Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Prudence Hyman, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Patrick Troughton, Richard Pasco
Words – Scott Burns.
Featuring Hammer’s first female monster, Terence Fisher’s The Gorgon is a unique and enjoyable monster movie starring both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for the first time for the company since The Mummy in 1959.
Cushing appears as Dr. Namaroff, the untrustworthy head of a mental hospital, and Lee as Professor Karl Meister, the savant character who pieces together the mystery.
The story concerns a series of mysterious deaths in the town of Vandorf in the early twentieth-century where all the victims have been turned to stone. When young artist Bruno Heitz is wrongly implicated as the killer of the latest victim his father, Professor Jules Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) travels to Vandorf to clear his son’s name. What he discovers is a terrified population and a conspiracy of silence by the authorities represented by Dr. Namaroff and Inspector Kanof (Doctor Who alumnus Patrick Troughton). When he too falls victim to the Gorgon, named Megaera of ancient Greek mythology (although she was actually one of the Furies not one of the Gorgons: Stheno, Euryale and Medusa), his death is investigated by his other son Paul (Richard Pasco) and his professor, Meister. Paul further complicates matters by falling in love with Carla (Barbara Shelley) who is coveted by Namaroff, inspiring one of Hammer’s characteristically kinetic fight scenes. Paul and Meister must fight the authorities to uncover the truth and slay the monster before anyone else is transfixed by the Gorgon’s glare.
Terence Fisher was probably Hammer’s most important director. He entered the film industry fairly late in life (he was affectionately known as “the oldest clapper boy in the business”) but quickly rose to become assistant director, editor to finally become a director with his first film A Song For Tomorrow (1948). With Hammer he directed the pivotal double hit of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958) and the company became known for its horror movies exclusively. Although seen as a journeyman in a disreputable genre in the UK, in Europe he was considered one of the great fantasy film-makers. It took a while but his talent was finally acknowledged in his own country with retrospectives at the National Film Theatre. He also has the honour of being chosen by Martin Scorsese (when the director was invited by the BFI to select his favourite British films) and being namechecked by Quentin Tarantino as one of his favourite British directors. He died in 1980 aged 76.
The film was the result of a public appeal for new scripts and based on a submission by John Llewellyn Devine. Despite Llewellyn Devine’s inexperience as a screenwriter, the company responded to the rare female monster and the script was extensively re-written by John Gilling (director of The Plague Of The Zombies). However, the script was reworked further by executive producer Anthony Hinds. Gilling, who retains his credit, was appalled by the changes. Despite this, the film moves at a fast pace thanks to Fisher’s fat-free direction, making sure the subject is treated seriously and never slides into camp, and the performances, especially Pasco and Cushing, are strong. James Bernard contributes a strong score reminiscent of his previous work for Hammer but with an eerie, almost ethereal quality, provided by an electronically-treated voice, belonging to soprano Patricia Clark, that emphasises the mysterious and monstrous female at the heart of the film. The production design and cinematography by Bernard Robinson and Michael Reed respectively are of the usual high standard, especially the creepy lighting in the empty house that the Gorgon uses as its lair.
Reviews were mixed as usual with many praising the atmosphere and suspense as well as the quality of the performances, and the film (in a double-bill with The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb) did very well in the UK and the United States where it was released by Columbia Pictures. The film doesn’t have the largest fan following but remains a fun entry in the Hammer horror catalogue.
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