The Gorgon (1964)
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In this connection, it is appropriate to observe that Terence Fisher was absolutely right in considering this one of his best films.
And make no mistake: this film is very much in the 19th century Gothic tradition in both story and atmosphere. In that sense, it may be compared to a story by Ludwig Tieck, while its visuals hearken back to the paintings of Jacob van Ruisdael.
Visually, it is among Hammer's most accomplished productions. Michael Reed's effective photographic renderings include: a nocturnal cemetery festooned with fluttering autumnal leaves, the viscerally chilly, fog and frost bitten ravine (you can almost watch your own breath smoke in merely watching it) where a hanged man is discovered, the vast shadowed Castle Borski depicted under a full moon with scudding clouds, to name but a few.
And Mr. Reed is ably abetted by production designer Bernard Robinson whose key piece in this film: the deserted inside of the self-same Castle Borski is a marvel of tattered armorial flags, dust laden furniture, and sinister mirrors. The musical score is also one of Hammer's best and most effectively understated.
But the film belongs to the incomparably lovely Barbara Shelley's "Carla Hoffman"--she of the sweeping pelisse seated on a gilded throne in the deserted castle. It is to be hoped that someday this accomplished beauty will receive all the retrospective attention surely due her. For now, suffice it to say, that few actresses in the history of cinema have constructed a portrayal so wholly and precariously based on an enigma, an enigma Miss Shelley consistently reveals in every gesture, expression and nuance, without allowing her character, "Carla" the possibility of even understanding it herself.
It isn't merely that her Carla is fatally charming and alluring, but decent and humanitarian as well, a victim, to be sure, but not at all in the degraded, naturalistic way that Jean Seberg's portrayal is in "Lilith" a film to which "The Gorgon" is frequently compared.
Much can always be found to admire in anything Miss Shelley does. For now let us just close with a passing note on her deportment, the absolute self control she exercises in her throaty, perfectly modulated voice and carriage. Would that actresses today would study her technique !!!!!!!!!!!
Watch her in her first confrontation scene with Peter Cushing in his parlor, where she accuses him of stonewalling during the inquest, just prior to the entrance of Paul's father--Professor Heinz. Merely observing her majestically exit the room after being introduced to the Professor is worth the whole price of admission!
Peter Cushing is rather unsympathetic and pitiful here (but still commanding as ever); Christopher Lee (playing much older than his years and who only really comes onto the scene during the last half-hour) is his usual pompous self; Richard Pasco, then, makes for an unusual hero. As for the identity of the titular creature, Megera, this isn’t much of a mystery – since Barbara Shelley is virtually the only female in sight (and, conveniently, suffers from amnesia spells during the cycle of the full moon); Hammer does seem to have had their myths mixed up here, and isn’t Cushing rather negligent in having failed to prove his theory for five whole years?! Other notable cast members include police chief Patrick Troughton, Michael Goodliffe (as Pasco’s father, who along with his other son, falls victim to The Gorgon) and Jack Watson as Cushing’s over-eager aide.
In most aspects, this is a typical Hammer product from their 1955-68 heyday: rich-looking (production design courtesy of Bernard Robinson) but essentially undernourished – the monster ‘attacks’ being centered around one family unit, while the much-feared castle seems to be situated in the immediate vicinity of the local inn! Still, most of the Hammer stalwarts (above all director Fisher and composer James Bernard) are in good form – however, the two stars only interact in one brief scene and Roy Ashton’s make-up isn’t exactly great (which Fisher, astutely, generally films from a distance and, in fact, we only get to see her full figure at the very end).
Needless to say, I’d love to see this receive an official DVD release – along with my two most-desired Columbia/Hammer properties, namely TASTE OF FEAR (1961) and THE DAMNED (1963).
It boasts a wealth of Hammer expertise: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are at their peak; John Gilling scripted lucidly; James Bernard's score is one of his finest, the familiar overwrought strings underlaid with a spectral organ effect; and Michael Reed's pathecolor photography defines the Hammer look', all sombre interiors and gorgeous autumnal forests. But the triumph is finally director Terence Fisher's.
The film begins beautifully with the credits superimposed against the twilit battlements of Castle Borski. Other touches fleetingly capture the mood of gothic-romantic literature. Professor Heitz beguiled into the forest by the Gorgon Magaera's distant siren-call. Her reflection glimpsed through the dead leaves floating on a mill pond. The encounter by moonlight in the graveyard between Richard Pasco and Barbara Shelley.
The Gorgon is certainly one of Hammer's most pessimistic entries. The setting is turn-of-the-century Middle Europe and the production-design more Teutonic than ever (Hammer, ever economical, transposed the monster of Greek classical myth to their familiar Germanic milieu). When we join the story the village of Vandorf has been under Magaera's baleful spell for seven years. Much of the action takes place in a repressive asylum. And Castle Borski is not the richly appointed seat of other Hammer films but a broken windswept ruin.
Characterisation is equally unrelenting. Cushing's Dr Namaroff is a more ruthless and maniacal variation of Van Helsing. Lee's Professor Meister , though gruffly benevolent, is overbearingly fatalistic. Meanwhile the most sympathetic characters - Carla, Paul, his father and brother - are all killed.
