Film Review: The Medusa Touch (1978)

in #aaa2 months ago


Popularity of disaster and horror films in 1970s is often explained with the socio-economic trends which caused great anxiety among the audience, especially Baby Boomers who were experiencing serious economic crisis for the first time in their lives. Those trends were even more prevalent in pre-Thatcher Britain, country widely believed to be in the state of terminal decline. Unsurprisingly, they were reflected on the cinema, and one of the examples could be found in The Medusa Touch, 1978 film directed by Jack Gold, one of the more unusual combinations of horror and disaster genre.

The plot begins when writer John Morlar (played by Richard Burton) gets his skull smashed by unknown assailant. While he miraculously survives the incident and fights for his life in hospital, the investigation is taken by Inspector Brunel (played by Lino Ventura), French detective who came to Britain as part of an exchange program. He talks with many people who knew Morlar in the past, including his psychiatrist Dr. Zonfeld (played by Lee Remick). Through flashbacks he learns of Morlar’s past, including childhood marked by bizarre and unexplained deaths of parents and other people around him. It turns out that Morlar, who became utterly misanthropic individual with passionate hate for the rest of humanity, believed that he possessed telekinetic abilities which allowed him to cause death and destruction. Zonfeld was at first sceptical towards those claims, but as time went on and strange and increasingly spectacular disasters began to happen around, she apparently changed her mind. At the end Brunel begins to believe those claims, while Morlar, despite being near death, apparently concentrates to cause disaster at the public gathering of British elite.

Critics were unkind to The Medusa Touch, which could be best explained with the basic premise being used in high budget Hollywood films like Carrie and The Omen, which, in comparison, made this film look cheap, derivative and exploitative. Although the budget is relatively low for top Hollywood standards, director Gold tries to compensate it with energetic direction, especially in the final scene when the protagonists have to race against the time in order to prevent catastrophe. Main problem of this film is in the casting. Burton, otherwise capable actior, simply tries too hard in his portrayal of telekinetic monster, and he is not helped by the script which puts anti-establishment rants in his mouth, trying to explain his murderous rage with political views being brought to its genocidal conclusion. Lino Ventura, great actor of French cinema, plays the character which replaced Inspector Cherry, protagonist of the original novel by Peter Van Greenaway, and his presence, mandated by French producers taking part in shooting, is not so convincingly explained. Despite that and number of repetitive scenes, The Medusa Touch is sometimes very unpleasant, sometimes quite effective film that looks better now than during premiere, probably due to some of the fictional scenes having disturbing resemblance with later real life events like 9/11 and Chernobyl disaster.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

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Critic: AA