Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Gorgon (1964)

The Gorgon was an interesting 1964 attempt by Hammer Studios to get away from the vampires/mad scientists movies and from recyclings of the old Universal films. So this time they came up with a monster that was certainly original. A gorgon. Yes, one of those ladies with the snakes for hair, that turn you to stone if you look at them. Quite what a figure from Greek mythology (in fact one of Medusa’s sisters) is doing in Central Europe in around 1910 I’m not sure, but she’s causing plenty of problems.

The local people are in denial about all this, and the doctor responsible for conducting medical examinations of murder victims (played by Peter Cushing) doesn’t even mention the tuned-to-stone part in his post-mortem reports! When a young artist, Bruno Heitz, disappears after his girlfriend is turned to stone his brother Paul and his father come to the town looking for answers. They find Dr Namaroff (Cushing) to be decidedly unhelpful, although his assistant Carla (Barbara Shelley) is more forthcoming. Soon she and Paul are in love but Dr Namaroff is also in love with her. Investigating the mysterious Castle Borski, reputed to be the haunt of the gorgon, Paul has his first encounter with this creature, in a scene that really shows director Terence Fisher at his best - it’s moody and imaginatively and skillfully filmed and Fisher wisely shows us only the briefest indirect glimpse of the gorgon. Paul is left physically shattered, but the investigation is continued by his mentor, Professor Karl Meister (Christopher Lee).

There’s not too much outright excitement in this movie, but there’s plenty of atmosphere and Hammer’s ace production designer Bernard Robinson really excelled himself in this one. Cushing was always good playing character with a certain degree of moral ambiguity and he does a fine job. Christopher Lee plays a blustering hero type and seems to enjoying himself. Patrick Troughton of Doctor Who fame contributes an entertaining supporting turn as the local police chief.

The Gorgon doesn’t have enough actual scare value to qualify it as front-rank Hammer (and the makeup effects for the gorgon when we finally see her are rather disappointing) but it tries to do something different, it consistently looks good, it’s superbly photographed by Michel Reed, it delivers the atmosphere and overall its decent entertainment. Second-rank Hammer then, but good second-rank Hammer, and anything directed by Terence Fisher is worth a look.

The widescreen DVD transfer in the Icons of Horror boxed set is absolutely magnificent. If you’re a hammer fan you’ll want to see this one.

1 comment:

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