Director Stuart Gordon put in time as an enfant terrible on the Midwest theater scene before making his feature film debut in 1985 with Re-Animator, one of the greatest — and sickest — horror comedies. He never quite recaptured that kind of lightning in a bottle, but his latest film, a darkly humorous adaptation of David Mamet’s 1982 play, Edmond, with William H. Macy, is the best thing he’s done in 20 years. Macy plays Edmond Burke, a middle manager who gets some sort of premonition that all is not right in his life, dumps his wife (Mamet stalwart Rebecca Pidgeon), and heads out into the night to beat his chest and find himself a date. Mamet’s non-naturalistic style has always been a specialized taste, and the main character here is a whinging racist and misogynist (and a cheapskate, to boot) who’d be awfully had to take if it weren’t for Macy’s skill with the dialogue — his performance reinforces the existential comedy inherent in his predicament as the archetypal middle-aged white guy with a half-baked philosophy that’s bigger than his experience. With an episodic structure and an audience-friendly running time (less than 80 minutes), this is a trenchantly funny look at Edmond’s cataclysmic encounter with the wider world outside his own narrow mind.
Originally published in the White Plains Times, October 6, 2006
Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon returns to literary horror with Dagon, another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation that takes his trademark grisliness to Spain for a real fish-out-of-water yarn having to do with love, sex and demon worship.
OK. Despite the Lovecraftian pedigree, what we really have here is a cheap horror potboiler: Stuart Gordon’s Attack of the Fish People. I swear that’s not a bad thing. Dagon never works up the impressive head of steam that’s required to make this sort of picture really shine – and the CGI work ranges from bad to worse – but Gordon’s affection for his actors remains in welcome evidence, and for the first time in many years, he manages to deliver the shocks, if not the scares.
The film starts out at sea, with irritating yuppie Paul (Ezra Godden) and his feisty wife Bárbara (Raquel Meroño) on some kind of yacht holiday. A freak storm off an old Spanish shoreline runs them aground, and when Paul heads into a nearby fishing village, Imboca, for help, creepiness ensues. The men in town have webbed fingers and seem startled by his presence. Scary dudes shuffle down alleyways like refugees from a Romero zombie movie. The hotel room seems not to have been occupied in years, and the desk clerk, well, the desk clerk has gills. And, hey, where the hell has Barbara disappeared to, anyway?
After this splendid set-up, Dagon suffers mainly from a distended second act that bears the hefty burden of exposition. (Yes, backstory is important, but let’s have no more of it delivered in lengthy flashbacks narrated by the friendly old man conveniently located by the protagonist, OK?) With the history of Imboca firmly established – and once Paul stumbles across a woman there (the big-eyed Macarena Gomez is a find) who has haunted his dreams – the story moves forward to its nasty conclusion.
Given the downright conservative tone of most horror films lately, the ripping and raping that caps Dagon‘s leisurely build is itself startling. Replete with gore and nudity, the final reels make it to giddy exploitation territory. In one scene, the hero starts reciting the Lord’s Prayer as a ritualistic murder takes place before his eyes, but his words are choked off as the bloody spectacle escalates. It’s a knowing B-movie flourish in a film that’s full of them.