There is a knot of tragic romance at the core of THE GORGON, a unique entry in the Hammer Film Productions canon. This 1964 picture is directed by Terence Fisher and is the sort of melodrama the filmmaker always wanted to make, so it does carry a kind of adamant resolve. What it lacks in chills and explicit visuals it makes up for in prowling atmosphere, while the character interactions allow a slow burn through a series of all-too-human concerns.
The tortuous tale involves Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing), who’s been working in the village of Vandorf. He’s seen the victims of several murders wheeled into his facilities and he’s seen them turn to stone. The latest victim embroils him in deeper controversy, as the father (Michael Goodliffe) of the accused killer arrives with intentions on absolution. This sets off a chain of events that draws Paul (Richard Pasco) to Vandorf. He further investigates the legend of Megaera and why so many people are being turned to stone.
The plot of THE GORGON runs through some convoluted paces, but it does allow for some interesting scenarios. Christopher Lee shows up as Professor Karl Meister, who lends Paul assistance as he tries to crack the case. Everyone is somehow related to or associated with someone else and there are quite a few filler characters. Carla Hoffman (Barbara Shelley) is vital to the plot, though, and she’s caught in a love triangle of sorts, with Dr. Namaroff and Paul pining for her worthy affections.
The romance of THE GORGON nearly gets lost in the shuffle, but Fisher does find a way to punch things up toward the end. The finale is as catastrophic and hard as any Hammer production, even if a few delicate changes unnecessarily telegraph the conclusion. There is also some subtext about the concealing of truth with designs on preserving some sense of social order. Other Fisher features have done more with such matters, but it’s easy to lose one’s way when there’s a bag of snakes involved.
Terence Fisher’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA may deviate an awful lot from Gaston Leroux’s original work, but there’s something almost defiantly entertaining about this 1962 picture. Featuring a screenplay by John Elder, this outing is often cited as a misfire for Hammer Film Productions. But its inclusion of the humour from Leroux’s 1910 novel bears mention, as does its unpacking of the titular character (Herbert Lom) as a figure of misfortune.
It is London in the year 1900 and Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (Michael Gough) is trying to mount his new opera. Opening night is not entirely sold out on account of a haunted opera box, so D’Arcy takes out his anger on the manager (Thorley Walters). The opera’s producer Harry (Edward de Souza) is trying to hold things together, but there’s word of a ghost. After the leading lady flees, the lewd D’Arcy sets out to hire a new woman and settles on Christine (Heather Sears). Alas, a ghastly presence has other ideas.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is a lively if scattered picture. It spends considerable time developing the romance between Harry and Christine, but this is mostly entertaining stuff. A carriage ride through the park is amusing thanks to the driver, while the appearance of the rat catcher (Patrick Troughton) is a treat for fans of the novel. Fisher uses some of these elements to hint at the class divide, with the affluent opera types contrasted against the coarse workers who rifle through the seats in search of diamonds.
Fisher’s horror likewise has a comic bent, with plenty of smash cuts altering the tempo. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is never truly frightening and even the eventual appearance of the title character is built with humour. He is every bit the choral director from hell, flapping water on Christine after she passes out and beating his chest to ensure the notes are sung right. In the end, the rogue is revealed and Fisher’s class concerns come together. And the chandelier falls, just like that awful mask.