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.
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 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.
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. Follow @McNeilColin