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Those who tiresomely belabor the inadequacy of the snakes on the
Gorgon's head at the film's conclusion entirely miss the point. It is
not surprising in our cretinous era that some would lament the
unavailability of computer generated special effects in 1964. That they
persist in doing so, however, only serves to illustrate how very far
these modernists are in both sensibility and aesthetic principles from
the 19th century Gothic tradition that this film so faithfully seeks to
reproduce. The point isn't the snakes but the psychological force
behind the baleful facial expression!
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!
The crucial clue to understanding the work of director Terence Fisher is to note that his directing hero was not one of the 'usual suspects' for a horror director, like Lang or Hitchcock, but Frank Borzage, the 30's director of tender, fragile romances like 'Moonrise' and 'A Farewell To Arms'. And as he grew more confident and independent in his work for Hammer films, Fisher's most personal work smuggled Borzagian romance past his producers in horror guise. Forget the usual critical cliche about his work: that it presents rigidly defined black-and-white battles between Good and Evil.This only applies to a handful of his pictures, usually from the earlier part of his Hammer career. In Fisher's mature work, the lines between good and evil are often more ambiguous than in many of the more modernist horrors that came after him (e.g.'The Exorcist' and 'Halloween'). And his most heartfelt work - 'Curse Of The Werewolf','Phantom Of The Opera','Frankenstein Created Woman'and the film discussed here, is a sequence of tragic love stories. Which brings us to 'The Gorgon', one of the most romantic but also the bleakest of these love stories. All the key characters in the film are driven by the most desperate love: the pregnant Sascha in the opening scenes, Professor Heitz mourning and defending a lost son, Carla and Paul in their foredoomed affair, Namaroff oppressing Carla and torturing himself with the love she can never reciprocate, Ratoff(who might at first seem a token thug)worshipping Carla as devoutly as is master does, even Christopher Lee's celibate Meister has a father's anxious protectiveness towards Paul. But in the bleak world which cameraman Michael Reed depicts throughout in grim blues and greys, there is no reward for such devotion but the stony isolation of death. The film, however, is tragic rather than merely nihilistic, for the characters are haunted throughout by the thought that their love might somehow win them a place in some better world somewhere else. This makes Carla's parting from Paul in the castle scene all the more poignant: haven't we all known a moment such as she knows then, when we face the fact that the door to salvation was open to us as recently as a couple of minutes ago, but we looked away at the wrong moment and the breeze blew it shut? That's why this, like all Fisher's best films, is such a treasurable work. It's not about shock effects, but about the beauty and sadness of being alive. It stands as the bleakest of all Gorgon myths, bleaker by far than the Greek originals, for it portrays a whole world whose fate is to turn to stone.
As mentioned by many, the Gorgon is not your typical scare-fest horror film. It's driving force is its atmosphere, its lore and understanding various subplots. Cheaply made, the film has no doubt turned some to stone-cold hysterics with its campy effects and home movie-like makeup of the creature. While the story has wonderful elements of mystery and lure, it never reveals certain motivations. For example, why has the Gorgon's spirit returned to earth? What is the Cushing character's intentions? Many of the story's characters know the myth behind the murders (how many variations are there to a creature turning a man to stone with her gaze?), so controlling the creature was no revelation. But all that aside, the film's theme is captivating. If you don't expect a monster movie, but view this film as a mystery based on folklore and with a haunting backdrop, you too will be delighted with this hidden gem. There is a scene in castle, when Mageara first appears and we catch glimpses of her peeking out at a prospective victim. It's a tantalizing prelude to the terror to come. But the scene that had me mesmerized , and that singularly crystalizes the Gorgon's chilling presence is when she has turned a character with her demonic stare, then seemingly drifts back into the shadows. It is a strangely beautiful scene. The Gorgon, called the Mageara, is a true mystery. She has no emotion, no true motivation, and she is not shown stalking her prey. Like a black widow in human form, she merely waits for (perhaps even lures) innocent souls to come to her parlor. Mageara seemingly in incapable of harming man, except for her petrifying gaze; she quietly floats about the castle. If I were to remake this film, I would tell the story from the perspective of the female host, and the struggle to understand her curse. There is sheer tragedy in what Hammer has presented, and I find myself looking upon many of the story's characters with sense of sadness and doom. Finally, I want to say that I wish the stone victims could have turned quickly, like those poor souls in the film "Thief of Baghdad," with Steve Reeves. Oh well, just a last thought.
