In 1964, Hammer would take a dip into the Greek mythology pool and come out the other side with a film about one of the most famous legendary monsters, the Gorgon. To make this film happen, Hammer would turn to its mainstays in the form of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and director, Terence Fisher. What would end up on film would be a wonderful piece of drama and horror that would entrance the viewer with its mystery and suspense. That would not be all there is to the film though, as our cast gives some incredible performances all wrapped up in a tight and entrancing script by John Gilling that will keep you hooked to your screen. It is also by far, one of Fisher’s best films as it takes this tragic, mythical tale and brings it forward in time and applies it, only the way that Hammer can, to the characters in the movie.
As it is, there are a lot of unexplained deaths going on in the little town of Vandorf. The local doctor, who goes by the name of Namaroff, is seemingly at a loss as to what is causing them. When a young woman is found turned to stone and her young lover dead as well, it is ruled a murder-suicide. Yet the father of the dead man does not believe so and declares it to be a Gorgon that is killing the people of the village. Things quickly escalate from there with more visitors to the village, rising tensions and even more deaths.
Watching The Gorgon, you realize that it is a nice change of pace from the normal fare that studios churned out at the time. Mining Greek myths and bringing the legend of Medusa and her sisters, specifically Magaera who was never actually one of Medusa’s sisters, to the big screen was a stroke of genius. The mystery that Gilling and Fisher weave is a compelling one, and though you can see where it is headed once you hit the midway point of the film, you still want to see where it leads and what happens to the players involved. What is equally as interesting is the tragedy involved among the characters of the film as almost all of them meet their end in one way or another, and all of them over the Gorgon of legend. While the Gorgon is to blame, it can also be placed upon the emotions of the characters in the picture, that of love, or more precisely, love unrequited. From the first moments of the film to the last, it is love, or the lack of it, that leads most of the characters down that final highway. Though Medusa did eventually gain the love she wanted with Poseidon, she was also punished for it. This tale winds up with no winners and only losers.
Peter Cushing puts in a marvelous, yet understated performance once again and it is a toss-up as to whether he was the lead of the film or if it was Richard Pasco as Paul Heitz. As Pasco was more of a protagonist to Cushing’s antagonist, most would lean towards the former, but one could even say that it was the mystery of the Gorgon herself that was lead of the film with everyone else the supporting characters. Pasco was quite animated for the amount of time he spent in the picture and worked perfect with Cushing as if they were two sides of the same coin, similar, yet different as both loved the same woman even though the truth would blind them. Barbara Shelley would play the femme fatale of the film whose demure presence and performance would leave you wondering for most of the movie if she was or was not in fact, what she was accused of.
Christopher Lee would also make an appearance as a supporting character in the film as Professor Karl Meister who was also the employer of Pasco’s Paul Heitz. He would play an older man and therefore look a little more aged than he was but the strangest thing about Lee in this picture was that he almost seemed to be phoning the performance in. When a person is as good at what they do all of the time, much like Lee is, you start to realize when things are a little off, and if there was a weak spot in the film, though you could hardly call him weak, it would be Lee in this particular role.
For a horror film, The Gorgon is a quiet and thoughtful picture, if tragic. The scares were more psychological in nature rather than practical and some might have qualms about the special effects, but they were secondary to the story that was being told. There was also little action, though sometimes the townspeople would get a little out of control in their urgency to find blame for the mysterious deaths. Visually, the film looked stunning with its brightly lit sets and made for an interesting contrast to the subject matter presented to the viewer. Terence Fisher delivers yet another fantastic picture with the Gorgon, and much like The Devil Rides Out and The Phantom of the Opera, he does it with substance coming first and style second. This is more than mere matinee fare and should be regarded not only as one of Fisher’s best, but one of Hammer’s.
5 out of 5