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The Gorgon (1964)

There must have been a frantic meeting at the Hammer House Of Horror at some point in the mid 60s - a bunch of moustachioed blokes in tweed jackets and cardigans, all smoking pipes and wondering what they were going to do next. Zombies? Mummys? How about another Dracula film? Why not do a film about a bunch of cannibals who live in a farmhouse and chop people up with chainsaws? Nah, that'll never sell...

Anyway, it's a captivating image, isn't it? Oak panelled walls, ornate weapons of torture on the walls, and a Queen's Award For Industry on the mantlepiece. Makes you feel all kind of warm inside.

Whatever the truth is, what we have here (with The Gorgon) is a brave attempt by the studio to come up with a monster without ripping off the Universal films from the 1920s. Yes, this time they're ripping off Greek mythology. All the classic elements are there - Cushing, Lee, a big old house, scared villagers, even Patrick Troughton in a comedy German pointy hat.

The film starts with a bit of nudity - but only a bit, as an artist's model inexplicably covers herself up after posing nude for her boyfriend, so they can have a chat about her being up the duff. She doesn't hear what she wants to hear (they're all bastards, love) so she legs it into the forest, where she sees something that turns her to stone. (Could it be something beginning with "G" and ending in "Orgon"? What's the point of keeping the monster out of sight when the title of the film gives it away?)

Cushing's a doctor with a tremendous moustache. Troughton's the local bobby, but looks more like Baron Von Ricepudding from the Sparky Comic. It turns out this is the seventh murder in the town - and they suspect Bruno the artistic boyfriend. After all, he once got drunk in public - in a pub...

At the inquest, Bruno's dad pledges "I shall not rest until I see my son's name cleared." Cushing is acting very oddly - he obviously knows more than he's letting on - and even the police won't dre go near the spooky castle. Could there be a monster inside? Perhaps one with dodgy hair and captivating eyes? What do you reckon?

Of course, Bruno's dad knows what's going on, and after battling with the obligatory angry mob (who don't like him stirring up trouble in the village), he wanders up to the castle on his own, where, you guessed it, he runs into the Gorgon. Well, some old slapper of some kind, anyway. Luckily, he doesn't get a full blast and manages to make his way back to his room and draft a three page letter to his other son before he completely turns to stone. What a guy.

"I haven't much time... I have to... write a letter..."

Son number two (Paul) gets the letter, which explains everything - so he's not taking any of Cushing's shit this time. We get a brief classics lesson, just in case there's anyone left in the audience who doesn't know what's going on, and it's explained that Maguera (the Gorgon's name) has taken on human form. So that makes it Barbara Shelley, then - she's the only female star in the film. Cushing, who's in love with her, is protecting her at any expense.

Son number two catches a glimpse of Maguera, which turns his hair grey overnight. "The face... it was horrible... it was the most horrible thing I've ever seen..." so he's never been in Warrington at ten to two of a morning, then.

Paul's fallen in love with Carla (Shelley) - she looks good with red hair, actually - and then enter his friend and mentor, Christopher Lee, who puts in a barnstorming performance as a kind of even angrier Sherlock Holmes: "Good heavens, Paul - what's happened to you? Ill? You look like you've been in your grave and dug your way out!"

"Don't use long words, inspector - they don't suit you."

There's good lines for Cushing, too, as he performs a spot of impromptu brain surgery (it must have been written into his contract at the time): "It never ceases to amaze me why the most amazing work of God - the human brain - is the most revolting to look at."

Paul plans to run away with Carla, and they arrange to meet at the castle (uh-oh...)

Paul: "We'll go away tonight."

Carla: "We can't - it's too late."

"Why - why is it too late?"

"I... I don't know..."

There's a top fight at the end between two very obvious stunt doubles, and then, in the great tradition of these Hammer gothics, nearly everyone dies and the whole shebang finishes with Lee placating the dying Paul: "She's free now, Paul... she's free..."

Is there a single Hammer film with a happy ending? I doubt it. Unless you count the happiness you feel as the credits roll at the end of stuff like The Witches... The Gorgon, however, is great stuff, and worth tracking down.

Last updated: February 23, 2010

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