Archive for the ‘Peter Cushing’ Tag

Freddie Francis: Reluctant Horror Icon   3 comments

Freddie Francis once said, “Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films.”

The director of more than forty films and television episodes, including twenty-five horrors and the cinematographer of nearly forty more, Freddie Francis may have been typecast as a horror director for good reason. He was good at it.

He started his film career as a camera operator. A friend and protégé of Oscar-winning cinematographer, Oswald Morris, Francis worked for and with Morris and Ronald Neame at Pinewood Studios until World War II broke out in 1939. Francis joined the Army Kinematographic Society, based at Wembley Studios, and spent the next seven years making training films. After leaving the military in 1946, Francis found work as a camera operator at Shepperton Studios, where he worked with Powell & Pressburger, John Huston, Tony Richardson, and a bunch of other incredibly talented directors. On the set of Huston’s Moby Dick, Francis asked if he could head up the second unit. Oswald Morris gave an enthusiastic yes, and Francis acted as director of photography for the first time.


“Call me irresponsible.”

From 1956 to 1964, Francis was director of photography on over a dozen films before beginning his directing career with the film, Two and Two Make Six in 1962. It didn’t fare well. After winning the Oscar for cinematography with Sons and Lovers in 1960, and acclaim with The Innocents, (Francis’ favorite film), his friends were surprised he made the leap to directing.


Don’t turn around.

His background in cinematography may explain why Francis directed some of the most visually stunning of the Hammer and Amicus films. In the early 1960s, Francis directed Paranoiac, Nightmare, Hysteria, and The Evil of Frankenstein for Hammer before making Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, and The Torture Garden for Amicus. In 1968, another terrific Hammer director, Terence Fisher was hit by a motorbike and broke his leg during post-production work on The Devil Rides Out. Fisher was set to direct Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, starring Christopher Lee, but Hammer replaced him with Freddie Francis. Throughout the 1970s, Francis worked for both Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, and other, smaller companies, making The Creeping Flesh, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and an odd little nugget made by Apple films and starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr, called Son of Dracula. He also directed some episodic TV shows before returning to cinematography.


Ringo Starr is Merlin and Harry Nilsson is Count Downe. Yup.

In 1980, David Lynch hired Francis as director of photography on his disturbing and poignant film, The Elephant Man, and later his ill-fated, but gorgeously-photographed, Dune. Francis also served as DP on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Executioner’s Song, Glory, for which he won his second Oscar, The Man in the Moon, Cape Fear, School Ties, and the beautiful and simply shot film, The Straight Story, again, for David Lynch.


Mr. Bytes thinks up his next good deed.

One of the reasons I chose to write about Francis for this blogathon was my love for Amicus anthology films and Freddie Francis directed three of them. In Amicus’ first anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), six men meet on a train. Peter Cushing (Dr. Terror) pulls out a deck of tarot cards, claiming he can see what’s to come for each man in the car. Oddly, their futures don’t look bright. Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Donald Sutherland, and Bernard Lee also star in the five segments.


“Got anyyyy eights?”

In Francis’ next anthology film, The Torture Garden (1967), Burgess Meredith stars as Dr. Diabolo, a carnival barker who lures four unsuspecting victims into his cave-like back room where they learn about their less than rosy fates. Peter Cushing, Michael Ripper, Niall MacGinnis, and Jack Palance join in the fun. Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame, wrote the stories in The Torture Garden and many of the other Amicus anthologies. They’re literate, full of black humor and twisty endings, and a lot of fun.


“Lemme tell ya about the rabbits, Jack.”

Francis ended his anthology run with a bang. Tales from the Crypt (1972) stars Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper, who leads five people through their terrifying stories. Peter Cushing, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Nigel Patrick, and the spectacular Joan Collins star in these dark tales, based on William Gaines’ EC Comics.


“Want to hear a story?”

Francis dug Peter Cushing, by the way. He said of the actor, “I think Peter is absolutely wonderful. There is not an actor in the world who can speak rubbish like Peter and make it sound real.”


