Oh sure, Stuart Gordon’s made more than a few notable B-movies (Dolls, Robot Jox, Space Truckers. No, seriously, Space Truckers, look it up.) in his time, but in the end it’s his Lovecraft inspired films (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak) which have earned him a throng of lifetime devotees. So it was no big surprise when Gordon returned to the tentacle ridden tomes of ole H. P. again in 2002 with Dagon, a story based mostly on The Shadow Over Innsmouth. No, the big surprise is that, after two decades of mining the same territory again and again, Dagon actually turned out to be one of the director’s best.
What Dagon manages to accomplish that other attempts at adapting Lovecraft have failed so miserably at is to capture what The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana: A Guide to Lovecraftian Horror describes as the essence of the author’s work, the cosmic horror of the unknown. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t deliver its fair share of fishy monsters and gooey puddles and the peeling off of flesh (not a scene you’re likely to forget any time soon) that one would expect to find in a Lovecraft movie, because it certainly does. But more importantly, what Dagon has in abundance is an overwhelming sense of doom for what might be coming next.
Shot on location in what has to be the oldest creepiest seaside village in all of Spain, the movie has an atmosphere so wonderfully thick you could latch onto it with a boat hook. Gordon films the town (of course) in a perpetually dark never ending downpour, and you can’t help but get a little case of the willies as the various deformed fish-men lumber and drag themselves through the shadowy waterlogged cobblestone laden back alleyways.
That doesn’t really sound like the kind of town you’d want to visit, does it? That’s why the script wisely has Barbara kidnapped almost immediately, so it gives the character of Paul good reason to stick around and explore the town even after he starts noticing gill slits on the locals and hearing the moans of "Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!" In a way, Paul’s situation calls to mind this week’s first reading in which “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people” Which might make you ask, just what kind of place was this Samaria to be so overrun with possessed people and why would Philip purposely want to spend any amount of time there?
Well, according to the Ask A Rabbi website, which seems to pretty much gel with what Josephus' reported in his Antiquities of the Jews, “The Samaritans were non-Jews brought to Israel by the Assyrians to populate the North after the exile of the Ten Tribes. They ostensibly converted to Judaism, but in reality they continued worshipping idols, save for a period when they were mistakenly considered genuine converts; hence the Samaritans were not considered Jews, neither by Jewish law nor by the Jewish people. They did not accept the Oral Tradition, which forms the overwhelming bulk of Jewish law. They also did not accept any books of the Bible except for the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua… The Samaritans often acted as enemies of the Jewish people. They tried to destroy the Temple and to inform against the Jews to Roman authorities.” So ancient Samaria was basically a place populated with psuedo-Jews with some paganistic influences which might possibly account for the high possession rate. So it’s no wonder the ancient Jews wanted nothing to do with the place.
Except for Jesus, who stubbornly kept showing up in Samaria time and time again, even when He wasn’t all that welcome (the apostles pretty much wanted to burn the place to the ground in Luke 9). So really, Philip was just following in his master’s footsteps. And so must we. Which means sometimes we have to cut off the computers and deal with unbelievers face to face, maybe even on their own hostile turf. As Pope Benedict XVI put it at the Vatican’s World Day of Communication a few months back, "Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world… It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.” So let’s get out there and talk to people. I promise, only a handful of them are devolving into slimy fish-men.