Hammer films were known for hitting most of the major movie monsters. They did their versions of Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummies, Werewolves, and various other zombies and vampires. But, sometimes you’ve gotta think outside of the box. For today’s film they turned their attention to a creature from Greek mythology. We’re talking about that devilish woman with snakes for hair who can turn men to stone with just one glance. Avert your eyes for 1964’s The Gorgon.
The story takes place in a small German village which has had a run of seven mysterious murders over the last several years. The latest case was that of a young woman who was found dead shortly after announcing to her artist boyfriend that she was pregnant. The young painter, the primary suspect, was later found dangling from a tree by a noose. The authorities draw the conclusion that it was a murder suicide…despite the fact that the mysterious Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing) knows darn well that girl appeared to have been turned to stone.
Professor Jules Heitz (Michael Goodlife), the father of the painter, does not believe his son was the culprit, however. The Professor has theories regarding a local legend…that of an evil creature that could turn people to stone with a glance called Megaera. Upon investigation, he encounters the creature and, having made eye contact, gradually starts to turn to stone. With his last moments, he pens a letter sending for his other son, Paul (Richard Pasco), to come and investigate further.
Paul arrives and is met with nothing but hostility from Namaroff and the other townspeople. It seems clear that they are hiding something. Paul catches a glimpse of the Gorgon reflected in a pool and ends up in Namaroff’s hospital as a result…but still his claims are ignored. The only person who will listen to him his Namaroff’s assistant, Carla (Barbara Shelley). The two quickly start to fall in love. This presents a problem, however, when Paul’s associate, Professor Meister (Christopher Lee), arrives and comes to the realization that it is Carla who is being possessed by the spirit of the Gorgon when the moon is full.
I do appreciate, on a certain level, Hammer’s willingness to try something unique. Having a snake-haired demon from Greek mythology roaming the German countryside is certainly an original concept, however this film doesn’t exploit that premise to its full potential. For a film called The Gorgon, it’s severely lacking in Gorgons. We get one glimpse of the monster early on in the film, but we have to wait until the final confrontation to see her again. The bulk of the film gets filled up a with soap-opera-ish love triangle between Cushing, Shelley, and Pasco. This leads to long gaps where nobody is turning into stone and the film becomes pretty flat as a result.
When the Gorgon is striking victims, the film is a pretty interesting piece of horror. I really liked the way the whole turning to stone thing is handled here. In most other films with a Gorgon, like say Clash of the Titans, if you look at the creature you turn to stone immediately. Here it is a gradual process, taking several hours. The victim’s hair turns all gray and powdery, slowly their skin starts to look paler and paler. It’s creepy and seems quite agonizing. It’s a nice horror device that I wish they had used more in the film.
Despite the problems with the story, Cushing and Lee are still in top form. Lee is especially fun in some scenes where he puts the small town folks in their place. Cushing, though, has some great moments in the final duel with Pasco. It’s great to see him show the physical side of his acting talents. A standout in the supporting cast is Patrick Troughton (who wouldn’t start playing The Doctor for a few more years) as Inspector Kanof. Though he’s playing it straight, there’s something subtle he does to bring a bit of a comedic touch to the role. It’s hard to pinpoint but it’s quite skillfully done.
The Gorgon certainly has some interesting moments and delivers the creepy atmosphere that is required of a Hammer horror film. However, it needed a bit more monster action to put it in the ranks of the studio’s other classic monster movies.