The Gorgon ranks among Hammer's very best. Its premise is daring and
imaginative - a female spectre so hideous that all who gaze on her are
turned to stone, a power even more unnerving than the physical ferocity of
lycanthropy or vampirism.
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.
Hammer’s THE REPTILE (1966) is a semi-remake of this one, and an
improvement – for which the scriptwriter of THE GORGON, John Gilling,
was upgraded to director. Typically, the DivX edition I watched was
plagued by artifacts and a few jump-cuts (not to mention being in the
odious pan-and-scan format); however, I was very glad to have finally
caught up with it – especially in view of the DD Home Video company’s
recent folding (this had been mentioned as one of a possible number of
Columbia/Hammer DVD releases).
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).
I have to say that I'm really surprised that The Gorgon isn't one of
the better known Hammer Horror films. Aside from the fact that it stars
Hammer's two biggest actors - Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing - The
Gorgon also features a fairly original cinematic monster, and it makes
for a great fun watch! This film reminded me a lot of The Reptile in
the way it plays out, in that it focuses on a mystery surrounding the
central monster. It has to be said that, like a lot of Hammer Horror
films, the plot is very simplistic; but that's hardly a problem as
there's plenty to enjoy outside of the plot in this film. As the title
suggests, the film focuses on a mysterious 'Gorgon', a woman with a
head full of snakes that can turn people to stone just by looking at
them. She's creating quite a problem for the local village, as citizens
begin turning up dead - but unlike most dead people, they've turned to
stone! The authorities try to cover it up, but as the murders continue,
the son of one of the victims decides to investigate.
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 review may contain spoilers ***
This is in my opinion, one of the classic 'Hammer' films. Almost the
entire film takes place at night on full moons, which gives the film an
added frisson of suspense.
In 1905, somewhere in Europe Megara (one of the three gorgons from Greek mythology) is terrorising a village by picking off the locals on the night of the full moon and turning them to stone. Peter Cushing plays the local Doctor, who covers up these supernatural deaths by issuing false death certificates. The Chief of Police (Patrick Troughton) motivated by fear is also covering up the truth. After two of his friends are petrified Christopher Lee turns up to investigate, and its finally by his hand(in the manner of Perseus)that Megara is beheaded.
For anyone who's a fan of 'Hammer' films or who likes a well made horror film without the buckets of blood that modern horror films are drenched in, this one's for you!
I can see what the producers were trying . They were trying to make a
film that had a brooding atmosphere that terrified the audience rather
than having a film which scared the audience via gore . Hammer Studios
would perfect this type of atmospheric film with THE REPTILE in 1966 .
Here unfortunately they fail
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
One of the mythological gorgons(Megeara) is haunting a small village, and everyone in the village literally turns their faces away from the sporadic murders that occur when the moon is full. All this is discovered when a father of a dead man tries to protect his son's reputation, and is greeted with silence and hatred from the villagers. In his quest to find the truth...he does...the stone-cold truth. This is a fine Hammer film, not overly scary, but incredibly atmospheric with its swirling mists, huge cavernous palatial sets, and wonderful direction and casting. Terence Fisher does a first-rate job showing us the conspiracy going on in this village. Peter Cushing is the town's primary culprit of hiding the truth and gives his customary good performance. The film, however, belongs to Lee, who play an eccentric, gruff scholar helping the other son of the newly killed father. Lee is absurd yet brilliant in his caricature. A fine addition to the Hammer cycle.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Gorgon is set in the small European village of Vandorf during the
early part of the 20th Century where there the local population are
nervous because of 7 unsolved murders in 5 years, one such unexplained
killing is that of Sascha Cass (Toni Gilpin) who was found turned to
stone! Her boyfriend Bruno Heitz (Jeremy Longhurst) was also found
dead, hanging from a noose tied to a tree. The local authorities
conclude Bruno was responsible for the murders & in a fit of guilt
committed suicide, case closed right? Well, no not really because
Bruno's father Jules (Michael Goodlife) sets out to clear his son's
name. Unfortunately he ends up turned to stone as well so it's up to
Paul Heitz (Richard Pasco) to find the truth behind his father's &
brother's deaths & the local villagers don't seem to want to
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.
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