OK, inevitably the Gorgon's makeup is weak (though it scared me when I first saw it at age 11). The sickly green palor and spidery wrinkles are good, but the snake-hair just looks like she washed it the night before and couldn't do a thing with it. Half-glimpsed, her first appearance is remarkably effective, though. Her graceful tiptoe from behind the cobwebs in ghastly counterpoint to what we know will be her terrible visage. A sudden shock close-up and she disappears - almost glides - back into the shadows in long shot, a sequence as well done as anything Fisher has ever constructed. Alas, audience expectation (something Hammer usually deferred to) demanded a full-facial exposure at the end.
The temptation would be to say that The Gorgon might have worked better in black and white - but that would be to deny Michael Reed's disciplined use of colour. Perhaps only today's enhanced computer-graphics could properly pull off the effect required.
That flaw apart, The Gorgon survives as an early Hammer classic that can stand alongside Dracula, Brides of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The film is very typical of Hammer in that it features a lush colour scheme and a lot of eerily Gothic settings. The Gorgon is directed by Hammer's most prolific director, Terence Fisher, and as usual - he does a solid job. The fact that this film stars both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee is definitely to its advantage, although it is unfortunate (as is the case with many of their joint ventures) that they don't get to spend a lot of screen time together. Neither one is at their very best; but even Lee and Cushing on autopilot makes for great viewing, and neither one disappoints. It has to be said that the special effects are a bit shoddy and the monster doesn't look particularly scary; but stuff like that is part of the charm of Hammer Horror, and personally - I wouldn't have it any other way! It all boils down to a pretty standard conclusion, but while nothing about this film stands out too much next the rest of Hammer's output - it still stands up as a more than decent little horror film and I'm certain that my fellow Hammer fanatics wont be disappointed with it!
This British production was directed by Terrence Fisher & I didn't think The Gorgon was one of Hammer's best by any stretch of the imagination. The script by John Gilling takes it central idea from Greek mythology & plays around with it a bit to accommodate Hammer's particular forte, the Victorian set Gothic style horror mystery. I personally found the story a bit silly, even sillier than the average Hammer offering & it is one of the most predictable 'mysteries' I've seen as the identity of the Gorgon is utterly obvious. At only 80 odd minutes it moves along at a fair pace, I wouldn't say it's boring but at the same time I can't say that I really got into it, the story just didn't engage me or draw me in with forgettable character's, dull dialogue & the baffling decision not to have stars Cushing or Lee meet until the final 10 minutes & only then very briefly.
Director Fisher does alright & despite some obviously studio bound European exterior locations it looks nice enough with a strong colour scheme, forget about any style though as this is pretty much point & shoot stuff. I wouldn't call The Gorgon scary either, there's a reasonable atmosphere but not as strong as other notable Hammer productions of the period like The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). The Gorgon creature itself looks terrible with awful face paint & a poor fitting wig with rubber snakes, as Christopher Lee once supposedly said 'the only thing wrong with 'The Gorgon' is the gorgon!' & I'm struggling to disagree.
Technically the film is OK, it's well made but some of those sets really do look incredibly fake, as usual for Hammer at the time it was shot at Bray Studios in Berkshire in England which is probably why it never convinced me for a second that the film was set in Europe. The acting is OK but as already mentioned Cushing & Lee only meet at the very end & Lee is only seen once during the first 50 minutes which just seems like a waste to me. Soon to be the second Doctor in Doctor Who (1963 - 1989) Patrick Troughton turns up as a copper with a silly helmet.
The Gorgon is an OK time waster, the Gorgon itself is barely in it & when it is it looks terrible, Cushing & Lee are somewhat wasted & overall I just didn't think it was anything special & it's as simple & straight forward as that.
This is quite a nice idea; Megaera, a Gorgon, pops up in 1910 in Germany and gets up to the old turning-people-to-stone shenanigans. Combine that with an amnesia patient case and the reliable we-don't-like-strangers-in-our-village rustic schtick and you have a neat little horror mystery. As often in Hammer films the best aspects are the trappings (great sets by Bernard Robinson, which the camera drifts languidly around) and of course the cast. Shelley is an unusual Hammer femme fatale with her auburn hair and tall figure, but she's excellent in the pivotal role (check her out also in Village Of The Damned and Quatermass And The Pit). Troughton steals his scenes in the Pickelhaube-wearing prefect of police part, Cushing is wonderful as always, and this must be the only Hammer flick where Lee is the only one left alive at the end ! For mythology purists, Medusa did have two sisters (called Euryale and Stheno), but unlike her they were immortal and their gaze did not petrify people. Megaera is one of the Erinyes/Furies (the other two being Alecto and Tisiphone), deities who represent revenge and punishment of sin.
A man walks into a dark courtyard . He hears something , he turns and sees ... and sees ... and sees something so terrible that he can't even find the instinct to scream . Must be a very scary monster right ? Well it would be if your idea of a scary monster is a woman wearing a wig that has snakes in it but I can't think of anyone off the top of my head who'd find this the least bit scary . In fact I think most people would burst out laughing if they were attacked by this mythical monster . The premise of the film is good enough but whenever the title creature appears the film suddenly takes a dive and you find yourself asking why on earth didn't the director and make up artistes put more of an effort into the Gorgon itself ?
There is another problem and that is who is the Gorgon ? For much of the running time the audience are supposed to be on tenter hooks wondering whose body the Gorgon takes in human form . Unfortunately it's obvious from the start who it is which means the big shock revelation isn't really any kind of revelation never mind a shock big or otherwise . It's also obvious who is THE REPTILE but in that film I was still entertained probably because THE REPTILE succeeded in creating a brooding atmosphere , one that is lacking in this film and because of this THE GORGON should be classed as a failure