Cast & Crew
Many petrified corpses are found in the village of Vandorf in 1910. When Bruno Heitz, an artist, is found hanging from a tree following the death of his girl friend, he is assumed to be the murderer. Attempting to clear his son's name, Professor Heitz visits Vandorf, where he encounters the hostility of Police Chief Kanof, brain surgeon Namaroff, and the villagers themselves, who set his lodgings ablaze. In the ruins of Castle Borski the professor confronts Megaera, the legendary gorgon. Her gaze gradually turns him to stone, but he notifies his elder son, Paul. Accompanied by his mentor, Professor Meister, Paul arrives in Vandorf. When Namaroff refuses to see him, Meister's suspicions are aroused. Aware that Paul is attracted to Carla, Namaroff's assistant, Meister advises him to shun her. From Namaroff's papers Meister learns that Carla, an amnesiac, is the surgeon's former patient. Discovering that Paul and Carla have arranged a tryst at Castle Borski, Meister rushes to the ruins. There he and Paul slay both Namaroff and Carla, whose body had housed the gorgon.
J. Llewellyn Devine
The Gorgon was the first time since The Mummy (1959) that Terence Fisher, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had worked together and it was a harmonious experience for all. Fisher was still reeling from the disappointing critical and financial failure of his 1962 remake of The Phantom of the Opera for Hammer and needed a hit. Lee had recently completed The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) for the studio and was happy to be reunited with Cushing again, saying "We're great kidders and both of us caught the habit of making the other laugh which, sometimes, quite disastrous." This time around, Lee was the hero and Cushing was the villain. "I played an evil man," Cushing later admitted, "although to be fair, this character had a secret reason for behaving as he did." (from Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography by Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio)
Barbara Shelley, who became one of the great scream queens of British horror beginning in 1957 with Cat Girl, at first found Lee to be "rather bluff, pompous, intellectual" but later admitted she "began to see another side of Chris. Without ever allowing it to interfere with his discipline or professionalism, Chris has a beautiful dry sense of humor." The most disappointing aspect of The Gorgon for her was the title creature. [SPOILER ALERT] "When the Gorgon actually appeared," she said, "it was another actress made up. If I was needed on the set as Carla, it would take two hours to switch from the Gorgon - or even longer the other way." The film's producer, Anthony Nelson Keys, felt he needed two actresses for the role in order to protect the creature's secret identity. Shelley, however, tried to convince him she should play both roles and that for the Gorgon's wig, live green garden snakes should be woven into it for a more realistic effect. Her suggestions were ignored and actress Prudence Hyman was fitted with a headpiece with five wires that were manipulated from a box placed 25 feet behind her. The result was not convincing and actually blunted the film's effectiveness; Nelson Keys later apologized to Shelley for not using her suggestion. Even Christopher Lee later commented, "The only thing wrong with The Gorgon is the gorgon." As for the famous decapitation scene at the climax, prints in the U.K. were allegedly darkened for close-ups of the severed head.
Upon release, The Gorgon was well received by most critics with British publications such as The Daily Cinema noting it was "Elegantly decked out in Hammer's best Gothic Style." The Kinematograph Weekly wrote that it had a "Sustained atmosphere of eerie foreboding and genuine suspense" and even U.S. reviewers were favorable with Variety calling it "A well made, direct yarn." Yet, the film has a stately pace and may disappoint some fantasy genre fans due to an abundance of expository dialogue scenes and not enough moments of pure horror. Despite that, The Gorgon has acquired a devoted following since its release with TimeOut critic Geoffrey Macnab writing "Given that so many thrillers are predicated on the idea of the murderous male gaze, it's a novelty to have the woman staring back." However, the entry in The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, edited by Phil Hardy, is probably the most insightful analysis of the movie: "The pervasive fantasy of the phallic mother is so logically and consistently enacted that even a psychoanalytic interpretation could not be more explicit...the movie's overall impact remains unnervingly powerful as it brilliantly presents one of the fundamental nightmare images of our culture, something even most horror films (Alien, 1979, for example) shy away from, preferring to cloak the monstrous mother-figure in less easily recognizable shapes. This is Fisher's most dreamlike and bewitching work, perfectly acted by all concerned..."
Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys
Director: Terence Fisher
Screenplay: John Gilling; J. Llewellyn Devine (story)
Cinematography: Michael Reed
Art Direction: Don Mingaye
Music: James Bernard
Film Editing: Eric Boyd Perkins
Cast: Christopher Lee (Prof. Karl Meister), Peter Cushing (Dr. Namaroff), Richard Pasco (Paul Heitz), Barbara Shelley (Carla Hoffman), Michael Goodliffe (Prof. Jules Heitz), Patrick Troughton (Inspector Kanof), Jack Watson (Ratoff), Joseph O'Conor (Coroner)
by Jeff Stafford
Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography by Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio (McFarlen)
Fragments of Horror: An Illustrated History of British Horror Films by Andy Boot (Creation Books)
House of Horror: The Complete Hammer Films Story by Jack Hunter (Creation Books)
The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, edited by Phil Hardy (Harper and Row)
SCREAM OF FEAR, THE GORGON & Two More Are Spotlighted in Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films
First the good news. Until now The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll has been difficult to see, and Sony's version on disc appears to be the full-length uncensored 88-minute cut. The show was also known as House of Fright in an 80-minute abridged version distributed by American-International.
The movie itself is an interesting experiment and is certainly better than Hammer's other 'transformation' movie released on DVD earlier this year, The Man Who Could Cheat Death. The twisted screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz (Expresso Bongo, The Day the Earth Caught Fire) plays fast and loose with Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story. Mankowitz's bearded, dour Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) is a lone researcher attempting to define and control the duality of man. He wants to liberate the potential of man's personality, free of the restraints of conscience and morality. Meanwhile, Jekyll's wife Kitty (Dawn Addams of The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) is proving rather two-faced as well. She's having an affair with the wastrel gambler Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), on Henry's money.
Jekyll uses a potion to split his personality all right, but the Hyde that emerges is a handsome and amoral cad eager for sensation. Hyde easily beds Maria (Norma Marla), a snake dancer at a bawdy night club-bordello. Hyde then fails to seduce his own wife Kitty (who doesn't recognize him). When he finds out that Kitty actually loves Paul, Henry/Hyde manages a strange series of machinations that impose tragedy on a structure more suitable for a farce. Paul has a fateful date with Maria's snake, while Hyde maneuvers Kitty and Maria into each other's bedrooms. As the song goes in The Band Wagon, everyone ends in mincemeat.
The director is Terence Fisher, and with the impressive music of David Heneker and Monty Norman, The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll gets off to a rousing start. Fisher's pace sometimes slackens -- a fairly dull shot of Jekyll injecting his potion sits in stasis seemingly forever, with the music working hard to keep our interest. The almost uniformly bright lighting enforces a rather artificial, theatrical atmosphere. Eric Boyd-Perkins' editing (Gorgo) enlivens several decorative dance scenes in the London fleshpots -- and adds a couple of jarringly inappropriate wipe transitions. Let's assume they were somebody else's idea.
Dawn Addams may well be dubbed but gives an effective performance as a woman leading a double life. In her own way Kitty is trying to accomplish the same identity split as her husband. For once given a character role with some meat on it, Christopher Lee proves that he can play a very convincing cad. Paul Massie is a gloomy Jekyll, and his Hyde always seems a twitch away from breaking into a crazed grin. Jekyll insists that his dual-man theories have nothing to do with good and evil, but Mr. Hyde's deeds are almost uniformly reprehensible. When Hyde's chemical transformations begin to get out of control, we don't sympathize with him. There's nobody to root for in this clutch of selfish people.
The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll is short of actual horror content. It's easy to see why the movie would need cutting for American release -- Hammer seems to be reaching for salacious sex to replace censor-forbidden sadism and violence. Some of the snake dancing by Norma Marla (or her double; she wears a mask) is pretty vulgar, including a shot of her plunging the head of a large boa constrictor into her mouth. The club harlots talk a bawdy streak, with the word "bitch" used prominently at least twice. And the film teases us with some near-nudity in the Hyde-Maria seduction scene. When Columbia pawned the film off on A.I.P. it must have been fairly inappropriate kiddie matinee material, even when cut.