“I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Amicus producers, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg borrowed the template of individual tales connected by a linking story, from the portmanteau horror film, Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was not the first anthology film or even the first horror anthology, but it aligned well with Amicus’ association with Robert Bloch and suited the repertory company of actors working in horror films at the time. It also made money for Amicus, who made seven of these films.


“Once, I picked up a squirrel and squeezed it until it stopped moving.”

While I love the portmanteau horrors Freddie Francis directed, I love two of his films more. In 1965, Francis took the Robert Bloch story, “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” and an all-star cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, and Patrick Magee, and made The Skull. The Skull is awesome on so many levels, it’s hard for me to contain myself to write this. Cushing and Lee collect demonic art. They also play billiards holding brandy snifters and wearing smoking jackets while discussing pure evil. The oft-sniveling Patrick Wymark is a scuzzy seller of stolen devil memorabilia, who offers to sell Cushing the skull of the Marquis de Sade. He happens to have it lying around. Since Wymark already sold Cushing a book made of human skin, he figures it’s a cinch. Amazingly, the skull of the Marquis de Sade is no ray of sunshine. Let’s just say anyone associated with the skull in question better have his beneficiaries updated. Story aside, the effects in this film are killer. The evil skull floats all over Cushing’s well-appointed gentleman’s lair of evil stuff and the skull POV shots are fantastic. The Skull is so much fun.


“Have I mentioned I sell Amway?”

The second film worth highlighting is The Deadly Bees (1966). If you know me at all, you know I love skulls and movies with bees in them. The Deadly Bees is a movie with bees in it. Suzanna Leigh is a frazzled pop star recuperating from a nervous breakdown. Her doctor recommends that she rest on friendly, Seagull Island, where no one is getting killed by bees or anything. While Leigh relaxes, her hosts, who might have watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too many times, fight about just about everything, including bees. Will bees attack Suzannah? What about Michael Ripper? The Deadly Bees also has a cool cameo. Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, appears on a Hullabaloo-like show, early in the film, as a member of The Birds. The bee effects lack sophistication, but it was the first killer bee film, after all, so back off.


Suzannah Leigh wears a bear before meeting the bees.

Freddie Francis may not have relished his career in horror, but I do and if you’re reading this, you probably do, too. Francis directed and filmed the biggest stars in Britain over a career spanning sixty years. He worked with Hammer, Peter Cushing, the Archers, Christopher Lee, Amicus, John Huston, and Captain Ahab. Not a bad record for this vicinity.

I wrote this article for The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeedgieMidget Reviews. They’re swell movie types and @Barry_Cinematic and @realweedgiemidge on Twitter.

 

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Twins of Evil (1971)   6 comments

Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) is an avenging angel, burning folks at the stake for doing horrible things like living alone, being too pretty, and not attending church regularly. He’s looking for evil in all the wrong places though because living right next door is a super evil guy, Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), who worships the devil and rents local girls for torture, sex, and blood-letting. The aristocracy protects the Count though so Gustav’s out of luck. Into Gustav’s already full life enters his twin nieces, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn (Mary and Madeleine Collinson), who come to live with Gustav and his wife Katy (Kathleen Byron) after the deaths of their parents. Since the girls are twins, one is good and the other bad. Natch. Maria, the sweet, pious girl does what she’s told and falls for her teacher, Anton (David Warbeck), while Frieda, the scamp, falls for horny Count Karnstein and his torture chamber of fun.


“We’re all out of dip.”

Count Karstein and his agent, Dietrich (Dennis Price) continue with their late-night debauchery until some loose blood makes its way to the gates of Hell or Vampire Town or somewhere and Countess Mircalla (Katya Wyeth) transubstantiates to chew on Karnstein’s neck. Now that he’s a vampire, none of the peasant girls he leases from their families have a snowball’s chance in, well, you know where. Since Frieda’s been hanging out at Karnstein’s grotto, she too goes vampiric, but since her guardian’s a religious zealot, she keeps it to herself. When more villagers turn up with small neck holes they weren’t born with, Gustav and his minions decide to switch from hunting random hotties to chasing down actual murderers.


