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After the success of adapting Gothic tales, Hammer tried their hand at Greek mythology with a story so terrifying it turned many to stone.
1. An advertisement sparked the story.
In 1963, Hammer was looking for new ideas and placed this advertisement:
"Got an idea you think would make a good film? One with an exciting title to match? If you have, contact James Carreras. Because good, compulsive selling ideas with the right titles are what Hammer is looking for right now."
A Canadian fan answered the call, and the Gorgon’s life began.
2. It was a first for Hammer.
J. Llewellyn Divine was one of the fans to answer the ad, and he submitted an original outline of what would become The Gorgon. John Gilling then expanded the story before it was revised by Anthony Hinds. “The Gorgon was a writing assignment from Hammer that I considered one my best screenplays,” said screenwriter John Gilling.
3. It reunited Lee, Cushing, and Fisher.
Terence Fisher had taken a two year break after filming Phantom of the Opera but returned for Gorgon. For Lee and Cushing, the film was their fifth together. Lee said, “We’re great kidders and both of us caught the habit of making the other laugh which is, sometimes, quite disastrous.” Cushing had a cough during a scene and Lee jokingly called him “Dr. Nasty Cough.” Lee was also known for doing an impression of Looney Tunes’ Sylvester the cat which broke Cushing up.
4. It goofed on the mythology.
While the film borrows from Greek mythology, it actually flubs some details. As Christopher Lee stated, “Magaera was not a Gorgon, she was a Fury. Medusa, Euryale, and Stheno were the Gorgons.” Additionally, the gorgon’s victims should instantly turn to stone. But in this version, the victims’ stone transformation took a bit longer, allowing one victim to pen a whole letter before his death.
5. The gorgon was two different women.
Barbara Shelley, who acted in eight Hammer productions, played the monster’s human counterpart. Shelley also wanted to play the title creature and even suggested using real snakes in her hair. But the producers didn’t want to give away the ending, and so they cast Prudence Hyman. Having two separate actresses was also a time saver. It took a long time to dress Hyman in the makeup and costume of the gorgon.
6. The Gorgon’s appearance was hard to do.
With a budget of only 150,000 pounds, the creature’s appearance got a bit shortchanged. Molds were used to create latex snakes, which were then added to the wig and connected to a device which could make them move. A former ballerina, Prudence Hyman was cast to bring grace and fluidity to the monster. However, the heavy head piece made that a challenge.
7. Gorgon’s death took a long time.
The gorgon met her demise rather quickly at the end, but filming the moment was anything but quick. First, came creating molds of both actresses’ heads, then came capturing the monster’s death, and finally came the creature-to-human transformation. It took approximately four and a half weeks to complete everything.
8. Hammer hammed it up.
Perhaps taking a page from the playbook of William Castle, with whom they had completed The Old Dark House a year earlier, Hammer arranged for moviegoers to receive face masks to protect themselves from the Gorgon’s glare. The tagline for The Gorgon was great as well: “a face only a mummy could love.”