Monday, December 16, 2019

There's a Snake In My Hair

Thanks to a little movie called Clash of the Titans, my childhood included a rather odd obsession with the story of Perseus and Medusa. Considering just how great that myth is, it's almost strange to realize just how few films play around with the stony possibilities of gorgons.

Quick Plot: A young artist named Bruno is painting his muse only to discover she's pregnant with his child. Eager to prove himself worthy in her father's eyes, he flees to ask for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, before he can hear the word "no," his girlfriend is mysteriously turned to stone. The next day, Bruno is also found dead, his corpse hanging from a tree. 

The easiest course of action for the town to take is to posthumously convict Bruno of murder/suicide, something verified by Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing!) but unacceptable to Bruno's family. After his father gets stoned during his private investigation, his brother Paul shows up to finish the job. He finds a sympathetic ear in Carla, Namaroff's assistant, who has a mysterious movie condition of slight amnesia that couldn't possible be connected to anything relevant to the main plot. 

The Gorgon is a Hammer production, which thankfully means Christopher Lee is legally required to show up. When Paul declares "I can't tell you how glad I am to see you!" upon the arrival of Lord Summerisle, we in the audience have to wonder just how meta such a line is. 

Directed by Hammer veteran Terence Fisher, The Gorgon falls somewhere on the high end of low in the Hammer canon. The more subtle stoning horrors are played to good effect, but the lack of a memorable lead (our main character isn't determined until two of his relations die) hurts, not to mention the incredibly disappointing finale with its paper mache level special effects. 

High Points
I'll never complain about a torch-bearing angry town mob

Low Points
One doesn't exactly expect to find transgressive feminist themes in fifty year old British horror, but it's still a shame to see Carla be presented as such an object of a character. While she begins as having her own agency, that quickly goes away once there are enough men on hand to dedicate the rest of the film to saving her. 

Lessons Learned
In the early 1900s, your average upperclassman was an incredibly adept fencer

No-good bohemians make terrible decisions in the middle of the night

The proper pronunciation should be GORgon, not gorGON (note: this comment is aimed squarely at TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, who pronounces it the latter even though NOBODY in the movie does)

The Gorgon isn't a Hammer must-see, but anything that unites Christopher Lee with Peter Cushing has its merits. 

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