“And I-I-I will always love youuuuu!”

Twins of Evil is a fun entry in the vampire exploitation genre Hammer perfected. The village and castle look appropriately provincial and the story, written by Tudor Gates and J. Sheridan Le Fanu, is more fun than similar films. Peter Cushing does sanctimonious well and you can see he really believes he’s doing the right thing. Later, when he realizes the true impact of his actions, he makes a huge sacrifice to redeem himself, save the good twin, and release his town from the clutches of Satan. John Hough, who also helmed The Legend of Hell House and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry directs, highlighting simply the difference between the daylight world of goodness and the dark, malicious world of the Devil. The film moves at a good clip and the Collinson twins can act and are lovely to look at. Since this is a Hammer film, the women are between 19 and 25, buxom, and not averse to a little gratuitous nudity. It’s like the producers invaded the Castle Anthrax to cast their picture.


“A spanking?”

I’m a big Hammer fan, but I’ve seen more of their thrillers than straight Gothic horrors. Watching this crisp, high-definition transfer makes me want to see more.


“Oh, hi.”

Cash on Demand (1961)   Leave a comment

cod

Harry Fordyce (Peter Cushing!) manages a London bank. His micro-managing and general fastidiousness put him at odds with his staff who he belittles every chance he gets.

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“Smudges!”

When Colonel Gore Hepburn (Andre Morrell) from the bank’s insurance company arrives to inspect its security protocols, Fordyce sets out to impress him with his efficiency.  The thing is, the colonel is not from the insurance company and he has a cunning plan.

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Yes, THAT cunning!

Without giving the game away, I can say that CASH ON DEMAND’s director, Quentin Lawrence, knows how to build tension.  What starts out as a slice-of-life drama about a tight-lipped bank manager abusing his staff switches quickly to a race against time to save a family.  In the morning, Fordyce runs roughshod over his subordinates.  In the afternoon, he scurries to save his family, his job, and his freedom.  Writers David T. Chantler and Lewis Greifer adapted Jacques Gillies’ play for the big screen.  That this film started as a play makes sense.  It takes place in three sets, but could easily be done in two or even one.  The excitement comes, not from action, but from acting and a terrific script.

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“Where’s my stake?”

Cushing is brilliant as the mercurial Fordyce who finally feels what it’s like to be under the thumb of a person who has the power of life and death over him.  His transition from haughty to harried develops by degrees and we see his metamorphosis in the few hours the film documents.  Morrell’s Gore Hepburn is fabulous.  He’s sublimely at home ordering Fordyce around and making points with the staff while his devious plan moves along swimmingly.  What a wonderful pair to watch.  Richard Vernon made an impression too.  He plays Pearson, Fordyce’s number two who, because of a small error which was fixed quickly, might lose this position and any hope of finding another.  The entire cast does a wonderful job.

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“Did you steal that thumbtack?”

CASH ON DEMAND is another great Hammer non-horror.  I know Hammer is better known for vampires and busty maidens, but as I watch these smaller, less lavish thrillers, I wonder why they didn’t make more.  They’re wonderful.  I’m going to be sorry when I’ve seen them all.

hammer

The Skull (1965)   2 comments

skull poster

Do you collect things? Stamps? Godzilla figurines? Commemorative spoons? In The Skull, Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) and Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) collect all things Satan. They scour auction houses in search of devilish statues and books about torture for their macabre collections. They even buy hot tchotchkes from shady evil-stuff-seller, Marco (Patrick Wymark). Marco stocks an unusual variety of bizarre items, including a book he sells to Maitland. It’s a rare book. Well, one hopes it’s rare since it’s the memoirs of the Marquis de Sade covered in human skin. Nummy. Anyway, Maitland jumps at the chance to drop major ducats on the tome, which gives you some idea about his level of dedication to his hobby.

