through a glass roof into an adjacent building, injuring his ankle in the fall. The building is apparently a tannery and contains many human skins hanging up to dry, including the skin and face of Howard. As his pursuers come for him, Paul starts a fire in the building and the panicked residents desperately try to save the skins, enabling him to escape.
Making his way down the street, Paul runs into an old drunkard, Ezequiel, who tells him he saw the townspeople kill Vicky and Barbara. Ezequiel also tells Paul how the cult started in the town. When he was a little boy, the fishing in the waters near the village became bad and threatened the survival of the residents. They tried praying in church, but that did not help and a sea captain told the town about a sea god that would bring the fish back, but no one believed him. As conditions worsen in the town, the sea captain and some followers go out on the rocks near the sea and summon the sea god Dagon and worship him. The next morning, fish are plentiful in the village and objects of gold are found all over the beach. Converted to Dagon, the townsfolk destroy the objects in the church and murder the priest, turning the building into the worship house for Dagon. When the gold stops appearing, Dagon’s priest blames it on the unbelievers, particularly Ezequiel’s father and executes him in the church and drags his mother off. The priest declares all will worship Dagon or die and the females begin to be mated with Dagon, resulting in the deformed townspeople. Ezequiel is the only fully human left in the town of Imboca and they leave him alone, as he is a drunk.
Paul is not sure he believes Ezequiel, but wants out of the town and enlists his aid in escaping. Ezequiel takes him to the mayor’s house to steal his car, the only one in town. Ezequiel distracts the guards as Paul attempts to hotwire the car, but he accidently blares the horn and is forced to flee into the house. He hides in a room that is inhabited by a bed-ridden young woman, who does not betray his presence to her father. Approaching her bed, he realizes she is the face of the mermaid in his dreams.
The woman, Uxía, is overjoyed to see him and claims to have been waiting for him. They begin to kiss and when he starts to undress her, he discovers she has gill slits on her abdomen and tentacles for legs. Horrified, he flees despite her pleas to stay and exits the house. After beating the chauffer and taking his keys, Paul steals the car and tries to leave town, but he wrecks the car and is captured.
He is locked in a barn with Ezequiel and a still living Barbara and Vicky. Vicky claims to have been raped by a creature in the water and Ezequiel backs up her claims. Barbara has Paul promise to kill her if they try to mate her with the creature. When the townsfolk come for them, they attempt to fight their way out, but are overpowered. In the confusion, Vicky manages to grab a knife and commits suicide by slicing through her abdomen. As the residents drag Barbara off, Ezequiel and Paul are brought to the tannery and restrained.
The priest gives Ezequiel the chance to live if he will worship Dagon, but he refuses and spits in the priest’s face. Furious, the holy man begins to skin him alive, peeling his face off like a mask then hanging it up to dry. Turning his attention to Paul, he starts to cut into him until Uxía arrives and forces him to stop. She tries to convince Paul to agree to stay with her, and he agrees on the condition that she will free Barbara. Uxía refuses, citing the lack of recent sacrifices to Dagon. Not seeing any other choice, Paul seems to acquiesce and Uxía leaves, ordering the priest to bring Paul to the church. When he is untied, Paul grabs a knife and stabs the two guards before gutting the priest.
In the underground chamber that serves as a church, Uxía, the High Priestess of Dagon, carves symbols into Barbara’s nude body. When she finishes, Barbara is chained by her wrists and suspended over a water-filled pit. As her blood drips into the water, the townsfolk, wearing masks made from human skin, begin to chant. Uxía summons their god, Dagon, and lowers Barbara into the pit to mate with him. While the cultists are preoccupied with the ceremony, Paul arrives unseen and uses gasoline to start the cultists on fire. As they flail about burning, Paul attempts to raise Barbara out of the pit, but he is too late as Dagon has already raped her. As Barbara pleads for him to fulfill his promise and kill her, the tentacled god rises up from the water and pulls her back down into the abyss.
The surviving cultists pummel a stunned Paul until Uxía orders them to stop, revealing the gills that are now forming on Paul’s abdomen. Uxía explains to Paul that her father brought many women to the village to mate with them, one of them being Paul’s mother, making them brother and sister and her destined lover. Paul refuses to join her and douses himself with gasoline, and lights himself on fire. Horrified, Uxía strips off her robes and flings herself at Paul, knocking both of them into the pit, extinguishing the flames. Paul begins to breath from the gills on his abdomen and he and Uxía happily swim off together.
Dagon is a very faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, changing only the locale from Massachusetts to Spain and adding additional characters to flesh out the story to create a feature length film. The film adds many new elements in the screenplay that are hinted at in the original story and fit in with the narrative. Along with the classic Re-Animator (1985), it is one of the best film adaptations of Lovecraft’s work and in my opinion, surpasses the earlier film.
Initially, an adaptation of Lovecraft’s story was rumored to be in the works since 1985. Thankfully the producers waited until the special effects technology advanced enough to create life-like man/fish hybrids for the movie. The special effects utilized for the many creatures look fantastic and appear realistic when combined with the CGI. The scene of the priest skinning Ezequiel is particularly realistic and stomach-churning, providing for a very shocking and revolting scene.
The biggest drawback to the film is the main character of Paul. For most of the film, I found him to be whiny and annoying, making it hard to root for him to escape. While the film would have been improved by a better characterization for Paul, this flaw does not provide an insurmountable distraction from the overall enjoyment of the story. The heavily accented dialogue of Francisco Rabal as Ezequiel proves a larger distraction to the viewer as his speech is difficult to follow at times, possibly resulting in the audience missing important plot points.
While far from perfect, Dagon is a very dark film that captures the uneasy and terrifying atmosphere of the original story that Lovecraft fans will enjoy.
Running Time: 98 minutes
Ezra Godden, Francisco Rabal, Raquel Meroño, Macarena Gómez, Brendan Price, Birgit Bofarull, Uxía Blanco, Ferran Lahoz, Joan Minguell, Alfredo Villa, José Lifante, Javier Sandoval, Victor Barreira, Fernando Gil, Jorge Luis Pérez, Ignacio Carreño, Diego Herberg, Óscar García, José Manuel Torres, Lydia González, Lydia Bosse, Joan Manel Vadell
Executive Producer – Carlos Fernández, Juan Fernández; Producer – Brian Yuzna; Line Producer – Miguel Torrente; Director – Stuart Gordon; Screenplay – Dennis Piaoli; Director of Photography – Carlos Suárez; Music – Carles Cases; Special Makeup Effects – David Martí