Being Film #6 for Hooptober 2022
In my time doing this marathon over the course of nine years I have learned a lot about how horror is constructed: what works, what doesn’t, how fears transcend (or not) across cultures. But I’ve also learned more that a few things about myself as well. And one of those things is that – left to my own devices – I would happily spend all day long watching Hammer horror films, especially if they feature 1) Peter Cushing, 2) Christopher Lee, and 3) are directed by Terence Fisher. I am happy to report The Gorgon satisfies all three criteria, making for another lush, entertaining ride around the English countryside where not everything is what it seems. Except the blood, which is always the most garish of reds…
THE QUICK SUMMARY: Seven murders in five years. The town of Vandorf has a secret, and it might have something to do with the abandoned Castle Borski…or the people turning to stone. When young Sasha turns up dead and her lover Bruno hanged, the town quickly surpasses the truth, much to the chagrin of Bruno’s father and brother who come to investigate only to be put off at every turn, particularly from the cold Dr. Namaroff. When Bruno’s father also dies it’s up to Bruno’s brother Paul and the aloof Professor Meister to uncover the truth of Megeara…the Gorgon!
People looking for a “shared” horror universe really need look no further: under the auspices of Hammer Terence Fisher has directed Dracula and Frankenstein multiple times, the Mummy, the Werewolf, Dr. Jeckyll, and now The Gorgon, most or all featuring either Cushing, Lee, or both. The sets and painted backgrounds by 1964 may at this point be a little worn, but the ideas and execution are always exciting, particularly when you have a screenplay that has no desire to cater to any kind of happy ending. Taking the myth of the gorgon and applying it to a more modern horror sensibility works better than you’d imagine, and the makeup, usually help at a distance works to inspire chills. Even better though is the great transformations to stone; far from an instantaneous flash like you’d get from Clash of the Titans, here it starts with weird pinpoint wounds in the head, which gradually ooze grey to spread all over the body, slowing and painfully turning its victim to stone. Reflections only partially help – in one great sequence Paul is attacked but only ever sees the gorgon in reflections: a pool, a window. After his collapse he awakens a few days later, but the gray in his hair and the wrinkles and bags in his skin look like decades have passed.
Little can be added to how good Cushing and Lee are. For a change of pace Cushing is the antagonist, desperate to keep people at bay because of the secrets he’s discovered concerning the creature. Lee gets the rare hero role here, and he is delicious in executing it. There’s one sequence during an attempted murder where he gets so impassioned his fake mustache falls halfway off. Lee continues the scene nonplussed, his mustache dangling from the exertion. It’s a fantastic performance, the kind that has you laughing and cheering at the screen as the film moves toward its perhaps inevitable conclusion.
With all that being said, I would still put The Gorgon as mid-tier Hammer horror, behind such classics as the ones listed above as well as the outstanding The Devil Rides Out which we covered last year. But even mid-tier Hammer has enough going for it that I’ll gladly take it over a number of other genres or styles.
Dangling mustache and all.