In the early 20th century, a Gorgon takes human form and terrorizes a small European village by turning its citizens to stone. (IMDB synopsis)
Hammer Horror! MWAH HA HA HA HAAAAA *cough splutter* ha.
The cinematic fruits of the mighty tree that is production company Hammer Films have always been a mystery to me. I guess I’ve been watching the wrong TV channels. So I did a little research on Hammer Horror films, and apparently The Gorgon was among their more disappointing releases. No wonder I’ve never heard of it. Anyway, let’s grab some popcorn and give it a watch.
The film begins with a scrolling written message.
“From the turn of the century a monster from an ancient age of history came to live here [in Vandorf]. No living thing survived and the spectre of death hovered in waiting for her next victim.”
In the following scene, an artist named Bruno learns that his girlfriend Sascha is pregnant and rushes off to speak to her dad. She rushes after him, out of the house and into the creepiest forest imaginable. (How many times, prospective homeowners? Location, location, location!) It’s here that she spots an unseen horror, screams and drops dead.
Oh, but that’s not all! Next day, Sascha’s body is brought in to Dr. Namaroff and his assistant Carla, who both notice that she’s been turned to stone – much like seven other victims in the last five years. (Each victim also has several indentations on his or her forehead, and this is never explained. Perhaps there’s some kind of telekinetic snakebite thing going on.) Tragically, Bruno is also found to have hung himself, and at a later court session, the whole thing’s ruled as a murder/suicide. Bruno’s father, Professor Heitz, argues with Namaroff that there must be something supernatural afoot, i.e. an unspeakable monster, which people refuse to acknowledge.
“The very admission of its existence only increases [people’s] fear.”
Reminds me of… er… He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Anyway, Heitz goes off looking for the monster in Vandorf’s creepy abandoned castle, filled with cobwebs, creeping plants and pigeons. Lots of pigeons. Sure, why not? He glimpses the gorgon, Megaera, and becomes partially petrified. Heitz does manage to write a letter to his other son, Paul, before he finally turns to stone. Wait, he writes THREE PAGES? Dude! That’s impressive, considering his joints and muscles and flesh are hardening up. Ask anyone with osteoarthritis of the hand; they’ll tell you, writing ain’t that easy.
The rest of the film focuses on Paul’s own attempt to uncover the mystery of Megaera and to initiate a romance with Carla, as you do.
It’s hard to know what to make of this film. By today’s standards, it could be considered campy. There are certainly lots of moments which are unintentionally hilarious. Just look at the way Pauly-boy wakes up from a Gorgolicious nightmare.
I hope you liked that, because I had to go away and learn how to make my own .gif files just for that one clip. But yeah, it’s hilarious. Oh, if only MY face could be so well-lit on the rare occasions when I have a bad dream and spring right off the mattress.
Now, despite what I’ve just shown you, the acting in The Gorgon is generally satisfactory and not too over-the-top. This film would reunite actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who frequently worked together on these Hammer Horror productions. They have good on-screen chemistry, although Lee’s character doesn’t turn up until the last third of the film. Barbara Shelley as Carla is also a fine actress with a great deal of elegance and poise – which is good, as she ends up being very important to the plot.
And now I get to talk about my research. Hurrah! In the context of horror films released in the ’60s, Hammer Horror stood out by combining melodrama, explicit gore and violence, and women in scanty panties. It’s a winning combination. I’d need to watch a lot more Hammer Horrors before I could analyse the way they work, but this one seems pretty standard. Creepy old castle, creepy old monster, and at one point, Paul exhumes his dead father to make sure he’s made of stone. Yup, what’s a mad scientist-in-training if he doesn’t go grave-digging now and then?
(Also, what’s a 1960s romance if the guy doesn’t adoringly GRAB a woman around the shoulders?)
This film seems to have more talking than a typical Hammer Horror production, but then again, the characters have much to exposit. And it provides a contrast to the scenes of horror, so I don’t mind it.
Another thing that works in the film’s favour is its unique score. It’s used sparingly, which makes it all the more effective when it DOES show up – for example, when a character journeys up to Castle Borski (ha ha). The composer employed a soprano choir together with a little-known instrument called a novachord. It does sounds decidedly eerie. Of course, now and then the music reverts back to DUN-DUN-DUUUUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUUUUUN-OHMYGOD-OHMYGOOOOOD. That’s to be expected.
Not everything about The Gorgon works. I think it’s been called one of Hammer Horror’s most disappointing films due to its suspenseless plot and less-than-thrilling climax. It turns out that the mere SPIRIT of Megaera is what’s haunting the castle, and it’s this spirit which possesses Carla whenever there’s a full moon. (Kind of a demonic werewolf basilisk thing going on… I don’t know.)
All throughout the film, Megaera is shown in the shadows, or seen from a distance. This would normally be a good way to introduce an audience to the film’s monster, but unfortunately, at the climax, we get a close-up of Meg and the visual effects are… less than stunning. Scroll back up for me and take a long, hard look at that featured image. Notice the crown of plastic snakes? I think we should let those little dudes speak for themselves. Yyyyyyup.
In my humble, a lot of The Gorgon‘s faults could have been forgiven or overlooked in the film’s own era, but nowadays, they stick out like a big old plastic serpent. Ah well. At least it made me laugh. Some time in the future, I shall have to watch some more of these films.
6 jam sandwiches.