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I’ll wait for the paperback.

The next night, Maitland lounges in his well-appointed study reading his skin book when Marco arrives with a new demonic accessory to clutter his bookshelves. Marco brings Maitland a skull. This is no ordinary, dime-store skull, mind you. This skull has provenance. Well, Marco says it has anyway. This skull is the bony part of the head of the Marquis de Sade! Why Marco didn’t sell the skin diary/skull as a set will forever remain a mystery. The two men haggle over skull prices, as one does, but Maitland won’t bite. Maitland mentions the exchange to his friend, Sir Matthew, who warns him not to buy it by saying, “All I can say is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade.” Words to live by, Matthew. Words to live by.

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“That skull’s evil, right devil statue?”

Unfortunately, Maitland doesn’t listen to his friend and drops by Marco’s place to buy the skull. Marco is indisposed, being dead and all, so Maitland grabs his souvenir and hits the road. Back home in his library, Maitland relaxes after a hard day’s looting. He spends a lovely evening surrounded by statues of Beelzebub reading about sadism from a book made of skin.

the-skull-09
Cozy.

Almost immediately, weird stuff happens. The normally peaceful Maitland begins to feel a strange, homicidal urge.
Is it coincidence? Is it the skull? Is he not getting enough fruit? Only the skull knows for sure.

wife
“Honey? You up?”

The Skull is an absolute blast. The stellar cast of Amicus/Hammer regulars, including Patrick Magee, Michael Gough, and Jill Bennett, add to the general atmosphere of British horror wonderfulness. We even get a little George Coulouris for good measure.

pat
“You didn’t see my lips move, didja?”

Robert Bloch (Psycho) wrote the story, aptly named “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”.  Milton Subotsky, half of the Amicus production team of Rosenberg/Subotsky wrote the screenplay and the script moves right along. Director, Freddie Francis, a veteran of Amicus films, knows how to pack a lot into 83 minutes. They also pack some cool special effects into The Skull. Ted Samuels, who created the special effects for a number of Amicus features including Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and The Psychopath outdid himself here. The skull, you see, flies. When provoked, it floats gracefully toward the camera. It’s not a choppy, Tingleresque motion, rather a majestic glide. The skull also lights up. It even manages to look evil. I stopped the DVD three times to watch a lit skull soar across a gentleman’s study. Seriously, you need to see this. If I haven’t convinced you yet, think about this. One scene in The Skull shows Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing playing pool…in tuxes.  ‘Nuff said.

skull
Hiya!

Note to self: Check into the possibility of manufacturing skull nightlights. You know, for kids.

 

 

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)   6 comments

aaadoc

Ahhh Amicus. I love your sordid little anthology films. Just seeing the names Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg, and Freddie Francis makes me smile. The funny little touches, the simple linking story, and the superb casts combine to entertain me more than any other horror films of the period. Maybe it’s my short attention span, but I love these stories.

aaaaaaaa
“Read ’em and weep, gentlemen!”

In Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, six men meet in a train car. One of them, Dr. W.R. Schreck (Peter Cushing) has a set of tarot cards and claims he can tell the future of anyone who taps his deck three times. Schreck, which in German means terror, reads three cards for each man to tell his fortune, a fourth to determine his fate, then a fifth, which will divine whether or not the man can alter his future.

aaalee
“Tarot this, Dr. T!”

In the first story, “Werewolf”, architect, Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) travels to a remote island in Scotland to renovate his old house. While exploring the basement, Dawson finds a coffin full of Count Cosmo Valdemar. One of Dawson’s ancestors killed Valdemar hundreds of years ago and the Count holds grudges…even after he’s dead. Apparently, Valdemar is coming back to life as a werewolf. Dawson knows his stuff so he melts down a silver cross to make anti-werewolf bullets.  Things don’t go as planned.

aaacoff
“I’ll make a mint with this on Antiques Roadshow.”

