Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Gorgon (1964) - Fun Horror Throwback

The Gorgon 1964 film poster
The Gorgon (1964).

"The Gorgon" (1964), directed by Terence Fisher, is a Hammer Film Productions creation that looks very out of place among other films of that year. An obvious low-rent affair that was probably shown as part of a twin-bill at drive-ins, "The Gorgon" still exerts charm. "The Gorgon" has become a cult classic, largely because there are some campy moments that, taken in the right spirit, are quite amusing. It has very loyal fans who view "The Gorgon" as one of the great horror films ever made.

The Gorgon 1964 Peter Cushing Christopher Lee
A lobby card for "The Gorgon."

"The Gorgon" has great horror-film leads in Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, each of whom could carry any horror film on their own. The pace and sets really make "The Gorgon" seem as though it comes from a different time and place than when it was filmed, and not just because it is set in the past. Watching it now, it is hard to believe "The Gorgon" was made in 1964 due to the moody sets and eccentric plot. The only thing that separates this from horror films of the early 1950s - or mid-1930s, for that matter - is that it is in color. But the setting in what appears to be Eastern Europe around 1900 is so dark, and the atmosphere so gray, that the color doesn't intrude to spoil the Gothic mood at all. The tale is straight out of mythology (if one is being generous), which gives it a kind of false legitimacy, and doesn't pull any punches. Taken on its own merits without reference to the "true" stories of the Gorgons (three sisters, two of whom were immortal, who had hair of living snakes), the whole thing works as a vehicle for transporting you to another time and place.

The Gorgon 1964 Peter Cushing
Peter Cushing in "The Gorgon."

It doesn't take long to figure out who the monster is, but that doesn't spoil the fun. The background music is straight out of "Dark Shadows" and other 1960s soap operas, and for once we actually get to clearly see and (kind of) meet the frightened townspeople who are throwing Molotov Cocktails (not carrying pitchforks, a minor nod to when this film was made). The policemen are useless and wear funny hats, there are shots for no reason of huge carriages racing through narrow streets behind thundering horses, there is a mysterious uninhabited castle that appears to be right in the middle of town because everybody who feels like it seems able to wander over into it on the slightest pretense.... One can see that this is the sort of film from which Mel Brooks got inspiration for "Young Frankenstein." And the best thing is that it is played straight as an arrow, no attempt at weak satire or anything like that which would ruin the mood.

The Gorgon 1964 Prudence Hyman
The Gorgon herself, played by Prudence Hyman.

The monster of the title, portrayed by Prudence Hyman, isn't that scary. In fact the Gorgon isn't scary at all, which raises the camp quality of the film considerably. One can find a lot of humor if one so chooses in the melodramatic exclamations of some of the male victims to the effect of, "She's so hideous, I'm blinded ahhhhhhhhh!" Kind of the ultimate put-down, the woman so ugly she actually does turn men to stone.... A good film to see if a woman has done you wrong lately, might bring a smile to your face. It did mine. Yes, I'm a horrible, horrible person LOL. Too bad, so sad.

The Gorgon 1964 Prudence Hyman
The Gorgon.

Simple sets, simple settings, simple tale, simple resolution - yes, "The Gorgon" is a simple little horror film. "The Gorgon" is not in the same league as "The Masque of the Red Death" or "The Tomb of Ligeia" from the same year, but even Vincent Price couldn't have done better with this material. However, it is atmospheric and moody, with high camp value, and those reasons can turn a "bad" film into a cult classic.

The Gorgon 1964
"The Gorgon" has sumptuous settings.

If you are in the mood for light horror with some unintended comic touches, "The Gorgon" might make for an enjoyable couple of hours. It is available on the 2-DVD set Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films (ASIN: B001B9ZVVC), from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.


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