Sunday 27 January 2019

House of the Gorgon (USA 2019: Dir Joshua Kennedy)

The chief draw causing most people to want to check out 25 year old director Kennedy's 16th film (yes, you did read that right) is the inclusion of four actors from the golden age of Hammer films. A self styled Anglophile all the way from Texas, Mr Kennedy's earlier movie titles hint strongly at his obsessions. His first, Attack of the Octopus People, was an affectionate nod to the films of Ray Harryhausen (as will be his next stop motion effort, the soon to be finished Cowgirls vs. Pterodactyls), while others include The Alpha Omega Man (2017), Voyage to the Planet of Teenage Cavewomen (2012), and 2015's, er, Dracula A.D. 2015.

But back to House of the Gorgon. Isobel Banning (Georgina Dugdale) travels with her mother Anna (Veronica Carlson) and friend Christina (Jamie Treviño) to the village of Carlstadt to marry her university sweetheart Dr. Julian Pritchard (Kennedy). En route they encounter Father Llewellyn (Christopher Neame), who knows what we don't yet know; the house where they're all due to stay is also the home to Gorgon sisters Baroness Bartov (Caroline Munro) and Euryale (Martine Beswick) who are seeking eternal youth via the sacrifice of virgin blood.

Kennedy is surely a man of his convictions. By fair means or necromancy he assembled a group of actors who have not worked together for nearly a quarter of a century, which is quite a feat in itself. Beswicke had previously been in the director's 2014 short The Night is Young, a 3 minute film involving him wooing the US dwelling actress by song, which gives you some idea of the extent of his cinematic passions. That many of his classic star choices are expats - Carlson and Neame also live in the States - probably helped with expenses (the movie was shot in the USA in a Spanish style house loaned by a couple of goth friends, who were in the audience for the London premiere of the film tonight). But that still meant ferrying Misses Munro and Dugdale - the latter being Caroline's real life daughter - over to America for the shoot.

And the result is, well, far better than expected. Munro and Beswicke camp it up a storm as the Gorgon sisters, and Veronica Carlson is suprisingly touching as alcoholic Anna Banning (which made me regret that she wasn't given meatier parts in her heyday) - Christopher Neame also pulls off a solid performance as the tortured priest, and Dugdale offers the right amount of Victorian primness as the film's 'final girl.'

Sure there are some technical problems - Kennedy needs to employ a focus puller and the sound is all over the place - but the sheer enthusiasm of the director comes across in every frame. In person Joshua is a bit of a young fogey, who reminded me in appearance and demeanour as a cross between Michael Medved and Toulouse-Lautrec, with a dash of Rufus T. Firefly thrown in for good measure. And it's clear that this rather unusual character was a tonic for his cast - all present at the post screening Q&A confirmed that the on set camaraderie was a big bonus in getting the resource shy movie completed. Kennedy fills House of the Gorgon with Hammer references, each of his 'vintage' cast members getting to utter lines from some of their films (although he loses points for failing to get Neame to shoehorn in his "Dig the music, kids!" line from Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). Kennedy is also a bit of a whizz with a colour filter too - some of the scenes are beautifully drenched in reds and greens - and he affectionately recreates the 'zombie nightmare' sequence from 1966's The Plague of the Zombies very effectively. Prolific composer Reber Clark's score also has its moments, when it calms down from being awash with string synthesisers and concentrates on evoking a more sinister mood. Clark is also composer for the H P Lovecraft Historical Society's 'Dark Adventure Radio Theatre', and obviously knows his thematic stuff.

Less successful is the camera's insistence in lingering on the terrible fan art that lines the staircase of the mansion (my apologies if they were part of the fixtures and fittings of the house, but with the exception of a portrait of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, boy are they awful), and the Texan extras populating the obligatory tavern sequence who have clearly never seen such a scene in a Hammer film (and probably haven't heard of Hammer films either). Maybe I was swept up by the love for the film present in the room tonight, but House of the Gorgon is a genuine curio if only for its cast, and it's great to see the actors having a good time outside of the convention circuit, the only place that most of them can otherwise be seen these days.


  1. As I was one of those extras in the tavern scene, I can assure you I know something about Hammer Films (I'll discuss Jennifer Daniel and/or Barbara Archer with you anytime you want).

  2. Thanks for your comment Dan. That's good to hear.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This movie sounds uber-cool. Can't wait to see it!