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GORGON, THE(director: Terence Fisher; screenwriters: John Gilling/story by J. Llewellyn Devine; cinematographer: Michael Reed; editor: Eric Boyd Perkins; music: James Bernard; cast: Richard Pasco (Paul Heitz), Barbara Shelley (Carla Hoffman), Peter Cushing (Dr Namaroff), Christopher Lee (Professor Meister), Michael Goddliffe (Professor Jules Heitz), Jeremy Longhurst (Bruno Heitz), Patrick Troughton (Inspector Kanof), Jack Watson (Ratoff), Toni Gilpin (Sascha Cass), Alister Williamson (Janus Cass), Joseph O’Conor (Coroner); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Anthony Nelson-Keys; Columbia; 1964-UK)
“It’s too bad the make-up department couldn’t get right the look of The Gorgon, who has mechanical snakes in her hair and is more cheesy in the wig she dons than scary looking.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Perhaps just as much a doomed love story as a horror story, based on an ancient Greek myth. It’s stylishly directed with artistic ambitions by Terence Fisher (“The Four-Sided Triangle”/”Spaceways”/”The Curse of Frankenstein”) and is taken from a story by J. Llewellyn Devine. It’s a silly story that’s suspense-fully written by John Gilling, but his script met with unwanted uncredited rewrites by executive producer Anthony Hinds. He refused to allow any shading of the villain and the hero, and made them appear all bad or all good. It’s also one of the rare Hammer films to have a female monster (in fact, it was their first female monster). It’s too bad the make-up department couldn’t get right the look of The Gorgon, who has mechanical snakes in her hair and is more cheesy in the wig she dons than scary looking or believable. This screw-up just about sinks the film.

In 1910, in the small German village of Vandorf, there have been a number of mysterious deaths recently when the moon turns full and all the bodies have turned to stone. But the authorities not wishing to alarm the public, have not disclosed this information. The latest murder, the seventh, is of the innkeeper’s daughter Sascha Cass, the pregnant girlfiend of the bohemian artist Bruno Heitz. The rakish Bruno is suspected of the murder and when he’s discovered hanging by a rope from a tree, the investigator, Inspector Kanof, blames him for what appears to be an apparent murder-suicide. Jules Heitz, the Berlin literature professor and Bruno’s father, arrives in Vandorf and accuses the locals of using circumstantial evidence to make his son the scapegoat. The professor becomes suspicious of the medical examiner and hospital head, the stern Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing), who refuses to reveal the findings of his autopsy. Investigating on his own to clear his son’s name, Jules discovers that one of the missing gorgons is the legendary Megaera, the third such sister who had snakes in their hair and were so repulsive to look at that whoever did so got petrified and turned to stone. Well, it seems we must believe that Megaera is in Germany, as we’re told it has something to do over a family curse passed down from generation to generation and with the history of the abandoned Castle Borski. In the ruins of the evil Castle Borski, the professor confronts Megaera and turns to stone. Before he perishes he conveniently has time to write a long letter to his only surviving son, the oldest, Paul (Richard Pasco), who promptly arrives in Vandorf and later his dad’s best friend and his able mentor, Professor Meister (Barbara Shelley), appears to pick up the investigation from where Jules left off.

Warning: spoiler in next paragraph.

If you can believe, Megaera has taken on the human form of Namaroff’s lovely assistant, Carla Hoffman (Barbara Shelley), a real fox when there’s no full moon out. When Paul is attracted to her, thankfully Meister is suspicious of her and upon further snooping discovers that Carla was the brain surgeon’s former patient and suffers from amnesia. When Meister learns that Paula and Carla plan to get it on together at the creepy Castle Borski, he rushes there in the nick of time to slay a jealous Namaroff and lop off Carla’s head before she could do away with Paul.

What ‘The Gorgon’ does well is set a doleful and fatalistic mood and have the good look of an atmospheric film, otherwise it leaves a lot to be desired and turns out to be only a slightly better than routine horror film. Because it took so long to put on the make-up to play the gorgon, Shelley didn’t play that part as the producer, Anthony Nelson Keys, insisted upon actress Prudence Hyman. He later apologized to Shelley for his bad decision.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”