I don’t know if Hammer Films made The Gorgon with an eye to enlarging their stable of “Eastern European,” fin-de-siècle monsters, but it is a shame that it did not initiate a new series to join their line of vampires, werewolves and Frankenstein creations, for it is a fittingly ghoulish addition.
Based on the myth of the three-headed gorgon so hideous that looking straight at it turns you to stone (remember Medusa?), the monster has been transferred from ancient Greece to an EE village named Varndorff which has been terrorized by a series of mysterious deaths. Unlike the average Transylvanian villagers, the Varndoffans are not steeped in the mythology of their local monster, they just do their best to hush up the deaths because they are mute with fear.
They are forced to open up when the death of a philandering artist brings his mythology-knowledgeable father, Prof. Heitz (Michael Goodliffe), to town. The professor lives long enough to identify the cause of the deaths as a gorgon, but it is up to his other son, Paul (Richard Pasco) to determine where the monster is hiding. Paul is helped by his mentor, Prof. Meister (Christopher Lee) and a local nurse, Carla Hoffmann (Barbara Steele). The one person who could elucidate matters, Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing), who has dealt with the ossified victims, seems intent rather on keeping the secret at any cost.
The monster’s presence is suggested through hints and glimpses as director Terence Fisher and cinematographer Michael Reed cleverly play off the fact that we are not supposed to be able to see it without dire consequences in a nimble game of cat-and-mouse. Instead, they lavish considerable skill on reflections, barely seen action at the edges of the frame, water shimmering in the moonlight and shadows dancing through the creepy sets provided by production designer Bernard Robinson.
The monster hunters correctly assume that the gorgon has invaded a human host who must be identified, which in fact is not terribly difficult. It is so easy that when Meister figures it out based on police evidence, you wonder how they could have failed to do so themselves. Instead, once the host has been revealed, new questions arise around how that identification will be resolved.
Which may suggest why The Gorgon did not launch a new series—the monster is dispatched, but so is the unfortunate host. Of course, Count Dracula has died countless times only to rise again, so elimination of a supernatural monster is not necessarily career shortening. Maybe Greek myth was just a little beyond the Hammer formula. (How or why the gorgon has left sunnier climes for piny Prussia or taken two thousand years for the move is never asked, much less addressed.) Regardless of the reason, it is a shame that the gorgon did not sprout a few more heads fit for decapitation. Still, by my count, there is at least one more left, so…