The Gorgon – Spoiler-Free Movie Review
The Gorgon – Hammer Horror Collection – Feat. Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee
Hammer Horror Films are some of the most indisputable classics of the genre, so it should come as no surprise that Jason and I have seen quite a few of them and usually watch at least a couple each October leading up to Halloween. There are still some, however, that we’ve never gotten around to, and until very recently The Gorgon was one of these.
I’ve titled this post as a “Spoiler-Free” review, but please note that I will be mentioning a few deaths that occur within the first 15-20 minutes. I’m not considering these spoilers as they happen so early in the movie and are more plot-points driving the protagonist, if anything else. You’ve been warned!
The film features the serpent-haired creature from Greek myth and actually incorporates a fair bit of these actual myths within its backstory. For example, the monster in this film is not the one most of us would automatically think of: Medusa. Since our story actually takes place in a small village in modern day (the modern day in which it was filmed, mind you), Medusa has been long dead, her head removed by the hero Perseus. The Gorgon, therefore, focuses on one of Medusa’s sisters as the creeping evil plaguing the town. Unfortunately someone involved in the film seems to have gotten their Greek mythology a little mixed up concerning names. Medusa’s sisters were Stheno, and Euryale, but the Gorgon of our film is referred to as Megaera, which is the name of one of the Furies of myth. Whoops!
Stay Inside on a Full Moon
We open the story with a beautiful young woman being painted by her bohemian artist boyfriend. Upon learning that the woman has become pregnant the man runs off, intent on immediately informing her father of his insistence to accept his responsibilities. After a moment the young woman runs after him, only to catch a glimpse of the full moon before screaming at something in horror.
In the following scene we are introduced to the town doctor/mortician, Dr. Namaroff, played by the absolutely excellent Peter Cushing. We are also introduced to his lovely assistant Carla, played by Barbara Shelley. Through their interaction we learn how the young woman has been found dead, and that there has been a wave of murders plaguing the village for five years now. We also learn, to the horror of all who have seen her, that the dead girl has been petrified – that is, turned to stone.
Next we are treated to a glimpse of the small-town mentality of the village folk and their xenophobia. The police track down the bohemian boy, certain that he is the killer, only to find he has hanged himself. This is taken as admission of guilt and a trial is held to officially establish this as fact. Dr. Namaroff testifies that the girl’s death was undoubtedly the result of violence. This, of course, brings the boyfriend’s very character into question. Before a postmortem guilty verdict is given by the judge, the boy’s father gives an angry oath.
He tells the spectators that he knows his son is being used as a scapegoat for something that the villagers are hiding. He vows to solve this mystery and clear his son’s name. To show exactly what they think of such a claim, a group of village men later try to set the boy’s house on fire with the father inside. When that doesn’t work they then proceed to beat him. Luckily they are stopped by the police. However, the Chief then subtlety threatens the father, implying that the safest thing for him would be to get out of town immediately.
Wait…he’s not the main character?
By the time all this has occurred we’ve come to the impression that the father is our protagonist and that we’re going to follow his journey to redeem his son’s name. However, the only actual sleuthing we see from the father comes from a meeting with Dr. Namaroff in which he brings up the myth of the Gorgon sisters and Namaroff all but calls him a lunatic. Then, almost before we know what’s happening, the father follows a mysterious sound to a dilapidated castle in the middle of the night on a full moon, and he locks eyes with the Gorgon as she lurks in the shadows.
Herein the Gorgon’s power differs a little from the usual Greek myths. Whereas we would normally expect a victim to become petrified almost immediately, in the film it is a process that takes a measure of time. The father manages to stumble all the way back to his son’s house, write a three page letter for his other son, and give directions to his companion to ensure that this other son is the only one who shall receive the letter, before he finally succumbs.
Ah, of course…PAUL.
Now, finally, we are introduced to the actual protagonist, the second son, Paul. Having read his father’s letter it is now up to Paul to solve the mystery of the town’s murders and avenge his family. To these ends he sends for his friend and mentor, Carl, played by another Hammer Horror regular, Christopher Lee.
Okay, now we have Cushing and Lee, as well as two characters named Paul and Carl (the only two male names in the world, according to Hammer), so we can officially call this a Hammer Horror Film.
Cushing and Lee should be in every horror movie ever filmed. Truth!
The story progresses much as you might expect. Paul seeks the truth while simultaneously falling in love with the doctor’s assistant, Carla. Namaroff and the other villagers continue to deny the existence of the gorgon. However, at the same time they have clandestine conversations that assure us they do know that the creature exists. Cushing in particular is magnificent in his role as Namaroff. He is, in a way, the primary antagonist of the story, but we also understand his motivation and can sympathize with him. Lee as well brings an excellent and amusing performance. It is especially amusing when he uses his imposing height and presence to frighten the police chief into backing down from an argument. You don’t screw with Christopher Lee.
Ups and Downs of the Lovebirds
Paul, if I’m being honest, didn’t impress me nearly as much. He does have a few excellent moments. For instance, his straight-up terror attack upon waking from his own experience with the gorgon. Other moments were, in my opinion, quite dreadful. Example: he’s supposed to be falling in love with Carla, but he looks at her with all the interest of a schoolboy examining his homework. Additionally there is a scene in which he tosses and turns in his bed while having a nightmare. This scene is so overacted it’s comical. He whips back and forth so violently it’s a miracle he didn’t accidentally fling himself from the bed.
Carla does a much better job with her performance. From the moment she and Paul first find themselves in the same room we can tell that she fancies him. Throughout the film she injects a much needed level of emotion and femininity, while still giving a sense of strength. Such a thing wasn’t overly common for female characters of the age, so it rather amused me. Yes, she has “damsel in distress” moments. But she also has moments of standing up for herself, fighting back, and speaking her mind.
The Gorgon Herself
Of course, I should also mention the titular monster of the piece. The truth, however, is that the gorgon doesn’t really appear all that often. We first see her through a cloak of shadows. The next time she appears we get to see her full-on, but the scene only lasts about 40 seconds. Then we don’t see her again until the end. That said, the snake-hair effects are pretty decently done for the time. The mood the movie builds surrounding the creature is also quite well-done. It would have been nice to see her appear more often, but overall I think the filmmakers did a good job with what they had to work with. They used mood and tension between the characters to keep us moving forward.
Add this film to your October viewing!
In conclusion, I think this one is worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of Hammer Horror. It fits their usual formula, features Cushing and Lee in amusing roles, and takes a stab at a monster that is less-known and rarely used. They incorporated a far bit of myth and lore in the process, even if they fudged it a little. All told, if you’re looking for something to squeeze into your October viewing schedule, I’d give this one a chance.
Have you already seen The Gorgon? What did you think of it? Are you a fan of Hammer Horror? Which is your favorite from their library? Let me know down in the comment section! Looking for more Halloween fun? Check out my October TBR and our review of Grimsicle Pins!
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