Another 31 day month, another “31 Days of Hammer” as Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.
You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley
Director: Terence Fisher
A classic monster from Greek mythology might not be the most obvious contender for a Hammer gothic horror, but in taking what they wanted from the story of the Gorgon and putting it through their own stylistic meat-grinder, the studio pulled off one of their most unlikely triumphs.
The town of Valdorf has a secret. Over the last few years, Megeara, one of the ancient Gorgon sisters has been haunting the area, turning anyone unlucky enough to meet her deadly gaze to stone. A grim enough scenario, but there’s a conspiracy of silence at work too, taking in not just the locals, but the authorities too. After his late brother is wrongfully blamed for one of the Gorgon’s murders and his father falls victim to her lethal gaze while trying to prove his innocence, Paul Heitz (Richard Pasco) is left to discover the truth at the heart of Valdorf and put an end to Megaera once and for all.
In bringing back the dream team of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and director Terence Fisher for one last hurrah, Hammer brought their first era of horror to a close on a suitably high note, but The Gorgon is a different beast from any that has come before.
Fitst and foremost, there’s a romance at the heart of the story, with both Heitz and Cushing’s Doctor Namaroff in love with amnesiac nurse Carla Hoffman, played by a particularly radiant Barbara Shelley. The situation is made even more complex with Namaroff hiding his feelings for his nurse, while also protecting her from the knowledge that she is indeed the vessel for the spirit of Megaera and responsible for the deaths that have been plaguing the town.
In playing such a morally dubious character, Cushing is at the very top of his game. He’s far from a villain, but his weakness and lack of convictions have a body count, as much as the local police (including a pre-Doctor Who Patrick Troughton) and coroner, all of whom are engaged in an active cover-up.
A late addition to the plot, but a great one, is the towering presence of Christopher Lee, clearly delighting in wearing a rare white hat (and comedy wig and moustache it must be said) as Heitz’s ally Professor Karl Meister. Sadly he and Cushing don’t get the amount of screen time you’d like them to, but he’s never short of a joy to watch here.
As for the Gorgon herself, it must be said she could be better. Recasting her from Shelley to Prudence Hyman hardly preserves a mystery as it’s glaringly obvious who Megaera is early doors, while the snake effects in her hair are poor and clearly inhibit her movement. Her few appearances are shot brilliantly though and convey no small amount of menace.
There’s a wonderful bleakness running through The Gorgon that few Hammer horrors will ever touch upon. Both Heitz and Hoffman are tragic characters, trapped by their past or a sense of duty, dreaming of a future together away from Valdorf that’s never going to happen.
There’s no real winners in this story, just survivors, but it’s all the more effective for it.
Lee, Cushing and Fisher would never team up together again, but for one last time, we got to see just how special they were together.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy