Hammer Films… Director Terrence Fisher… Screenplay John Gilling… Christopher Lee… Peter Cushing… does this need a further introduction? Probably not!
This 1964 Hammer film has a runtime of 1hour and 23minutes and is rated 12 with a few frightening scenes and very mild violence and gore, which, I promise, is nothing at all compared to contemporary movies of the current age.
In 1910 Vandorf, a middle-European village, locals are petrified by the myth of an ancient horror that is said to inhabit the nearby castle – Gorgon’s. When painter, Bruno Heitz’s pregnant young girl is turned to stone, Dr Namaroff of the Leipzig university, is intrigued but rather than inlicit fear he tries to explain everything away with science. The local authorities are more than happy about but Bruno is not and commits suicide. Professor Jules Heitz, Bruno’s father turns up to find out about why his son committed suicide and unearths some strange truths. Unfortunately, that costs him his life too. Paul Heitz, another son, turns up with his mentor Professor Karl Meister to continue the investigation and soon discover that Dr Namaroff and the authorities are hiding something, something that might also involve Namaroff’s attractive assistant Carla Hoffman, Paul’s new love interest. She has been having blackouts and suffering memory loss though, so she will not be much help. Thankfully though, before he died, Paul’s father wrote a note which could help sort the whole mess out.
Christopher Lee plays Professor Karl Meister and Peter Cushing plays Dr Namaroff – they are of course absolutely brilliant in this film, as they pretty much are in most of the films they’ve been in, either together or separately. Barbara Shelley plays Carla Hoffman and she does so with grace and character, her performance really helps the mystery that is unfolding on screen. Richard Pasco is Paul Heitz who gets more screen time than his onscreen father Michael Goodliffe (Professor Jules), and Jeremy Longhurst (Bruno). All three actors do a good job in their roles but with the most screen time and the main mystery to work on, it is Pasco who gets to show off his acting credentials more. Patrick Troughton makes an appearance as Inspector Kanof and does a really good job too. All in all the cast all play their part and carry the mystery off really well. I have to mention Prudence Hyman too for her excellent portrayal of the Gorgon – she really delivers with some class and poise.
The film is based on a story submitted to Hammer by Canadian fan J. Llewellyn Divine. This is something that does not often happen anymore, but here it worked really well because it was well written and had plenty of layers to it. While this is billed as a horror, as I’ve already eluded to, this is just as much a mystery too, it’s thanks to Divine’s writing that the film has the layers and depth that it does, and it really stands out from other more aesthetically driven Hammer films.
For all the good throughout the film, the only real let down is the work done at the end of the film to show the Gorgon with the snakes in her hair – but I can forgive this. The film is a product of the 60’s so I am happy to let some visual effects slip when the story has so much to offer.
I love this film and consider it to be one of Hammer’s finest films. This is something that director Terrence Fisher thought too, rating this as one of the best he had the pleasure of directing. This is a gothic horror mystery adventure with a brain and lots of heart. It is romantic and bleak at the same time. It is tense and atmospheric, it has got deep characters that get to develop, a great story and a good pace. An ideal film for a Sunday afternoon and it is easily something that I can put on with the whole family.