THE GORGON (1964) – The Dungeon Review!
I assume Hammer Film’s great sets, props and costumes are at all of their director’s disposal. The studio’s library does have a distinct visual flare. Having watched a ton of Hammer Films in very close succession made me realize and appreciate the vast range of director’s styles. The Gorgon is directed by Terence Fisher who likes to blur the lines between good and evil. A good chunk of his Hammer offerings feature a tragic love story with a conflicted central character whose existence although a threat to humankind is inevitably sympathetic. Not that blurring the lines between good and evil is a particularly new idea; Universal Studios created two of the most empathetic monsters in cinema history with 1931’s Frankenstein and 1941’s The Wolf Man. Fisher sure does do it well though particularly in the excellent Frankenstein Created Woman and the outstanding Curse of the Werewolf. I did not enjoy The Gorgon as much as the two aforementioned but it certainly qualifies as one of Fisher’s tragic love stories and is not without its charms.
The film begins with the following introduction:
“Overshadowing the village of Vandorf stands the Castle Borski. From the turn of the century a monster from an ancient age of history came to live here. No living thing survived and the spectre of death hovered in waiting for her next victim.”
The village of Vandorf has seen seven murders committed over a five year span with each victim having been turned to stone. They need not investigate as they are well aware of the legend of The Gorgon who dwells in the Castle Borski. When a local girl becomes the latest victim they make her lover, Paul Heitz the scapegoat. The absent lover is defended by his father Professor Jules Heitz who refuses to leave the village until he clears his son’s name.
What is it that dwells in Castle Borski with snakes for hair and a gaze that can turn you to stone? Hammer digs into some Greek mythology for inspiration in The Gorgon. Sadly the most disappointing aspect of The Gorgon is in fact its gorgon. There are some very nicely executed scenes featuring the gorgon when she is seen at a glance or from a distance. Very solid indeed! Unfortunately when seen up close she was really disappointing. Even for 1964 this was a pretty lacklustre creature. The Gorgon’s story is an ambiguous one. Who is the gorgon? Why does she dwell in the castle Borski? Why suddenly take human form after existing since the turn of the century? For a film called The Gorgon it focuses more on its human characters.
Dr. Namaroff has been signing off on autopsies without doing the work. It is a challenge doing an autopsy on someone who has turned to stone (and there have been a few stoned corpses on the doc’s table). No one in the village dare speak of what dwells in Castle Borski! Professor Jules Heitz who defends his son is an admirable man who meets his unfortunate end. This is how his son Paul is brought into the fold. Professor Heitz has a midnight rendezvous with her Gorgoness and manages to write a letter to Paul before he turns completely to stone. The Professor painfully writing his letter is such a great little scene. Not only does Paul do some serious nosing around (along with the aggressive Professor Karl Meister), he falls in love with Dr. Hamaroff’s assistant Carla. Paul becomes a real thorn in the side of the powers that be in the village.
The highlight of The Gorgon is definitely Barbara Shelley whose character I have barely mentioned up to this point. Shelley plays Dr. Namaroff’s assistant Carla Hoffman and is the film’s centerpiece. Shelley is charming, lovely, sweet and heart-breaking. Peter Cushing as Dr. Namaroff is coldly professional and although I would hardly call him evil I had to question his motivations at times. His character gets downright cranky! Christopher Lee plays Professor Karl Meister, a character who is intelligent, eccentric and arrogant. I actually found him quite amusing at times. It gave me a chuckle when he straightened out the village police inspector. Michael Goodliffe was totally charming as Professor Jules Heitz, I felt sad when he was turned to stone. Richard Pasco who plays his son Paul is less empathetic but no less motivated to find answers. I thought he did a decent job, but I wasn’t sure he was the right choice for the romantic lead.
The Gorgon has those aforementioned lovely Hammer attributes that make their films a pleasure to watch; magnificent sets, props and costumes and I loved the muted blues that seemed to frame every shot. The film has a beautiful bleakness that compliments its tragedy quite purposefully. The Gorgon is more of a gothic-inspired atmospheric love story than a straight-up horror feature. There was a time in history when including romance in a subplot for a horror film didn’t make me want to vomit. The Gorgon’s sad and haunting story and stunning visuals made for a most enjoyable watch. Recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 3.5/5
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Richard Pasco, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Patrick Troughton, Joseph O’Conor, Prudence Hyman, Jack Watson, Redmond Phillips, Jeremy Longhurst, Toni Gilpin, Joyce Hemson, Alister Williamson, Michael Peake