Hammer Studios was on a roll by 1964, adapting and updating classic movie monsters with a gory gothic slant, but the fantasy-tinged thriller The Gorgon was a rare attempt at producing their own creature. Transporting the Greek Gorgon myth to turn-of-the-century Europe, Terence Fisher invests the rural mittel-European village with a kind of cursed decay. A deserted castle dominates the perpetually mist-bound landscape while a series of unexplained murders leave victims turned to cold, gray stone. The details are carefully hushed up by local doctor and asylum director Peter Cushing, who helps frame an outsider for the latest murder, which brings a parade of outsiders in to clear his name. Christopher Lee, under gray hair and bushy mustache, arrives in the third act to play a shaggy but sharp old professor, a scientist whose reason and determination cuts through the emotionally clouded motivations of both his allies and enemies. Fisher creates a thick atmosphere of suspicion and dread while driving the mystery ahead with a rapid pace, which helps overcome the gaps in logic of the town's murky conspiracy. The special effects are frankly stiff and unconvincing: the snakes sprouting from the Gorgon's head are jittery, lifeless stalks that pale next to the gorgeous creation by Ray Harryhausen in Clash of the Titans, but Fisher manages to give the Gorgon's scenes an eerie beauty. --Sean Axmaker
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