Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Gorgon (1964)

**I’m afraid there will probably be SPOILERS of some sort in this review.  Sorry about that.**

In the accursed village of Vandorf, dandy artist Bruno (Jeremy Longhurst) sketches his topless paramour Sasha (Toni Gilpin) for a future painting.  After revealing she is pregnant with his child, Bruno, naturally, overreacts and heads off to confront her father who already had a low opinion of the painter in the first place.  Giving chase, Sasha runs into something in the woods which petrifies her.  Bruno is found hanged the next day.  Sasha’s stone body is brought to local Doctor Namaroff (Peter Cushing).  The Gorgon Margera has returned.

There are several interesting things going on in Terence Fisher’s The Gorgon just from the concept on down.  First of all, the Gorgon in question isn’t the infamous Medusa.  It is one of her sisters, Margera.  To my knowledge, though, the three Gorgons were Medusa, Sthenno, and Euryale.  There never was a Margera according to any Greek myths I was able to get a hold of, but I could be wrong in this.  But, by not using Medusa, they keep that portion of Perseus’ myth intact, and they also sort of hint at the idea that the other two had to flee in order to escape destruction (the method of flight also tensing the two siblings’ immortality).  It’s as if they were expanding and extrapolating on the extant fable, and this sort of implied backstory rears up at several points in the film.  Further, it is not an eternal Margera living in Castle Borski, though of the three sisters, Medusa was the only mortal.  It is her spirit which haunts the village.  Further, Margera’s spirit has taken over the body of one of the village people (hopefully not the Cowboy – sorry), so this adds a possession aspect.  To make things even more gonzo, Margera’s spirit is most powerful during a full moon, thus making her a quasi-Were-Gorgon, truly a unique creature.  Why, it’s almost as if the folks at Hammer had a werewolf script with a Dracula plot, but through some insane quirk of fate they just didn’t want to do it, and someone raised their hand at a meeting and said, “How about a Were-Gorgon?”

Of course, this presents us with one of my very favorite themes in film, in case you hadn’t noticed (or haven’t been reading my reviews; for shame), and that is one of duality.  The Gorgon is two people, one evil, one innocent.  Naturally (for anyone who has seen Clash Of The Titans, or, I don’t know, ever read anything), the only safe way to gaze upon Margera is in her reflection, and there is a nice sequence where Paul (Richard Pasco) encounters her and looks at her in a pool of water, a window, and so on.  A brief tangent; Fisher is also careful to not show the monster clearly for the majority of the film, and this is an effective way to hide a rather disappointing makeup.  Fortunately for the filmmaker, though, it also masks her from the audience in such a way as to heighten her menace.  After all, we know what she can do.  It’s right there in the title.  And Fisher and company are protecting us by not showing her directly.  Back to the point; the reflective aspects of the film point out not only Margera’s weakness but also the idea that what is in the mirror is opposite in appearance and nature from what is in front of it.  It’s an interesting way to delineate this Jekyll/Hyde, Leon/Werewolf doublet.  

This also plays on the role of art in the film.  Bruno is a painter, and he is about to create a representation of his ladylove on canvas.  She becomes a literal statue, no longer represented in a medium, but the medium itself.  In the same way that some groups believe that photographs and so on can capture a person’s soul, here art takes your life.  People are transformed into another state of being.  Their corporeal bodies exist, but they are vacant now (presumably).  Thus are they robbed of their identity, a major theme in Horror films for as long as they have existed.  This act of transformation also changes its victims into something hideous, with welts breaking out on their brows, before finally becoming smooth and arguably beautiful, in a very definite final repose.  This mid-stage equates Margera’s victims with her own ugliness.  She gets to “live” with it, though.  

Furthermore, the transformations in the film represent a sort of sexual repression and punishment for defiance of sexual mores (as a great many Hammer films seem to discuss).  People are either lured to their doom by a kind of siren song or run into Margera as a consequence of following their hearts (and consequently their loins).  Even though women can be victims too, predominantly they are men, and that they turn to stone is an interesting metaphor for male turgidity.  The Gorgon in its human form has been in a form of remission (read: repression) for some time, and when the human side begins to fall in love, Margera gains power and begins killing more.  This plays into the horrible past/conspiracy of fear angle of much of the story.  The history of the Gorgon’s human side can be seen as a sexually liberated one (this is tacit, not overtly stated), and it was this promiscuity which brought about the curse of the Gorgon in the first place.  Repression is forced, and the human side’s personality is quashed in order to save lives.  

Fisher’s direction is as solid as it has ever been, and the production design is up to Hammer’s normal high standards.  Naturally, seeing Cushing and Christopher Lee (the DeNiro and Pacino of British cinema) onscreen together is an absolute delight, and Lee’s Meister is a wonderful curmudgeon in opposition to Namaroff’s icy dispassion.  However, the film focuses largely on the romantic Melodrama aspects of its story to the detriment of its Horror aspects.  This also causes the majority of the mid-section of the film to falter in pacing, essentially forming a cinematic spare tire around its gut.  This is despite some of its more outré facets, and this is startling since these outlandish elements are so left-of-field, one would almost think that they could carry a movie on their own.  Disappointingly, they can’t.  The film is still worth seeing, it’s just not top tier Hammer for me in the same way that their more oddball films like The Abominable Snowman or Quatermass and the Pit are.  Perhaps if Nigel Kneale had a hand in this one too, I might feel different.  

MVT:  Cushing takes the honors.  I mean, you really can’t elaborate more on that.  He’s Peter Cushing.  You’re not.

Make Or Break:  After a mildly interesting opening scene, the Make is when Sasha’s body shows up at the hospital.  When her gorgon-ized hand appears from under the white sheet, we know we’re off to the races.  It’s just more like Shetland ponies rather than Thoroughbreds.  

Score: 6.25/10

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