The Gorgon – UK, 1964 – reviews

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The Gorgon is a 1964 British supernatural horror film directed by Terence Fisher from a screenplay by John Gilling (director of Night Caller from Outer SpaceThe ReptileThe Plague of the Zombies). It stars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Richard Pasco. Future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton also appears.

The film was photographed by Michael Reed, and designed by Bernard Robinson. For the soundtrack score James Bernard combined a soprano with a little-known polyphonic synthesizer instrument, the Hammond Novachord.

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The plot was inspired by the legend of the Gorgon from Greek mythology.

1910: In the rural German village of Vandorf, seven murders have been committed within the past five years, each victim having been petrified into a stone figure. Rather than investigate, the local authorities dismiss the murders for fear of a local legend having come true.

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When a local girl becomes the latest victim and her suicidal lover made the scapegoat, the father of the condemned man decides to investigate and discovers that the cause of the petrifying deaths is a phantom.

The very last of the snake-haired Gorgon sisters haunts the local castle and turns victims to stone during the full moon…

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Reviews [may contain spoilers]:

“Cushing makes a splendid villain, Lee for once is on the side of good and Fisher’s gothic direction makes the most of the story and manages to distract attention from the really rather risible Gorgon itself.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982

“Director Terence Fisher, the lynchpin of Hammer’s success, is on top form and creates a film of unexpected beauty. The sets, particularly the leaf-strewn interiors of the castle, have a sumptuous elegance. Some scenes like the appearance of the Gorgon to Richard Pasco, her unearthly face reflected in the shimmering garden pool, and as she pursues him about the garden, seen only in glimpses, have an eerie grandeur.” Richard Scheib, Moria

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” …this is an absolutely gorgeous looking film that’s ripe with gothic atmosphere and some stunning visuals. The sets for the castle are fantastic and the use of color that Fisher and his associates employ throughout the film really helps keep our eyes darting from one fantastic looking shot to the next.” Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!

“A cold and depressing film, The Gorgon does achieve a certain grim serenity, particularly in its final moments where the dying Paul weeps, horror-struck, over the severed head of his sometimes-monstrous paramour, now free of Megaera’s curse.” Marcus Hearn, Alan Barnes, The Hammer Story

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” … The Gorgon is a significant and often overlooked horror film, just reaching classic status. Largely remembered for it’s sadly, lamentable monster design, the film actually contains two of the best performances from genre stalwarts, Cushing and Lee, in their final Hammer collaboration with director, Terence Fisher.” Monster Mania

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” …The Gorgon  features more than enough mood and visual panache to overcome what would be crippling shortcomings in other horror films (mainly some famously inadequate gorgon effects in the final scenes and a plot that doesn’t always make a ton of sense). The fairy tale aspects have been frequently noted over the years, and with good reason…” Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital

…an aesthetically pleasing change of pace, that fits in well with Hammer’s established milieu. Of course it must be set in middle Europe – it wouldn’t be a Hammer film otherwise – and there must be night-time scenes in woods – ditto. But the eerie doomminess of the high singing, and the nature of the novel death that the protagonists face is unfamiliar enough to make one snap to attention and appreciate the inventiveness that’s going on here.” Sinclair McKay, A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: A History of Hammer Films

“Instead of a bloodthirsty Count leaping over a table and hurling his vampire mistress to the floor, you get a snake-headed woman lurking the shadows and staring at her victims — a sort of static tableau that does not necessarily set adrenalin coursing through the veins.” Cinefantastique

Barbara Shelley as Carla Hoffman in “The Gorgon”

“a blustering Christopher Lee turns up in the last half hour, providing a much needed jolt to a plot that is chasing its tail, but its bothersome females aside, this effort is strictly run of the mill. Not that it’s bad, just not top drawer.” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

“This is Fisher’s most dreamlike and bewitching work, perfectly acted by all concerned…” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Encyclopedia of Film: Horror

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The Gorgon is still a film of many pleasures, including the fun spectacle of Lee and Cushing coming to blows, and an oddly moving sequence – again boldly uncharacteristic of Hammer – in which a dying Gorgon victim writes one final letter (“I am turning to stone”).” Steven West, The Shrieking Sixties: British Horror Films 1960 – 1969

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“There’s mood galore, Fisher’s color palette is stunning, and Castle Borski makes a great set piece; James Bernard’s score is absolutely delightful. Note: contrary to ‘modern critical’ perspective, the Ashton makeup FX created for Megaera’s brief onscreen appearances look just fine. No need to overdo what should be hinted at only anyhow.” The Terror Trap

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“With such dismal and unsettling themes and so disappointing a monster, it’s hardly surprising that The Gorgon is not a fan favourite. But it exerts a certain funereal fascination, much enhanced by excellent cinematography and production design. In sharp contrast to the nocturnal moments in most Hammer horrors, Michael Reed’s day-for-night photography is remarkably effective..” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic

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Cast and characters:

    • Christopher Lee … Professor Karl Meister
    • Peter Cushing … Dr. Namaroff
    • Richard Pasco … Paul Heitz
    • Barbara Shelley … Carla Hoffman/Magera
    • Michael Goodliffe … Professor Jules Heitz
    • Patrick Troughton … Inspector Kanof
    • Joseph O’Conor … The Coroner
    • Prudence Hyman … Gorgon
    • Jack Watson … Ratoff
    • Redmond Phillips … Hans
    • Jeremy Longhurst … Bruno Heitz
    • Toni Gilpin … Sascha Cass
    • Joyce Hemson … Martha
    • Alister Williamson … Janus Cass
    • Michael Peake … Constable

Other media:

A novelisation of the film was written by John Burke as part of his 1966 book The Hammer Horror Film Omnibus.

Trivia:

The budget was a mere £150,000.

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In 1977, the film was adapted into a ten-page comic strip for the magazine The House of Hammer (volume 1, no. 11 and 12, published by Top Sellers Limited). It was drawn by Alberto Cuyas from a script by Scott Goodall.

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Related:

The Synth of Fear: Horror Films with Synthesizer Scores – article

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