The Gorgon (UK 1964)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 6/20/10
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Barbara Shelley, Christopher Lee, Michael Goodliffe, Richard Pasco

Another delightful Hammer horror fest that falls apart at the very end with a predictable and unconvincing ending. In Greek mythology, there were three sisters who were Gorgons. Their visage was so hideous, that any mortal who gazed upon them was turned into stone. Medusa was the most popular of the sisters, as she was heroically slain by Perseus, but what of the other two? Throwing historical accuracy aside, one of the Gorgons was Megaera, who fled to Germany after the death of her two sisters. She eventually died and her spirit stayed behind to haunt a local castle. After many years of peace and calm, Magaera's spirit has awakened again and started killing people during the full moon. The local townsfolk are terrified and cover up the murders with a covenant of silence, but outsiders such as Professor Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) and Professor Meister (goofy Christopher Lee) are keen to learn the truth. Central to the plot are the town doctor (delightful Peter Cushing) and his mysterious assistant Carla (beautiful Barbara Shelley). It seems the spirit of Magaera is able to take on human form, and she must be stopped at all costs.

Films like this are a blast, and the lush colors and rich textures that Hammer is known for are gorgeous. It's also great to see a horror film that features actors with such class, dignity, and grace. Peter Cushing and Barbara Shelley deliver wonderfully strong performances that are wrought with an undercurrent of angst and sexual torment. Michael Goodliffe is also quite good as an angry father who is determined to discover the truth and clear his son's name. The film focuses on the tragedy of doomed love affairs, and nearly everyone in the film suffers as a result of their love for someone else. Or in the case of Ms. Shelley, the torment of being loved by others. Peter Cushing is as warm and caring as he is jealous and possessive, and his duplicity is a total treat to watch. On the other hand, Christopher Lee plays a loud, dorky, and eccentric professor who you simply can't take seriously. The film climaxes with a brawl at Magaera's castle while everyone tries to avoid the Gorgon's gaze. Unfortunately, the makeup is less than convincing and Magaera's snake hairdo comes off as a bit silly. It's also interesting to note that unlike so many other portrayals of Gorgons, Magaera's gaze doesn't have an instant effect on her victims, and it can take several minutes for them to turn to stone. This prolonged agony helps drive home the tragic misery of the victims as they reflect upon their fate. A good time for Hammer fans.