This Hammer House of Horror production features two of the studioís
biggest stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and one of its top
directors, Terence Fisher. Those things, however, donít necessarily make
for one of Hammerís better pictures!
Terence Fisher was perhaps Hammerís key director from
its early pre-horror 1950s era, during which time Fisher directed the
Hammer productions THE FOUR-SIDED TRIANGLE (1953), MASK OF DUST (1954)
and STOLEN FACE (1952), which is often credited as the first stab at the
type of horror that would come to define the studio. Later Fisher
directed Hammer productions include THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957),
DRACULA (1958), THE MUMMY (1959) and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968).
Fisherís THE GORGON (1964) was scripted by fellow
Hammer vet John Gilling (who went on to direct the GORGON-esque Hammer
production THE REPTILE
in 1967). It was considered a disappointment in its day, as it
concentrated more on character development than the shock effects of
Fisherís earlier horror efforts. Yet nowadays itís extremely highly
regarded by Hammer fans.
In a secluded village sometime in the early 1900s,
Bruno Heitz, a rakish young man, dies under mysterious
circumstances--and is later found turned to stone. His father Jules
enters the village to discover what happened, and is himself turned to
stone; Jules, however, writes a three page missive before dying,
referring to a gorgon afoot in the area. A gorgon is a mythological
creature whose gaze is so hideous it can turn people to stone.
Paul, the brother of Bruno and son of Jules, travels to
the village to investigate. He meets the seductive Carla, the assistant
to the mysterious Dr. Namaroff. Paul falls hard for Carla, who remains
During a stormy night lit by a full moon Paul glimpses
a horrific creature and passes out. He comes to five days later, in the
care of none other than the abovementioned Dr. Namaroff. The latter is
nonchalant about Paulís night out, of which Paul remembers only that he
glimpsed the most horrible creature heíd ever seen. He becomes
determined to track down that creature, which heís convinced is the
mythological gorgon, while falling deeper in love with Carla. It doesnít
occur to him, however, that the two might be connected!
Paul enlists the services of the Van Helsing-esque
Prof. Karl Meister. Itís Meister who deduces that Carla is the Gorgon
Paul glimpsed, having been transformed into such by the full moon. The
love-struck Paul refuses to believe him, though, and all-but rushes into
a final confrontation with the gorgon and her keeper, Dr. Namaroff.
According to Christopher Lee, ďThe only thing wrong
with THE GORGON is the gorgon!Ē Heís referring the title characterís
less-than-convincing appearance. I feel heís wrong about the film
overall (there are actually quite a few things wrong with it), but
correct regarding the gorgonís tacky appearance--a woman in a green
dress with rubber snakes on her head! Not that this matters overmuch, as
the emphasis isnít on gore or special effects.
Itís clear Terence Fisher was aiming for a quality film
far removed from the usual Hammer schlock; this isnít to say that Fisher
in any way ignored the hoary melodrama so integral to Hammer films, just
that he toned it down several notches. Noble intentions to be sure, but
the problem is the characters Fisher was seeking to develop arenít
especially deep or interesting, and the narrative far too silly to
sustain such an A-list treatment. Nor do the stars Peter Cushing and
Christopher Lee (who could have used more screen time) do much to
elevate the film.
There are a couple memorable moments. The protagonistís
initial encounter with the half-glimpsed gorgon in a moonlit windstorm
is definitely a standout, as is the final showdown. But even a film like
this needs more than just two good scenes to work.
Columbia Pictures/Hammer Film Productions
Director: Terence Fisher
Producer: Anthony Nelson-Keys
Screenplay: John Gilling
Cinematography: Michael Reed
Editing: Eric Boyd Perkins
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Richard Pasco, Barbara Shelley,
Michael Goodliffe, Patrick Troughton, Joseph OíConor, Prudence Hyman,
Jack Watson, Redmond Phillips, Jeremy Longhurst