The picture gives us a nice bit from Oliver Reed as an irate pimp (!) and a too-brief couple of moments with the talented child actress Janina Faye (Horror of Dracula). When the plot requires a London detective, we're not surprised to see stalwart Francis De Wolff enter the scene. David Kossoff (The Mouse that Roared) is Henry's moralizing friend, who realizes that the situation cannot be explained by the Coroner's facile conclusion that Henry Jekyll ventured too far into God's domain.
Scream of Fear is one of the best psychological thrillers immediately post- Psycho, a consistently entertaining mystery with a likeable lead character in Susan Strasberg. Wheelchair-bound Penny Appleby (Strasberg) returns to her home after years at school. Her school companion has drowned herself, and Penny's father has just died. The cliff-side Appleby estate is now being run by stepmother Jane (Ann Todd), who assures Penny that she'll always have a home. But the schoolgirl's unstable nerves are getting the better of her -- she keeps seeing her father's body turning up in odd places, like the storeroom behind the pool. Family chauffeur Bob (Ronald Lewis) tries to console Penny, while Doctor Pierre Gerrard (Christopher Lee) comes almost every night for dinner and to keep Jane company. Gerrard suggests repeatedly that Penny may have a stress-related nervous disorder, which makes Penny even more unstable.
On the success of this project screenwriter Jimmy Sangster would continue to write blood-soaked murder mysteries for Hammer, some with similar family settings and others relying on shaggy gimmicks. Scream of Fear (originally titled Taste of Fear in the U.K.) is a contemporary story given fine direction by Seth Holt, a former editor and producer who would make only four more movies before his death in 1971. In a completely convincing interior / exterior set of the Appleby manor house, Holt and his cameraman Douglas Slocombe create an excellent mystery atmosphere. Penny rolls her wheelchair cautiously to and fro, ever aware of her vulnerability. Bob the chauffeur risks his job to give Penny some comfort, and we suspect that the stepmother Ann is jealous. And what Dr. Gerrard has in mind is anybody's guess. Penny and Bob join forces to find some piece of evidence proving that Ann killed Penny's father, but it looks like someone has discovered their plan.
Ann Todd and Ronald Lewis play excellent support to Ms. Strasberg, who has one of those faces that commands both sympathy and attention. Penny shows inner strength as the pressure mounts. In a normal thriller we'd wait for the handsome boyfriend or lover to arrive and save the day, but the fact that it's a Hammer film leaves Penny's fate in serious doubt. What we remember most is Penny's relationship to water -- the Swiss lake, the murky, Diabolique-like swimming pond, the crashing waves that seem so mysterious behind Slocombe's misty lens diffusion.
It's best that viewers watch carefully from the beginning. Scream of Fear packs a number of satisfying surprises.
Prolific Hammer producer Michael Carreras directed The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb, an acceptable entry in Hammer's Mummy series. For flashback scenes the Carlo Martelli music score is interrupted by Franz Reizenstein's superior cues for the 1959 Terence Fisher version, reminding us that it was all done much better before. Carreras' camera placement is weak, and he has a tendency to make ragged pans across décor and faces, something that doesn't work out too well in the Techniscope format.
The script only half-develops its ideas. When a curse befalls the raiders of the tomb of Prince Ra-Antef, we know that scurvy Egyptologist Hashmi is behind it; he's played by Hammer's all-purpose eastern fanatic George Pastell (The Mummy, The Stranglers of Bombay). Fred Clark is fine as Alexander King, a Barnum-like impresario hoping to make millions by exhibiting the Mummy back in England. His subplot is terminated before it can really get up to speed. King is meant to provide cultural contrast as a vulgar American stirring up trouble, but he's easily the most honest person in the show. Everyone else seems to be hiding their identities or their feelings.
