The Gorgon (1964)

JANUARY 28, 2009


When is a horror movie not really a horror movie? Answer: when the goddamn monster disappears for a full hour until the final 2 scenes of the movie. Such is the case with The Gorgon, a Hammer entry that gets the cast (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee), the director (Terrence Fisher) and the setting (colorful castles and villages) correct, but adds in a wholly underwhelming script by John Gilling.

Luckily, the basic plot was interesting enough to maintain just enough interest to keep me awake. There’s a mythological creature turning folks into stone, and a whole bunch of stuffy British guys are fighting over the opportunity to stop it. Cushing is also involved in a jealous rivalry with some other guy over his assistant (the classy Barbara Shelley), who clearly wants to nail the other dude. It’s an interesting role for Cushing, he’s not really the villain, but he’s hardly a Helsing-esque hero either. It’s more of a Vincent Price type kind of sinister/kind of tragic role, and I hope I see other Cushing roles like this (readers: to the recommendation thread!).

Lee also plays sort of against type. He’s a professor or scientist or whatever, but he plays it like Adam Goldberg might, with an air of laid back detachment. Which is just a pretentious way of saying he seems either drunk or high or both throughout the entire movie. He also doesn’t really do much. I was all excited for the idea of another Cushing/Lee face-off or team-up, but the two only interact once in the entire movie. It’s like Hammer’s version of Heat. Bring on Hammer’s Righteous Kill!

I also noticed something interesting - neither Cushing or Lee are given dramatic entrances. Both of them are introduced as casually as every other character in the movie. I started wondering if this was always the case with older films; is giving the big star a really big, impressive first appearance in the movie a relatively new thing? Nowadays, if Christopher Lee shows up in a movie, they’ll probably show his feet first or maybe have the camera spin around from back to front or whatever.

But back to the point - the scares and horror are just not there in this one. After the monster kills two folks, and scares another guy, nothing even remotely horror-related occurs until the final 10 or 15 minutes, leaving a 45-50 min chunk of the 85 film comprised of nothing but folks yammering on and Cushing fiddling with his seemingly unrelated science experiments. And even the horror is pretty weak; most of it is comprised of the wind blowing open a wooden door (an event that occurs I think four times in the film).

The snake head monster is as goofy as they come, with Star Trek-esque levels of cheapness on display. You know those plastic snakes you buy at crappy toy stores, you hold one end and the rest sort of pendulum swings back and forth? It looks like they broke the heads off a few of those and glued it to one of Winona Ryder’s hats from Autumn In New York. Maybe that’s why the damn thing only appears in about 35 seconds of the movie.

The ending saves it though. You find out who the Medusa-thing has been possessing, and it’s a surprise (to me). Plus, it’s a real downer, because you like the person, and it’s worth noting that the monster/person dies rather gruesomely, and instead of ending right there (as any other Hammer film would do), there’s another minute in which someone else you like dies as well. It’s like they broke protocol just to leave you kind of sad, which I appreciate.

Oh well. Not every Hammer movie can be a classic.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Besides Brides of Dracula and Dracula, Prince of Darkness, this was my favorite Hammer film as a kid. What I liked about this was the way they subverted the viewer's expectations by having Lee as the hero and Cushing as the villain.
    The gorgon's big scene is pretty disappointing, especially compared to the awesome Medusa sequence from Clash of the Titans (which is definitely the creepiest scene Harryhausen ever crafted). That said, the movie isn't hurt too much by it. I think the book Terror on Tape described it best: (and I'm paraphrasing here) "A gothic horror version of Vertigo".


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