GORGO (1961) (Blu-ray)
Director: Eugene Lourié
VCI Entertainment

Director Eugene Lourié was no stranger to the dynamic world of giant monsters, having helmed THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959). In the early 1960s, he went to England to direct his first color film of the sort, this time with actors in suits (alá Godzilla) playing the mammoth creatures, rather than employing stop motion animation. The resulting film, GORGO, was originally issued on DVD twice by VCI (with two different transfers), but it now makes it way to Blu-ray disc with a lovely new HD transfer and a number of extras fans will want to devour.

Days after an underwater eruption near the Irish coastline, fishermen Joe Ryan (Bill Travers, BORN FREE) and Sam Slade (American actor William Sylvester, DEVILS OF DARKNESS) encounter a prehistoric monster that comes ashore to carry out an attack on the locals. Eventually they are able to net the beast and haul it to London to display in a rich businessman's circus, much to the dismay of young Sean (Vincent Winter), an orphan boy sympathetic towards its freedom. What they don't realize is that the creature's mother is ten times bigger and in a desperate search for its child. The angry Mama Gorgo finds its way to the big city, and goes on a rampage of mass destruction before uniting again with the imprisoned offspring.

GORGO is a dazzlingly produced, nifty 77-minute giant monster flick with a huge following due to its successful 1961 MGM theatrical release (it was produced by the veteran American family team of the King Brothers), followed by decades of late night TV airings and the title monster’s mug making the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The rubber-suited mother-and-offspring monsters look like a cross between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a dragon (complete with wagging ears and glaring red pupils), and the miniature special effects (including the virtual destruction of London) by Oscar winner Tom Howard (THE THIEF OF BAGDAD) are very impressive, especially considering that this was made over 50 years ago. Despite one drawn out stretch of makeshift stock footage and some awkward characterizations, the film still holds up very well as a whole, and the monsters do have more expression than your average Toho equivalent. Aficionados who watch a lot of films of this sort will spot horror movie regulars Nigel Green (THE FACE OF FU MANCHU), Alex Scott (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) and Laurence Kauffman (DIE! DIE! MY DARLING), as well as an uncredited Harvey Hall (from all three entries in Hammer’s “Karnstein Trilogy) as a military squadron leader. The cinematography by Freddie Young (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) and the score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (who later composed for Italian sci-fi thrillers such as THE WAR OF THE PLANETS and THE SNOW DEVILS) are exceptional.

VCI had released two prior varying DVDs of GORGO, one framed at 1.66:1 and a second with a tighter 1.85:1 (though the image was somewhat improved). Their new Blu-ray edition blows the old DVD releases out of the water, finally going back to the original elements for the transfer. Presented in 1080p High Definition, the Blu-ray is anamorphic in a fitting 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The restoration results in an extremely clean picture with only minimal grain, and colors are well saturated for the most part. With the film’s use of optical effects (including a number of “blue screen” shots) and the rather unnecessary stock footage, the color timing can sometimes be inconsistent (with occasional heated fleshtones) and there’s a few soft-looking shots, but from the opening block-fonted titles (which really pop out), GORGO has never looked better, and the night-time scenes showcasing the elder monster’s London rampage, really stand out. The English PCM 2.0 audio sounds absolutely fine and is trouble free, and there’s and additional French language track (with optional English subtitles). An isolated music and effects track is also included.

Daniel Griffith and his Ballyhoo Motion Pictures have furnished a number of new supplements for this Blu-ray (the new transfer of GORGO and its extras are also being released on DVD). First and foremost is the excellent documentary, “The 9th Wonder of the World: The Making of Gorgo” (31:08), written by Griffith, Randall Turnbull and Tom Weaver (with additional material by Paul Mandell), with Turnbull providing the robust narration. With interview participation from Ted Newsom, C. Courtney Joyner, Bob Burns and the film’s second unit camera operator Douglas Adamson (via an audio recording), the documentary tells you just about everything you need to know, including the early careers of Lourié (as a set decorator) and the King Brothers leading up to the making of GORGO, as well as information on the film’s cast, crew and production. There are some actual quotes from Lourié (presented in “dramatic reading” form) and a highlight is the revelation of rare behind-the-scenes 8mm footage of Gorgo’s construction.

The supplements also include a number of motion-animated galleries. These include "Gorgo: The Monster From the Sea Comic" (a glimpse into the covers and pages of a series of GORGO-based comics issued by Charlton in the early 1960s), a Posters and Lobby Cards, Toys and Collectibles (models and action figures based on GORGO), a Pressbook Gallery, Production Notes (original pages from 1959), a Photo Gallery (with some rare behind-the-scenes shots) and the "Star Cine Cosmos 'Fumetto' Comic" (a French comic, using actual black and white photos from the film, shown cover to cover). Although the trailer shown on VCI’s last DVD look battered and pinkish, here the trailer looks great, considerably cleaned up and anamorphic with excellent colors. Lastly, the before and after restoration shows just that, and it’s pretty fascinating to see how dirty and green-tinted some of the elements looked until the extensive work was done. (George R. Reis)