“Creeping Vine” tells the story of a robot that eats children. Actually, it tells the story of a creeping vine. I can’t put anything past you. This is no ordinary ivy plant. This vine is a killer. Even the marvelous Bernard Lee can’t stop it. All I can say is the British are too polite. A little well-place poison or a flamethrower would do wonders. This part has a cool ending.

aaamir
“Enough with the Miracle Grow already!”

“Voodoo” involves a trumpet player in a jazz quintet, Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) who hears a cool tune while visiting the West Indies. He decides to steal the song and call it his own. The people who actually wrote the song don’t like it.

aaahit
“A little auto-tune and this’ll be huge!”

Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee), who isn’t buying any of Dr. Terror’s tarot tales, stars in “The Disembodied Hand”.  In this segment, Lee plays a nasty art critic who insults the artwork of Eric Landor (Michael Gough). Landor makes a fool of Marsh and then taunts him relentlessly. Marsh has no sense of humor so he runs Landor over with his car. Hands go missing and soon Marsh is getting an unexpected back rub while driving. This almost never ends well.

aaafhand
Digits roasting on an open fire…

The last story, “Vampire”, stars Donald Sutherland as Dr. Bob Carroll. Dr. Carroll moves back to his New England hometown with his new wife, Nicole (Jennifer Jayne) to start a practice there. A series of mysterious illnesses and deaths convince Carroll to look for a vampire. After consulting with the other town doctor, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), the men decide to take action. I love the twisty ending to this tale.

aasta
“I don’t think we covered this in medical school.”

As in most of the Amicus portmanteau films, we switch back to the linking story between segments and at the end. The template, laid out in Dead of Night (1945) works a treat. This was the first of the Amicus anthologies and it’s fun. The pace drags in parts, but the last two segments and the linking parts make up for it. Also, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing!

aaaayes
“Yes, it’s us.”

 

haunty

 

 

 

Asylum (1972)   1 comment

asylum poster

I love anthology films.  It doesn’t matter if they’re anthology drama, comedy, or horror films, but I hold a special place in my heart for anthology horror.

car

ASYLUM begins with Modest Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain.  As the music swells, we see Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) arrive at a remote sanitarium.  Martin meets with Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee) who offers him a proposition.  Rutherford will hire Martin if, after interviewing four patients, he can identify which of the inmates is B. Starr, the former head of the institution.  Starr had a complete breakdown and is now an inmate.  Attendant Max Reynolds (Geoffrey Bayldon) takes Dr. Martin from room to room to hear each patient’s story.

magee2

“Tonight on Spot the Loony…”

In the first segment, “Frozen Fear”, Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) tells the story of her lover, Walter (Richard Todd) and his wife, Ruth (Sylvia Syms) and their, um…breakup.  Walter, sweet guy that he is, takes his wife down to their basement to show her a gift he just bought for her.  She’s always wanted a chest freezer and is delighted until Walter surprises her further with a blow to the head.  Fortunately, the freezer is Ruth-sized so Walter has plenty of room to store the bits of Ruth he chopped up and wrapped neatly in brown paper and twine.  Now Walter can abscond to Rome or Nice or Trenton with Bonnie and live happily ever after, right?  Not so fast, bub.

toddaxe

“Oh, honey?”

Barry Morse plays the titular role in “The Weird Tailor”.  With no money coming in and the threat of eviction looming, Morse gets an odd request from new customer, Peter Cushing.  Cushing commissions Morse to make him a suit made of special fabric he brings himself.  Morse must construct the clothing in a particular order to exact specifications and during the times mandated by the instructions.  Since Cushing wants the outfit immediately and promises to pay handsomely, Morse agrees to his terms.  Things move along swimmingly until delivery day when Morse makes an odd discovery.

cush

“I’m odd.”

