Sam Slade and Joe Ryan are despicable. In the annals of monster movie human characters, they are amongst the most abhorrent: slimy, greedy, and completely smitten with riches. Salvagers at sea, they stumble across a creature rumbling through a small Ireland town, capture it, and take it to London. In the midst of the set-up, they push and slap a kid around, blackmail the town’s mayor (also not a candidate for sainthood), all the while snagging additional treasure from the sea floor.
Sam (William Sylvester) and Joe (Bill Travers) break the mold of the vintage genre picture, one usually obligated to flood the screen with romance, scientists, and military generals gruffly barking military orders. Gorgo has two of those elements, although in moderation. The story zeroes in on the growing animosity and guilt between Sam and Joe as bodies pile up.
A few freak accidents see Gorgo tail whip some workers, topple a truck, and somehow punch a guard through netting on the ship. That is all minor in comparison to the inevitable: Their Gorgo – on display within a London circus – is an infant.
Eugene Lourie was no stranger to the monster genre by 1961. He headed the New York romp of the Rhedrosaur in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and ran through Europe in Giant Behemoth, the latter a near direct rehash of Beast. Gorgo is hardly an original either, a riff on the King Kong and Lost World concepts. The freshness for Gorgo lies entirely on the characters and locations.
Lourie’s efforts prior are arguably a little tighter, this first color affair struck with a case of stock footage, oddball blue screens, and impossibly poor day for night footage. There is no consistency within the frenzied editing of the finale, quick cuts obscuring shots that double up. Stylistically, the film rushes through London, bashing a few landmarks but rarely seated enough to be drawn into a monster mother’s rage.
Choppy as it can be in an attempt to hide its rubber suits, miniatures still prove capable and enormous. Gorgo’s first stop as she wades into harbor is Thames bridge, a gigantic piece of construction that considers the foreground and background city. Insert shots of Big Ben are spliced over the actual structure at a certain point, also raising realism even if the suit itself sags.
Gorgo has never been one to receive the credit it deserves, an enjoyable piece that feels like a leftover from the ’50s with all too familiar plot devices, but a generous finale to make up for it. Mama Gorgo spends 10-minutes, spliced between footage of panicked Brits, tearing up their city. The rampage has weight and purpose, more than a generic creature who happens to hate modern civilization. Captured and locked away for laughs, the infant draws enough sympathy to warrant the melee, while getting there with Sam & Joe is a joy. Gorgo is a colorful romp into giant monsterdom.
Here in 2013, we have a disc encoded with MPEG-2. Who knew? Coming from VCI entertainment on the heels of a needed restoration, Gorgo looks… improved. Let’s leave it at that. The restoration has clearly done its homework on damage. While hit with the occasional scratch and unavoidable dirt on the lens within the stock footage, the clean-up is a success. Even during the early effects work and multi-pass shots, print damage is gone.
Gorgo’s home video history has often been creaky, the darkness of the image crushing out shadow detail and rendering many shots indecipherable. The Blu-ray, while hardly a shining beacon of shadow detail, is a richer, brighter image than anything prior. As the adult first wanders onto shore, kids rush down some stairs on the pier to watch, traditionally a shot basked in total darkness. Now, the action can be seen, despite the weight of the black levels.
Based on a restoration comparison held on the disc, three things were done. Damage clean-up, restoring the depth, and fixing the color. The latter is often all over the place, with flesh tones split between faded and dense oranges. Blues practically bleed they are so dense, and other primaries reach the peak of saturation. It hardly appears like film of this era, and casts more of a digital glow. The print used as shown in raw form has been hit with age, yellowing heavily. The corrections made restore bright blue skies, and dim underwater footage.
Gorgo appears to have come from multiple sources which would explain the variances in visible resolution between shots. No matter the money spent, there is only so much you can do with a source of that quality. Hardly a beacon of fine detail, Gorgo nonetheless perks up with resolved shots of miniatures, more visible blue screen quirks, and better looks at the monster suit compared to anything that came before. Some of those are those are for the better, and some not so much.
VCI’s previous DVD releases for Gorgo were doused in digital edge enhancement, thankfully removed from the process on Blu-ray. Any halos are of the analog variety. The concern of the disc is entirely within the dated compression that renders grain in artifacts. Especially visible over shots of water as the film gets underway, splashing oceans are too much and break down into a sea of digital remnants. Comparatively, there is no contest, the usual line of, “The best it has ever looked!” remains true here. There is still life left on this film that we may see someday, and step one to getting there is using a modern codec.
A wonderful mixture of dread and wonder comes from a score by Angelo Francesco Lavagino, presented here in a PCM 2.0 mix. Highs from the horns are clean, limited in distortion while keeping a peak in fidelity. Grumbling lows are noted if dried out from age. Gorgo’s elephantine roar is ear shattering, and grunts audible amidst the destruction. Explosions are stock with a little oomph left.
Dialogue scenes suffer no audible damage, consistent without the likes of hiss, popping, or drop outs. Gorgo’s audio has always been in better condition than the video, with this presentation a step up without the need for added compression, even if that step is restricted by the source.
The Blu-ray boasts some impressive features, only one missing from the DVD, a now dated behind-the-scenes featurette. That is replaced by a far superior documentary titled Ninth Wonder of the World, a 31-minute peak into the process of creating the film. For giant monster followers, this is a must.
Two promotional comics are featured, one using more traditional methods, the other capturing photos from the film to tell the story. Combined, they run over an hour in video form, not the usual scrolling methods. Galleries for toys, pressbooks, posters, and general promotional photos are offered, and one for a short look at production notes. It it all business, yet still a unique piece of insight. Finally, there is a restoration comparison that lasts three minutes.
The following gallery shows a comparison and restoration images: