TITLE: The Gorgon
YEAR RELEASED: 1964
DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher
CAST: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Richard Pasco
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SIMON BALL takes a look at the Hammer classic horror, The Gorgon (1964)

By the early 1960s Hammer Films had just about exhausted the classical canon movie monsters and were casting about for new properties to give the Gothic treatment.

The Gorgon was based upon the Greek myth of Perseus and Medusa, but transplanted the action from Greece to Vandorf in Hammer’s vision of turn of the century middle Europe allowing the ever budget conscious production designer Bernard Robinson to reuse the existing sets from The Evil of Frankenstein.

The Gorgon

The Gorgon

The legend, as we discover later in the film, is that Magaera, one of the two sisters of Medusa, fled to Vandorf after Perseus had slain Medusa.

As the film opens a young woman has been turned to stone, but Dr Namaroff (Peter Cushing) of the Vandorf Medical Institute in collusion with the local police chief (Patrick Troughton) has covered the mysterious death up claiming that Bruno Heitz, the woman’s lover, must have murdered her and then committed suicide.

Convinced that his son was innocent Professor Jules Heitz arrives in Vandorf to investigate, but ends up being turned to stone himself when he encounters Megaera the gorgon (Prudence Hyman) as he noses around Vandorf’s abandoned Borski Castle.

As he slowly petrifies he does manage to get off a letter to his other son Paul (Richard Pasco).

Peter Cushing in The Gorgon

Peter Cushing in The Gorgon

Arriving in Vandorf to investigate his father’s death, Paul falls in love with Namaroff’s nurse Carla (Barbara Shelley) without realising that she is really Magaera in human form.

Then Paul finds himself getting partially petrified when he catches a glimpse of Magaera and ends up in Namaroff’s hospital. Namaroff of couse is also in love with Carla, so he continues to deny the existence of the gorgon and tries to warn Paul off. Then assistance arrives in the form of Professor Karl Meister (Christopher Lee) from Leipzig University.

Paul arranges to elope with Carla but is forced to flee his house when Namaroff sends the police turn up to arrest him. Making for Borski Castle Paul finds Namaroff is already there waiting to kill Magaera.

Naturally they end up fighting before Magaera gives the pair of them the hard (rock) stare, but she reckons without Meister having recovered Namaroff’s sabre, creeping up behind her and giving her the chop.

As Magaera’s head drops to the floor it changes back to Barbara.

Close up of The Gorgon

Close up of The Gorgon

The Gorgon has many of the familiar tropes of Hammer’s Gothics, including a great score by James Bernard and as such is a fairly solid example of the studio’s distinctive look.

Up until we see the monster it’s actually pretty a good film, but when we do get to meet the Gorgon full on its a bit of a disappointment.

Hyman’s snaky headdress was operated by a system of pressure hoses, which meant that a member of the SFX crew had to follow her about the set out of shot to make the snakes hiss and lunge.

Ingenious stuff but it didn’t stop the Gorgon’s head from looking a bit rubbish.

However with today’s CGI technology maybe its time for a new gorgon picture.

Simon Ball
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