The Gorgon: Another winner from the House of Hammer

The Gorgon directed by Terence FisherThe Gorgon directed by Terence Fisher

Just one of the pictures that Hammer Films turned out in 1964, out of an eventual eight, The Gorgon finds the famed studio dipping into the well of Greek mythology for the first time, to come up with still another solid horror entertainment. The film, besides reuniting Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (the two would ultimately appear in a whopping 22 pictures together!), also showcased the talents of director Terence Fisher, who would helm 27 films for the House of Hammer by the end of his career (including such beloved pictures as Four-Sided Triangle, which was Hammer’s first sci-fi outing, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Mummy, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Devil Rides Out, five of the studio’s Frankenstein titles and three Draculas), as well as Barbara Shelley, who would soon be regarded as one of THE queens of British horror by dint of her appearances in such films as Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Quatermass and the Pit (for this viewer, however, she will always be Venus, from the classic Avengers episode “From Venus, With Love”). And as if that weren’t enough talent both in front of and behind the camera, the film was scripted by John Gilling, who would ultimately direct six pictures for Hammer himself, including such beloved mini-classics as The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile.

In The Gorgon, a university student named Paul Heitz (played by Richard Pasco) comes to the German village of Vandorf, in the year 1910, to investigate the recent deaths of his brother and father, both of whom had mysteriously been turned to stone by an unknown agency. Local doctor Namaroff (Cushing) is secretive and unhelpful, while his assistant, Carla (Shelley), seems a bit more sympathetic. The legend of the Gorgon Megaera (still-living sister of the Tisiphone and Medusa Gorgons of Greek antiquity) is one that no villager wants to speak of, but after being hospitalized due to just catching a glimpse of Megaera in the reflecting water of a fountain, Heitz has little doubts as to her existence. But if the Gorgon takes human form by day, who on Earth can she be? Fortunately for Heitz, his professor from Leipzig University, Meister (Lee… Mr. Tall, Dark and Gruesome himself, here playing a “good guy” in a Hammer film four years before his Duc de Richleau in The Devil Rides Out), soon arrives on the scene to proffer some much-needed assistance…

In truth, it really is remarkable how Hammer was able to fashion a perfectly acceptable horror outing with little in the way of special FX. This is a film that surely might have benefited from some Ray Harryhausen-type of stop-motion animation magic in bringing the Gorgon to the screen. As played by Prudence Hyman, the creature looks more like some old biddy with a bad makeup job whom you might encounter on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, while her snakelike tresses barely move and, when seen from the middle distance, look more than anything like the multi-candled headpiece that the geriatric female Satan worshipper sports in the ’67 Hammer picture The Witches. But somehow, the lack of top-grade FX doesn’t seem to matter here. The actors are all so good, down to the smallest bit part (Michael Goodliffe is especially fine, playing Paul’s doomed father), the sets are so endearing (especially that stylized nighttime cemetery, and the interior of Megaera’s lair, the deserted Castle Borski), James Bernard’s music is so effectively eerie, that the picture is easily put over the top.

Gilling’s screenplay is a compact one, with little flab, although it should be fairly easy for anyone but the most dim-witted viewer to deduce the human identity of the Gorgon; so easy, indeed, that it is probable that it was not even intended to be a mystery. And need I even mention how wonderful Cushing and Lee both are in this film, although their screen time together is limited to only a few brief scenes? Also, for this viewer, how nice to see the brutish Jack Watson on screen, here playing hospital attendant Ratoff; Watson, for me, will always be best remembered as Juggins, who went after Emma Peel with a whip in another classic Avengers episode, “Silent Dust.”

Grand yet modest fun for all ages, from its opening shot of the Castle Borski to its deliciously (and surprisingly) downbeat ending, The Gorgon is yet another winner from the legendary House of Hammer.


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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