Dr. Martin sees patient Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) next.  Barbara tells of her release from another sanitarium.  Her brother, George (James Villiers) drives her back to the family home and introduces her to her new nurse, Miss Higgins (Megs Jenkins).  Barbara, annoyed at the prospect of a nurse telling her what to do, goes to her room to find her friend, Lucy (Britt Ekland) there.  Barbara is overjoyed to see her old friend who immediately suggests that they go over the wall and go on a spree.  Their outing doesn’t go as planned.

rampling

“Summerisle?  No, I’ve never been there.”

“Mannikins of Horror” stars Herbert Lom as Dr. Byron, a man who believes he can transfer the essence of himself into a small robot who will carry out his will.  All I can say is I want a Herbert Lom robot.

lombot

The Lombot in action.

ASYLUM has a scary, dramatic score by Douglas Gamley and Mussorgsky, a great horror film setting, and a super cast of veteran British actors.  Robert Bloch of PSYCHO fame wrote the stories, and Roy Ward Baker directed.  Baker also directed A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and quite a few films for Amicus and Hammer Productions including the portmanteau horror, VAULT OF HORROR.  Amicus made a number of anthology horror film in the 1960s and 1970s and this is one of the best.

poster asylum

haunty

The Gorgon (1964)   5 comments

gorgonpost

Things look rocky in the small German village of Vandorf.  A slew of mysterious deaths in the woods surrounding Castle Borski have the villagers scared and the police baffled.

woods
It looks friendly enough.

When they discover a young woman dead in the woods and her fiancé conveniently hanging from a nearby tree, authorities have their scapegoat.  It beats the locals blaming Megaera (Medusa’s sister), after all.  Unsatisfied with the law’s conclusions, the young man’s father, Professor Jules Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) questions local physician, Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing).  Namaroff won’t let Heitz near the body of the young girl and Heitz knows something’s up.  Later, in the woods near the empty castle, he discovers what.  It doesn’t go well.

stoned
“Man, am I stoned.”

Heitz’s son, Paul (Richard Pasco) arrives in Vandorf to bury his father and brother and investigate their deaths.  Paul will have to contend with local resistance including Dr. Namaroff and his lovely nurse, Carla Hoffman (Barbara Shelley), and some pesky mythological creatures, if he wants the truth.

knows
“Do you think he knows I switched his coffee to decaf?”

Paul is sure the simple local folk have simply got the wrong end of the stick because there can’t possibly be a snake-haired killer lurking around an abandoned fortress.  I mean, it’s 1910!  Oh Paul, when will you ever learn?  Paul’s father left detailed notes on all he saw before fully Gorgonizing.  Is that like Martinizing?  Now his son knows how it feels to turn to stone years before ELO would sing about it.

lynne
“Don’t look at me, man.”

Anyway, Paul manages to get himself partially Gorgonized which leaves him a bit stiff and makes his hair go prematurely gray.  Carla digs the salt and pepper look and the two hit it off.  Then they all ride off into the sunset.  Not so fast, bub!  Things happen and Paul wants answers and Paul’s teacher, Professor Meister (Christopher Lee!) shows up and hassles the constabulary, but we still don’t know who’s killing everyone.

leecush
“I’m here now.  You can all relax.”

Will Paul and Carla pair off?  Will Dr. Namaroff tell Paul the truth…ever?  Will the real Gorgon please stand up?

Hammer Film stalwart Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula) directs THE GORGON as a horror/mystery.  He keeps the audience guessing and shows his creature sparingly.  Sydney Pearson and Ray Caple do a terrific job on Megaera and Fisher teases us with short glimpses of the mythical beast.  James Bernard’s score, played on an early synthesizer, the Novachord, is appropriately spooky and John Gilling’s adaptation is fun.

gorgonwild
Tonight on Gorgon wild…

THE GORGON is an entertaining film that blends an ancient myth with a quasi-modern setting.  The actors, all Hammer veterans, are talented and I love anything with Cushing and Lee.

haunty

 

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