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Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

Dagon


Residents of a fishing village tempted by greed evolve into freakish half-human creatures and must sacrifice outsiders to an ancient, monstrous god of the sea. (From Vestron’s official synopsis)

Stuart Gordon’s career spans a plethora of genres and subjects, but the critical acclaim behind Edmund (2005) and the growing cult following behind Robot Jox (1990) will always pale beside the legacy of his breakthrough H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986). He continued dabbling in horror, sci-fi, and even made one more Lovecraft-themed movie ( Castle Freak, 1995), but it took him sixteen long years to adapt one of the author’s most famous works, Dagon (a oft-repeated short from The Shadow over Innsmouth, pub: 1931). Gordon’s Dagon was, in keeping with much of his career, made in Spain on a shoestring budget with assistance from original Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna. Like all of the director’s best films, it was ambitious beyond its means. However, this time, such aspiration was marred by the state of the B-movie industry during the early part of the 2000s. Whereas Gordon’s ‘80s/’90s work embraced budgetary restraints with an abundance of charming physical effects, drawing from an array of artforms, and rich, vibrant photography, Dagon was his first movie to feature extensive digital effects work. His lack of experience and money, combined with the inherent limitations of the technology and choice to shoot largely handheld, make for an unattractive, anonymously styled movie. Fortunately, Gordon’s talent for suspense and penchant for disturbing imagery helps him to overcome some of his more regrettable visual choices, especially as the film enters its raucous climax.

Though Dagon also overstays its welcome, Dennis Paoli’s screenplay offers some surprises and the cast is game to chew some scenery in the true Stuart Gordon tradition. That said, sometimes, the actors seem to be performing in at least three different movies, which makes me think that the Spanish-to-English language barrier was quite broad. There’s a prevailing sense that the filmmakers are trying to recreate the Re-Animator dynamic, such as the themes of cursed love and blasphemy creating monsters. But, the most Re-Animator-like thing about the movie is probably lead Ezra Godden, who seems to have been modeled to include elements of both the nebbish mad scientist, Herbert West, and his lovesick straight man counterpart, Dan Cain (though he’s described by Gordon as ‘Woody Allen meets Harold Lloyd’). Godden can’t quite match the appeal of Jeffrey Combs or Bruce Abbott, but he isn’t a terrible substitute and helps to center Dagon during its less polished moments. The dreary, rainswept tone works quite well for the expositional flashback at the center of the film. This sequence is one of the few pulled directly from the short story and it is strong enough to stand on its own, possibly in some kind of repurposed anthology that could draw upon other overlong Gordon/Lovecraft adaptations Castle Freak and Dreams in the Witch-House (2005).

Dagon was released on DVD throughout the world, including one from Lionsgate in the US and two-disc sets from Filmax Home Video in Spain and Sunfilm in Germany. The first Blu-ray was put out via Vertriebs GmbH & Co. in Germany, but it was an interlaced transfer and featured a slightly censored cut of the film. Fans have more to look forward to here from Vestron’s full 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer. Dagon has always looked to me like it was shot using early digital video, despite all available specs claiming that Gordon used 35mm cameras. My assumption is that the look is the result of the 35mm footage being scanned using a not great CRT machine in order to add effects. Whatever the cause, this new Blu-ray transfer doesn’t correct the issue, nor should it really be expected to. I’d like to think that rescanning the original negative would produce a better result, but I suspect that the digital effects were applied to an already subpar scanned source (there’s also considerable digital grading, which likely does not exist on an original film source anymore). Anyway, the issues here are typical compared to other Vestron releases, pertaining mostly to softness and lack of texture. The digital-y look doesn’t help mitigate either problem, but edges are sharp and fine details improve the Lionsgate DVD. That DVD’s haloes and hotspots have been largely corrected, leaving some slightly blocky gradations (these are most significant during blue-tinted shots) as the only particularly notable digital artefacts.

