Halloween Endurance Test: Gorgo (1961)

I’ve covered all types of films this year. One that was given to me by a friend (Curse of Frankenstein), one that was recommended by a reader (the Uninvited), and some you hear about that you just have to track down and find (Entrails of a Virgin, Class of 1999). 1961’s giant monster film Gorgo falls into this last category.

Imagine you’re me, at the start of October, trying to decorate your apartment and get your life in order before everything goes on “pause” for the next month. One of your prep tools is Cinema Wasteland’s brilliant “Radio Spot Apocalypse 1: A Collection of Original Drive-in Radio Spots from the 60’s and 70’s.” Along with the CDs comes Cinema Wasteland’s catalog; bringing to mind all your pre-internet teenage years, scouring bootleg catalogs hunting for a copy of Accion Mutante and the Dictators “Go Girl Crazy.”

In said catalog you find this description:

“A salvage ship is nearly sunk off the Irish coast by an undersea earthquake. A few nights later, something gets caught in the nets of a fishing boat and the fishermen capture a 60-ft. sea monster they call ‘Gorgo.’ Gorgo is taken to London with plans to exploit the beast in a circus, but scientists make a shocking discovery… Gorgo is just a baby. And when ‘mom’ comes looking for her baby, Gorgo, all hell breaks loose as she leaves a trial of destruction across England.” [Emphasis mine.]

If your heart didn’t palpitate a little when you read that last line, then I don’t know why you’re reading this. If your heart did palpitate, then you’re still probably not reading this, as you’re too busy imagining the aforementioned destruction.

As Cinema Wasteland’s thoughtful description has already provided a succinct synopsis, I’ll just focus on the awesome particulars.

(Quick! Someone tell Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter’s William Beaudine that this is how matte shots are done!)

15 minutes into the film and the sailors are trying to keep the 60-ft. tall Gorgo from the shore, by throwing flaming sticks at it! It’s as if the filmmakers decided to remake King Kong, but with Godzilla substituting for the ape! (A supposition that might not be off-base. Just check out the font used by the King Brothers production team. Certainly invokes a certain other film, don’t you think?)

Transporting the sedated Gorgo through London proper brings to mind Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, where again we’re faced with the shocking visual of the supernatural intersecting with the mundane. Boyle closed down Piccadilly Circus to film his zombies running amok, here they just laid the Gorgo husk on a flatbed truck and drove him in a true circus-style procession.

Thankfully Gorgo doesn’t skimp on is action. As fitting for what amounts to be a composite of giant monster flicks, Gorgo makes sure to punctuate all its talking scenes with carnage. A high and mighty British admiral touting how nothing can breach his fleets’ depth charges? Cue Gorgo’s mother ripping the admiral’s flagship in half.

One has to wonder if London’s evacuation scenes resonated as deeply for the British as did similar scenes in Gojira. Did the British feel the same kind of emotional aftershock that the Japanese did when both were laid to waste again; all for the sake of sci-fi?

The best part of these films is trying to guess how they’ll stop the beast. Godzilla famously falling to the oxygen destroyer. King Kong to director Merian C. Cooper’s sloppy attempt to connect his tale to that of Beauty and the Beast.

Flamethrowers don’t work, guns are useless, mortar, tanks, planes, all fall short. They build a towering electric fence only to see it smashed to pieces. (Mental note: if it didn’t work in the Far East, it won’t work in the Old World either.) Even that last hail-mary of all giant monster containment gambits , nets, fail.

Allowing Gorgo to end in an orgy of bullets, bombs, bloodshed, and the bitching-est mom ever to grace the silver screen. At director, Eugene Lourie’s daughter’s request, the film ends poignantly, with mankind reflecting on his actions as well as wondering what could happen next time.

The sheer sense of excitement you get from watching Gorgo’s mom rip London apart is exhilarating. This might be pure giant monster fandom, or also a holdover from Godzilla. In that film, one can’t really cheer on the destruction as you know the destruction Godzilla brings represents the destruction the US’ brought. The old “hasn’t Japan suffered enough?” knee-jerk reaction.

Whereas watching London get trashed is pure payback. They refused to listen to Thomas Jefferson! They made us fight for our basic rights! Hell, even after they lost the Revolutionary War, they came back later and burnt Washington D.C. to the ground (1814)!

Finally the Brits receive their just rewards. Some good old fashioned American capitalism/(circus) greed to give Britain its long-awaited (147 years!) comeuppance.

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