Hopefully, you won't be turned into stone by Zechs' review of the 1964 Hammer Horror film, The Gorgon, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
Ok, this really wasn't on my must watch lists, the only allure had to watching this film was that it was from Hammer and it stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The only real reason I watched this was that a friend was having his weekly movie night and being a fan of movies like this hence my viewing of it. Plus this fills my Halloween quota and rather than a Hammer Dracula film, it ws requested I try something different. Well this is as far south I can get from a vampire film done by Hammer. So what did I think of it? A film
I really liked it for the most part. It took me by surprise going into this I was already into the mindset, "Ok what foul deeds and villain will Lee play and I wonder how will Cushing save the day?" To my astonishment, this movie reverses the roles with Cushing as one of the villains (obviously taking second billing to said title monster) and Lee the protagonist. This works to the films advantage for me when you see Cushing thinking he'll help and isntead does some questionable acts.
The story itself take's place in 1905 somewhere probably near Eastern Europe where Megera (a sister of the more famous Medusa) has set up shop in a village taking out the locals when there's a full moon. However, much like the slasher films of the 70s to 80s the people of this village would rather cover up this mess than end the horror. Some of the townsfolk are motivated by fear, some have they're own reasons in defending the monster. It's only when one of the victim's kin decides enough is enough.
As always, both Lee and Cushing bring their artistic chops to their respective roles. However, they're roles are hardly as juicy as say Dr. Frankenstein, Dracula, or Van Helsing. Cushing has more of a role of the two and really all we get of his motivation in helping the creature is a rather obvious one at the end, but still one wishes they would have at least put more effort in why he continues doing this. Though you can clearly tell he had some fun being one of the villains of the piece. Lee has a bit more to play with, but does ham it up just a little bit in some of his scenes (all thanks to the get-up his character is given). But again this is Lee and Cushing; even on they're worse day they're hundred times better than say other modern actors could throw. Though just a warning, Lee doesn't actually appear for a good portion of the film. His role only becomes important well into the middle of the film. The actual lead in this piece, Richard Pasco as Paul does a remarkable job as the lead hero given he's next to two titans of horror. You actually feel for his character and his pursuit against this creature that has taken his father's life.
Again, as with previous Hammer films some of its usual suspects are also in this film as well. Though there is no Michael Gough, I was delighted to see the Second Doctor (aka Doctor Who) Patrick Troughton in the film, rings up a nice performance of the corrupt police inspector. Then there's Barbara Shelley and Michael Goddffe who nicely round up the remaining players of this play.
The important thing to note of this film unlike say other Hammer Horror is that it's the atmosphere that gives the creature the edge in this, not the creature itself. The Gothic visual with Victorian buildings really works for it. The same goes for the direction which builds each scene involving the Gorgon quite nicely. Any of the scenes where she's stalking her prey the sets and how the mood is set is quite creepy. It almost reminds me of Jaws where you know the frigging shark is around. You're on the edge of your seat waiting and then the payoff is delivered.
The make-up effects of the victims of the Megera are equally chilling. I have to admit it is quite creepy even today when it's only a few dabs of gray make-up applied. Still, the visual gives the appropriate effect in showing off these poor victims in a halfway point before they're fully turned to stone. Some might complain on why one victim is turned to stone, while another take's like forever. All I have to say about that is, maybe it's due to the point of view the victim is staring into her and that's why the timing is different with some of the victims.
That said as for Megera herself, well thankfully they take the Jaws approach with her for the most part. Using the less is more strategy with her they give you but glimpses of her throughout the film. When you finally do get a view of her yeah the snakes on her head are sure hokey. But then this flick was made in friggin 1964, so one cannot expect computer generated snakes or a visual like out of the mind of a Stan Winston or Rick Baker. Regardless, once you get into that mindset the effects do they're job (and honestly the snakes are the only negative as the rest of the make-up on Megera is quite good). I mean just look at her eyes, they're absolutely terrifying! Not to mention the scales around them.
The only other negative I can say about this flick is that it tries to hang a mystery of who the creature is. Regardless, given there's only one main female character (played by Barbara Shelley) in the flick still walking around alive it's not hard who the frigging creature is when there isn't a full moon. So why they prolonged this friggin mystery when you only have one female lead just astonishes me. I mean couldn't they have just added some freaky old hag just to toss a little red herring our way? Nope, we do not and the so-called mystery is just too easy to solve and really could have given us some more scenes with Cushing and Lee instead.
On the whole, the Gorgon is nice daring try out of Hammer in trying to put they're classic stamp of horror on the Greek side of things. The film is not flawless and some might find it not to they're liking due to these cracks. Those who are fans of Lee and Cushing might want to try this out (especially given this is probably the only occasion where the roles are reversed). Also this is more a character driven piece than an actual horror one with Hammers two best stars more playing in the supporting role. Regardless of these negatives the positives superiorly outweight them: the direction, music, and the fact this is a rather unique attempt from Hammer that does actually work. So those horror fans seeking something other than vampires, werewolves, ghoul, or Frankenstein's monster will find something interesting here. After all, it's made by Hammer that already puts it above any horror film currently produced.
4 Out of 5