Dagon is fitted with a single 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio English soundtrack. Though filmed in Spain with a largely Spanish cast & crew, Dagon was shot in English, so viewers aren’t missing anything with the lack of additional language dubs. The aural field is full-bodied throughout, often in a nearly-successful bid to cover up some of the budgetary constraints. Dialogue-heavy sequences are a bit threadbare, but they’re usually contrasted well by big scare cues, thundering storms, chugging ocean waves, and directionally-enhanced creature noises. Composer Charles Cases crafts a relatively epic original score, which also helps to broaden the scale of the film, though it isn’t used very often.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli – This first archival track is a pleasant discussion between the director and writer, who reunited for the fifth time for Dagon, following Re-Animator, From Beyond (1986), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), and Castle Freak. Gordon and Paoli are full of charming anecdotes and informative behind the scenes stories.
  • Commentary with Gordon and actor Ezra Godden – The second archival track offers Gordon a chance to cover information he missed the first time around, as well as cover some of the cast’s side of the production via Godden.
  • Gods & Monsters (22:26, HD) – Filmmaker Mick Garris (the guy behind just about every Stephen King TV adaptation released during the ‘90s) interviews Gordon about his interest in Lovecraft, casting, shooting in Spain, locations, special effects, and trying to premiere the film in the aftermath of 9/11.
  • Shadows over Imboca (19:53, HD) – Producer Brian Yuzna discusses the long development history of a Stuart Gordon-directed Shadow over Innsmouth movie, the many changes to the adaptation over the years, and finally financing and making Dagon.
  • Fish Stories – S.T. Joshi, the author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (pub: 2010) – who can also be seen talkin’ Lovecraft on Scream Factory’s Resurrected BD release – offers a crash-course on the author’s fear & fascination with the sea and the publishing history of the short story Dagon.
  • Conceptual art gallery from artist Richard Raaphorst
  • Archival extras:
      [
    • EPK behind-the-scenes featurette (27:17, SD)
    • EPK interviews with Stuart Gordon, Ezra Godden, Julkio Fernández, Raquel Meroño, and Francisco ‘Paco’ Rabal (21:32, SD, English/Spanish with no subtitles)
    • Trailer
    • Storyboard and still galleries


 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature


Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

Beyond Re-Animator


After causing the Miskatonic University Massacre, Dr. Herbert West has been serving a prison sentence for the past 14 years. When Howard, a new young doctor, comes to work as the prison MD and requests Dr. West’s assistance, Dr. West discovers that Howard has something he left behind 14 years ago...(From Vestron’s official synopsis)

As one of the most enduring cult films of the last century, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator seemed destined to spawn a legion of sequels, and yet, despite a legacy of homages that extend from other ‘80s horror films all the way to children’s cartoons in the current decade, there are only three films in the series’ official canon. The first sequel, Bride of Re-Animator (1989), was directed by the first film’s producer, Brian Yuzna, and released close enough to the original to have a modicum of impact. It was also pretty good, though awfully dependent on callbacks to Gordon’s film. It took almost 15 years for Yuzna to get a second sequel off the ground and, when he finally did, it was relegated to European theaters and a US premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel. When released, Beyond Re-Animator felt like a stopgap between the first film and a couple of high-concept ideas that both Gordon and Yuzna had for the franchise. Gordon’s House of Re-Animator was set to be a political satire, in which Herbert West was tasked with re-animating a George W. Bush-like president played by William H. Macy. Yuzna’s Island of Re-Animator would’ve been a Re-Animator-flavoured version of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. Now that Beyond has been cemented as the final chapter in Jeffrey Combs’ Herbert West story, it’s actually a little bit easier to forgive its shortcomings. That’s faint praise to be sure, but genre fans have always been good about revisiting our opinions when confronted with a dearth of content.  

Almost the entire movie is set in a prison, which is an outstanding setting for a Re-Animator film, because it both offers the title character an abundance of dead bodies to experiment upon and acts a prefab location to cover the production’s considerable budgetary constraints. At the time, Yuzna was coming off a strong run of pictures that emphasized colourful photography and outrageous, borderline cartoonish special effects, including Society (1989), Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993), and a knee-slappingly goofy adaptation of Tim Vigil & David Quinn’s Faust: Love of the Damned (2000). Beyond Re-Animator often feels smaller and cheaper than any of those films, but still tries very hard to match their energy. Yuzna even succeeds at some points, especially wherever over-the-top gore & creature effects are concerned. There are no tonal hang-ups when it’s comparing to the first two Re-Animator movies – in fact, the story themes/plot devices are carried further than they were in the first sequel – but there’s an underlying problem of Yuzna and co-screenwriters Miguel Tejada-Flores, José Manuel Gómez & Xavier Berraondo failing to match the wit found in Gordon and screenwriters William J. Norris & Dennis Paoli’s original script. The jokes begin and end with gross-out gags and absurd imagery (climaxing early with a sentient severed penis) that stops short of the clever wordplay and character-based sequences that made the original film a true classic. Combs himself is, of course, great in this final appearance, but he’s playing a darker, burnt-out version of the character, so his sarcastic quips are a bit saddled.

Beyond Re-Animator was released during the post-DVD era and is readily available on the format throughout the world, including a US disc from Lionsgate. The only Blu-ray on the market before this one was a double-feature with Bride of Re-Animator from Umbrella in Australia. This is another film that has always looked suspiciously digital to my eyes and, considering it was made by the same production company, I assume this is another case of 35mm film being CRT scanned for preservation and distribution. Unlike Dagon, however, which includes extensive early CG, I believe enough of Beyond Re-Animator’s effects were shot in-camera that a rescan of the original negative might have made the difference. Regardless, this mediocre, but far from awful 1080p, 1.78:1 is what we have to work with. The typical Vestron softness is here, but reduced, thanks to tighter details and consistently busy compositions. The flattest close-ups have some rough grading, there’s a dash of haloing, and the dark wide-angle shots exhibit mosquito noise, but the overall presentation is cleaner than any DVD version I’ve seen. Colour quality is inconsistent – sometimes, it’s vivid and clean, but it often bleeds during the darkest scenes, causing some blacks to appear more like muddy greens or blues.

Beyond Re-Animator comes fitted with another DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English soundtrack. Viewers may notice that the lip-sync of secondary/tertiary characters is off. This is tied not to problems with the track, but the fact that some members of the Spanish cast were dubbed in post to disguise their accents. The mix leans on exaggerated, sometimes ‘canned’ effects, and the directional cues match this cartoony quality, but there’s also quite a bit of depth to the environmental ambience of the echoey prison. Composer Xavier Capellas reuses and boosts the sinister factor of Richard Band’s main Re-Animator themes (the most famous of which were, of course, already recycling parts of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho theme). The music sounds quite rich with nearly perfect layering and smooth LFE support. It’s only too bad Capellas’ work is so underutilized outside of the opening titles and some cool techno-meets-Danny-Elfman action bits.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Brian Yuzna – This archival track occasionally suffers from low energy and long pauses, but also covers the bulk of the production from financial processes, to the careers of all the various cast & crew members.
  • Isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Xavier Capellas – For this new track, Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher interviews the composer for about 25 minutes, followed by more than an hour of non-screen-specific music.
  • Beyond & Back (18:50, HD) – In the first new interview, Yuzna discusses working on the previous Re-Animator films, conceptualizing the third movie, shooting in a real prison, and designing special effects.
  • Death Row Sideshow (20:09, HD) – Jeffrey Combs talks about the franchise, Herbert West’s lack of character growth, and complains (in a good natured way) about being the only American on set.
  • Six Shots By Midnight (16:13, HD) – S.T. Joshi further explores the author’s professional history, the original Re-Animator stories, and the various movie adaptations.
  • Production art gallery by illustrator Richard Raaphorst
  • Archival extras:
    • Still gallery
    • Vintage EPK featurette (17:17, SD, English/Spanish with no subtitles)
    • Dr. Re-Animator “Move Your Dead Bones” music video – This wacky, guilty pleasure earworm is an absolute must-see. Sadly, it is not in HD or even anamorphic video.
    • Trailer


 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

 Vestron Lovecraft Double Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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