Professor Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) travels to Vandorf to prove that his bohemian artist son, who has committed suicide, is being used as a scapegoat to cover up the fact there is an ancient evil prowling the area, turning people to stone. Unfortunately, the professor himself falls victim to this creature but, before he becomes a stone corpse, he manages to send a message to his other son, Paul (Richard Pasco), asking him to look into this mystery.
The local police (led by Patrick Troughton), along with Dr Namaroff (Peter Cushing) of the Vandorf Medical Institution, try to obstruct Paul as he attempts to solve the mystery. Paul has a narrow escape when he catches sight of the prowling gorgon’s reflection, which physically ages him and makes him ill, but he is aided by his tutor Professor Meister (Christopher Lee), who also travels to Vandorf to help out his pupil. Matters become more complicated when Paul falls in love with Namaroff’s beautiful assistant, Carla (Barbara Shelley)…
Some of my favourite Hammer movies are their standalone films like THE REPTILE, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE GORGON. The latter is a production that I will go back to enjoy again and again because it is such a wonderful, tragic concoction.
The film has an interesting plot structure, introducing a succession of characters, who arrive at the town of Vandorf looking for answers: first Professor Heitz, then Paul and then Professor Meister. This could have given it a repetitive feel, but it doesn’t, and the story moves along nicely, with Dr Namaroff acting as a constant obstruction to the enquiries made by the various visitors.
Peter Cushing is very good in this: as Namaroff he remains impeccably well-mannered throughout, as he covers up the facts behind the deaths, never admitting to outsiders that each victim has become a corpse-statue. His love for Carla adds extra depth to the character, as he becomes jealous of Paul’s burgeoning relationship with Carla, whilst also wrestling with the knowledge of just who is transforming into the gorgon.
The identity of the possessed person isn’t too hard to fathom, but this doesn’t harm the film because Carla’s predicament adds to the tragic nature of the story. With Paul and Namaroff trying to do what’s best for Carla (even if Namaroff’s solution ultimately involves killing her), the stage is set for a final clash between two men besotted with the same woman.
James Bernard’s score has its usual bombastic elements, as heard in many Hammer productions, but it also features haunting female vocals that add immeasurably to the atmosphere. The tattered Borski Castle interior set, by Bernard Robinson, also adds to the mood of the film, as does the ultimately sad resolution to the story.
The whole cast, including Richard Pasco and Barbara Shelley, inhabit their doomed roles well, with Christopher Lee providing somewhat lighter relief as the brusque, no-nonsense, says-it-as-it-is Professor Meister.
Memorable moments include Professor Heitz struggling to write a letter as he slowly turns to stone, Paul’s encounter with the gorgon that results in him suffering badly from glimpsing her reflection in a pool, and the finale in Borski Castle.
The depiction of Megaera the Gorgon in the film is, admittedly, a distinctly low tech affair, but Terence Fisher’s direction compensates for this by keeping the snake-haired woman in shadows, in the background, behind pillars and glimpsed in reflections. As portrayed by Prudence Hyman, the gorgon is still a memorable Hammer creation, lurking menacingly in her green robes, awaiting her next victim.
With its tragic ending, sombre fatalism and fine acting from the whole cast, THE GORGON is a top-notch Hammer production.