Beauty is possessed by the beast whose writhing gaze turns flesh into stone, and hardens the heart of her ardent lover. Director Terence Fisher is inspired by Greek mythology but forsakes details (Magaera is one of The Kindly Ones, spoiled of jealousy and ripe with fury, not one of the titular Gorgons!), to create an eerie metaphor of small town ignorance that sparks violence and one man’s destructive domestic dominance.
A village suffers the fate of the full moon as its inhabitants die systematically by being “Gorgonized” (yes, that term is used in the film): that is, they are turned to stone. The local Dr. Namaroff covers up this particular fact and buries the bodies quickly while forging autopsy reports. His lovely assistant Carla can turn a man’s specific organ to stone with her fiery hair and matronly passion, but suffers from blackouts…on the nights of the full moon. When a local girl is murdered and her lover seemingly commits suicide, the Coroner’s Inquest shouts its final judgment against the wishes of the dead boy’s father Professor Heitz: it was a murder/suicide. The Professor is a stranger in this strange town, threatened by the police and torch-wielding villagers who attempt to chase him away to allay their guilty conscious, to conceal their dreadful ignorance. He is lured to the deserted Castle Borski which looms like some skeletal sentinel above the town, by a sing-song temptress and he too gets rocked. Professor Heitz’s son Paul then journeys to this rural charnel house to investigate and uncovers a bedrock conspiracy that must be shattered to fracture the two thousand year old curse…and save his true love.
Fisher suffuses the film with the right amount of energy and exposition, charging headlong through plot points gaining frantic momentum, while allowing the characters room to exist beyond the need for narrative fodder. Peter Cushing as the possessive Dr. Namaroff and Christopher Lee as Dr. Meister both fulfill their rolls with scene stealing aplomb, while Barbara Shelly as the cursed victim and Richard Pasco as her infatuation are also exemplary. Fisher’s use of saturated daytime colors and thick nighttime shadows is a juxtaposition of chilling intent, and the use of reflections in mirrors and pools of turgid water or the soft surrah of a Siren’s call are palpably delicious. The final scene is the great reveal, and when the Gorgon appears it’s a rather mundane head-severing climax. The ending is a bleak morass of nihilistic proportions, as Dr. Meister remains the sole (or soul) survivor; everyone else just got stoned.
Final Grade: (B)