Hammer Time: The Gorgon (1964) Review

The Gorgon (1964) Review

Rating: 2/5 stars

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching “Horror of Dracula” – perhaps the quintessential Hammer Horror flick. It was big, bold, and classically executed right ‘till the very end. This one… not so much.

Starring Hammer’s two favourite names, Cushing and Lee, The Gorgon is a Gothic tale of old world evil alive and well in the 19th century German countryside.

When villagers from the tiny town of Vandorf start turning up dead and petrified to solid stone, it’s up to the father of a condemned man to investigate. Through a smokescreen of cover-ups and intimidation by local police, he discovers the terrifying truth… that the final surviving Gorgon sister has somehow emerged from Greek legend and is cutting a swathe of death through the German countryside.

The Gorgon starts off promisingly enough. The idea of a Medusa-like creature (the gorgon featured here is apparently “Megara”, Medusa’s sister) wandering around turn of the century Europe is ambitious and unique, and the atmosphere is heavy on the Gothic from the get-go.

The film is peppered with haunting shots of the Gorgon’s titanic castle and the village’s deep, dark woods. The heavy aura of dread mixing with classical mythological themes reminds me of something from Edgar Allen Poe.

And the soundtrack is as much a part of the atmosphere as the visuals. It’s made up of a strange, unsettling blend of soprano singing and an old electronic instrument called a Novachord. The two combine to create an eerie call of the dammed that echoes through the forest outside the small town’s borders.

Promising stuff for the Gothic horror fan.

The Gorgon (1964) Review

Unfortunately, after the atmospheric  first act, the film gets stuck in the mud of slow character and plot development, and pretty much turns to stone, so to speak.

Take your pick of side-plots. There’s the marauding townsfolk, the secret life of Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing) and his assistant Carla (Barbara Shelley), and of course her love triangle with the film’s protagonist Paul Heitz (Richard Pasco).

It’s all interesting in moderate doses, but none of it actually has anything to do with why we’re watching this film: a gorgon.

Mercifully, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee carry the rest of the film on their backs, and the chemistry between the two makes it all watchable.

The Gorgon (1964) Review

The Gorgon turns 50 this year, and unfortunately, it’s showing its age. The few special effects used, mostly for the creature itself, feel disappointing and cheap. It’s only in the final scenes of the film that we actually see the gorgon, and after more than an hour of buildup, it turns out to be someone in a bad toga costume with rubber snakes in her hair.

Throwing a mythical Greek monster in the middle of turn of the century Germany was an ambitious choice for Hammer. They got the Gothic atmosphere right, but just couldn’t make the rest work.

Hammer Time

See more of Colin’s Hammer Horror reviews on Hammer Time, our ongoing exploration of all things gothic and macabre from the classic UK movie studio Hammer Films.

About the author

Colin McNeil is a journalist living and working in Toronto, Canada. His film writing has been published in Canada’s largest daily newspaper, Metro News, and on his own film blog at BloodyFilm.com. 

4 thoughts on “Hammer Time: The Gorgon (1964) Review

  1. Yes, the side plots and back-stories are very distracting in this movie, which should make viewers jump out of their seats. I love old Hammer horror films, but this one is a rather disappointing example.

  2. The Gorgon is not one of the best Hammer films. It starts off well, very gothic and atmospheric, but unfortunately nothing really comes of it all. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are as excellent as ever, but sadly the poor effects and final reveal don’t live up to the early potential.

  3. Pretty fair review Colin . Criticisms spot on and yet somehow or other The Gorgon
    Lingers in the memory . Partly down to haunting music, atmospheric sets and cast
    of stalwart British thesps playing it straight when knee deep in prime Hammer
    Mittel Europa kitsch . Still , when you are in the mood there are few more soothing
    Places to be……The Cush is there and Christopher Lee , the coach arriving at the Inn ,
    the muttering local peasants falling silent as a stranger enters…..perfection !
    PS . Can I recommend a similar lesser known B classic…..not a Hammer….but
    in same vein ; Circus of Horrors. ( 1960 ) . It has ; circus setting , crazed German
    plastic surgeon and Donald Pleasance ! Flawed perfection !

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