Thursday 31 July 2008

The Gorgon (1964)

Somewhere in the Castle Borski overlooking the town of Vandorf is the gorgon of the title. Victim number one is a young lady chasing her painter boyfriend who has just discovered that he's got her pregnant and wants to go talk to her dad in the middle of the night. Then again the gorgon probably made a better sculpture out of her than her boyfriend would ever have made a painting. Sasha becomes literally turned to stone. Actually she's victim number seven in five years, all of whom have been turned to stone, and the entire town has somewhat naturally succumbed to deep fear.

Even Dr Namaroff at the Vandorf Medical Institution, played by the dashing Peter Cushing, is afraid, but he knows much more than he's telling. Prof Jules Heitz, with who he once studied, wants to track down the cause of the fear, because the painter was his son Bruno who has been whitewashed as the bad guy in a murder/suicide pact. Not believing a word of it, Prof Heitz investigates the murders, the castle and the legend of Megera, the only surviving member of the legendary gorgons, only to get promptly turned to stone himself.

The cast is impeccable, with many of the Hammer greats, not least Cushing and Christopher Lee, playing another professor, the irascible Prof Meister at Leipzig University, who unfortunately shares very few scenes. Cushing's assistant Carla Hoffman is played by the gorgeous Barbara Shelley. There's also Patrick Troughton and Michael Goodliffe, and as Paul Heitz, who inherits his father's quest for truth, Richard Pasco. All of these appeared in other Hammer films, often many of them. The Hammer horrors were consistent in quality for a long, long time, due mostly to the consistency of their cast and crew.

This one's a decent entry in the canon, with all the qualities you'd expect from a Hammer horror: a decent pulp story courtesy of John Gilling (making recompense for his offense to the cinema by directing Mother Riley Meets the Vampire), great gothic sets (cleverly used so that they appear more plentiful than they really are), decent costumes (Barbara Shelley should always be seen in a great fur lined cape), a decent score and of course decent effects, sparingly used for maximum impact.

The direction is solid, courtesy of Terence Fisher, the granddaddy of all Hammer directors, who began it all with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, then followed up with the 1958 version of Dracula, 1959's The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mummy, then The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll, The Curse of the Werewolf and The Phantom of the Opera, one per year from 1960 on, and finally The Devil Rides Out in 1968. No other man, not even Cushing or Lee could really claim that much Hammer heritage, regardless of how many Dracula films they appeared in. Fisher set in place every sequence for others to follow.

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