While some of us may look at the system of modern horror with great disgust, it is difficult to differentiate the problems of now with those of the past. Hammer Horror may hold itself as a legendary cult vehicle that saw the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee frequently appear in era-defining roles, but they were few and far between. They did produce a great number of stinkers, clangers and mediocre, bumbling features. Not everyone can knock out a classic every time. A few strikes are expected. The Gorgon isn’t so much a strike as it is a bit of a fumble. It is the middle ground that combines the best and worst parts of the Hammer mindset. Big names paired with boring premises do not always elicit the best response.
Lee and Cushing take the lead here as Professor Karl Meister and Dr. Namaroff respectively, wearing the Hammer production values with pride. Their presence transcends the earnest, crumbling set design. Here, the two face off against the terrifying, Medusa-like being, Megaera (Prudence Hyman). It is not an especially memorable take on the villain, nor does director Terence Fisher craft anything with a unique twinge. There is, to an extent, a degree of charm to this lack of creativity. Here is an already established character of great mythological value, boiled down to a solid eighty minutes of wavering quality.
Rest assured the performances are in good stead. Lee and Cushing offer the usual competent chemistry as they would so often rely on in their Hammer heyday, but it is neither’s finest hour. Capable does not mean creative, and the truly nagging issue found in The Gorgon is the relative lack of unique air. No moments of surreal or explorative horror, something which Hammer could often provide. Fisher knows this, having directed some of the best Hammer films, but here he just doesn’t cobble together enough set pieces, nor does he overhaul a script in desperate need of clarity. He is fine to push on through with the glory days behind him, and Lee and Cushing have no choice but to accept this. They are content to work with comrades they have donned the screen with before, and as endearing as that may be for many, it is not enough to shake the dead weight of a boring story.
It is proof enough that a story is crucial to the inner mechanisms of the horror genre. Directors even now struggle to tackle the need for a story, and how crucial it is. You cannot just have a few bumps in the dark and call it a day. Horror has commandeered a level of respect that would push it beyond such a simplistic viewpoint, and, at the very least, The Gorgon is part of the machine responsible for such narrative change. It may not be a huge leap, more of a tepid step in the case of this gothic Medusa horror, but a film that tries and fails to bring about the quality of Hammer is far better than, say, Paranormal Activity or whatever The Conjuring is getting up to. Neither of those have Christopher Lee donned in awful facial hair.