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Gorgon, The (1964)

Main image of Gorgon, The (1964)
35mm, colour, 83 mins
Directed byTerence Fisher
Production CompanyHammer Film Productions
Produced byAnthony Nelson Keys
ScreenplayJohn Gilling
PhotographyMichael Reed
Music byJames Bernard

Cast: Peter Cushing (Dr Namaroff); Christopher Lee (Professor Carl Meister); Richard Pasco (Paul Heitz); Barbara Shelley (Carla Hoffman); Michael Goodliffe (Professor Heitz); Patrick Troughton (Inspector Kanof)

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When a young woman is found murdered in bizarre circumstances in a small middle European village, blame is placed on her boyfriend, found dead nearby. But other evidence points to a nameless evil that haunts the local castle.

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By 1963, Hammer had honed its expertise in Gothic horror production and was looking for new ways to enliven the genre. The Gorgon presented the studio's first female monster, who, by the end of the film, has killed nearly all the male characters. Subsequently, the female monster became a regular Hammer feature, explored in more depth in films such as Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (d. Roy Ward Baker, 1971), The Vampire Lovers (d. Baker, 1970) and Countess Dracula (d. Peter Sasdy, 1970).

The titular Gorgon, Megaera, although the alter-ego of Barbara Shelley's Carla Hoffman, was played by ballet dancer Prudence Hyman (credited as 'chatelaine') under very elaborate make-up. The Gorgon's head piece was designed by Roy Ashton and the snakes that dart from her hair were controlled from behind. However, the monster's most effective appearances are those barely seen, as when sighted by Professor Heitz in a green glow among the decaying grandeur of Castle Borski or glimpsed by Paul reflected in a rain-rippled pool.

The notion of the male gaze as a forbidden act is a key theme. In the opening scene, Bruno looks on Sascha's semi-naked form in order to reproduce it for others to see and is punished by death. Gazing directly on Megaera kills three of the film's male characters, who are all unavoidably drawn to look even though they know the penalty. These educated, professional men prove ineffective when faced with the temptation of seeing the forbidden.

The film was released in a double bill with The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (d. Michael Carreras) and was the last of Hammer's six-year deal with Columbia. One of the marketing gimmicks suggested to cinema managers was to provide the cinema audience with an eye mask for those who wished to avoid looking at the Gorgon. History does not record whether any were able to overcome the temptation to look.

Jo Botting

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Video Clips
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Cushing, Peter (1913-1994)
Fisher, Terence (1904-1980)
Lee, Christopher (1922-)
Troughton, Patrick (1920-1987)
Hammer Horror