The really interesting material has to do with a love triangle. Egyptologist John Bray (Ronald Howard) watches while his intended Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland) falls in love with a more interesting new acquaintance. The smooth fiancée poacher Adam Beauchamp (top billed Terence Morgan) is a man with a secret. It seems that Adam knows altogether too much about Egyptian relics to be the amateur he claims he is.
The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb starts with a graphic hand-chopping but pulls back on the gore thereafter; what we get are about ten minutes of repetitious Mummy attacks modeled on Terence Fisher's original. Ra-Antef smashes through doors and lurches into fancy houses, but he lacks the style that Christopher Lee gave the role. He also seems physically unimpressive; Lee towered over his victims. The Mummy costume is rather baggy and shapeless, with a head that looks like the comic character Zippy covered in ashes. Ra-Antef's mask allows for no variation in expression.
But the show moves quickly and has great color and lighting by cinematographer Otto Heller. Ms. Roland is stunning in her gowns, including the number she picks for a midnight stroll through the sewer, carried by the Mummy. It's interesting that Hammer's male leads at this time all seemed to be in their 40s ... almost as if the young Turks in the front office wanted to avoid the romantic competition that younger actors would pose.
The Gorgon is one of Terence Fisher's more interesting horrors, a film about a female monster pursued not by a strong Van Helsing-type character but by men weakened by their interest in women. Paul Heitz (Richard Pasco) wants to discover what killed his brother and father, but the authority figures in the tiny town of Vandorf seem intent on hiding the source of seven unsolved murders in five years. Asylum doctor Namaroff (Peter Cushing) submits false death certificates for the victims, to hide the fact that all of them have been literally turned to stone, or "gorgonized." Paul sends for his professor friend Karl Meister (Christopher Lee) to help solve the mystery.
In the script provided by John Gilling, all the men live in fear. Dr. Namaroff is particularly ineffective in controlling women, even a madwoman in his asylum. Nursing assistant Carla Hoffman (favorite Hammer horror queen Barbara Shelley) is repulsed by Namaroff's jealousy when she becomes attracted to Paul. Paul and the Doctor end up fighting each other instead of watching out for the dreaded Gorgon Magaera, who claims her victims on the second night of each full moon.
Fisher directs this outing with considerable skill, maintaining tension in a story with very little action. James Bernard's eerie Gorgon theme puts new chills into the familiar Hammer castle sets. Barbara Shelley's Carla is a sympathetic heroine to Richard Pasco's sincere hero, but Christopher Lee's professor is the only real take-charge character in the story. Interestingly, this horror piece has no comedic coachmen or gravediggers, making it distinctly more sober than most other Hammer Gothics.
What probably stunted The Gorgon at the box office was its lack of a good monster. The tall Magaera is shown too much and is little more than a scowling woman with greasepaint makeup and rubber snakes in her hair. We're told that a complicated Roy Ashton makeup concept was thrown out in favor of a quick fix by the effects department. The movie was obviously done on a tiny budget -- how Hammer continually made costume pictures so cheaply is quite a mystery -- and the makeup and special effects available in 1964 just weren't up to the job. But as a drama The Gorgon works very well. Screenwriter John Gilling would move on to direct a pair of similarly low-budget, impressive Hammers, The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies.
The four features in the Icons Of Horror Collection: Hammer Films are fine transfers given expert attention. All of the films, including the half-frame Techniscope titles, are from new elements made directly from the original negatives. The Gorgon has rich colors that associate it with the earlier Hammer output originally printed in Technicolor. It and Scream of Fear are also matted and pillar-boxed, masking away acres of dead space above and below the desired 1:66 compositions.
Sony provides no added commentaries or featurette extras but each film is accompanied by an original trailer. The trailer for Curse of the Mummy's Tomb is so strident that it makes fun of the picture, while the tense, graphic-based coming attraction teaser for Scream of Fear generates maximum interest by showing almost nothing but Susan Strasberg's screaming face. For 1961, it's a very progressive ad.
For more information about Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films, visit Sony Pictures.To order Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
SCREAM OF FEAR, THE GORGON & Two More Are Spotlighted in Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films
Released in Great Britain in October 1964.