Halloween special - Gort vs bad hair: We review Hammer's The Gorgon

Commander's Log, Stardate 31102013.2

Walking down to the engine room for our weekly critique of Steve The Engineer's performance, we were accosted in a dark corner by a shadowy woman dressed all in green with a head full of slimy, squirming hair.

"Whrhrrrrr ooooh aaaah," she said.

"Helen?" I asked.

"Oh, alright, it's me," confessed Helen Cox of New Empress Magazine. "I was bringing up some new screeners and I fell in this weird vat of green slime you've got stowed down in the shuttle bay."

"Oh, yeah..." Gort owned up after a few moments of glaring. "I was experimenting with this substance you call limeade. I felt it could be weaponised in some way..."


Sometimes, as a famous thespian, you just fancy wearing some really awful facial hair. This was particularly the case for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, together again in the 1964 Hammer Horror flick The Gorgon. The pair decided to switch roles, with Lee playing the doddery, grumpy, old professor and Cushing appearing as the moustache-twirling villain. To celebrate the occasion, they also chose some of the most bizarre, stuck-on facial hair Hammer ever created.

Cushing is the warden of a mental institution in a small village in a generic Eastern European nation. He is ministered to by a pretty young redhead who was once his patient and is now his assistant. Cushing is asked to act as pathologist when the villagers discover a young girl who appears to have been turned to stone. Rather than doing this, Cushing instead explains the "legend" of Medusa's two sisters, particularly one named Megaera  then immediately dismisses the whole thing as poppycock and balderdash before retiring ominously to his basement lab with jackbooted thug, Patrick Troughton and a knife-wielding henchman who looks like he's incredibly bitter at narrowly losing out on the role of Lurch in The Addams' Family. This is possibly to cover for Lee's lack of mythological knowledge as neither of Medusa's sisters were called Megaera.

Any film that can turn the silly idea of being turned to stone into creepy horror has to be worth a look

Lee and a generic, clean-cut, young chap turn up to investigate and the chap immediately falls for Cushing's assistant as if he has never seen a real, live woman before. Cushing goes a bit creepy and sets the villagers on the pair for The Greater Good (TM), while Lee is left the only one actually trying to figure out why and how people are continuing to be turned to stone.

To be brutally honest, it's all a little dull. Not much of anything happens other than a string of characters appear and disappear in succession with only the thinnest of relationships between them. There isn't so much a plot as a succession of events linked by location. Even the triumvirate of Troughton, Lee and Cushing don't seem to be giving the film their all.

What makes this stand out, however, is the villainess. Lee famously said the film could have been a classic were it not for the poor snake effects in Megaera's hair, but actually this is the most striking part of the film. Years later, we can forgive the dodgy gorgon, simply realised with a green dress and a few plastic snakes and us not seeing more than a few glimpses adds credence to the idea that a look can turn a person to stone. Likewise, the transformations are straightforwardly portrayed with grey make-up and in a way that makes the idea quite chilling. Any film that can turn the silly idea of being turned to stone into creepy horror has to be worth a look.

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