Saturday, October 5, 2019

THE MEDUSA TOUCH (1978) Movie Review

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Total Movies Watched: 4
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Amount raised for AMAZON WATCH: $180.61

The Medusa Touch (1978) d. Jack Gold (UK/France) (105 min) (1st viewing)

Novelist Jack Morlar (Richard Burton) has a most peculiar problem. Whenever someone causes him great pain or distress, said person (or persons) meets with a rather untimely end in rather short notice. On the evening that a tragic accident occurs with three astronauts stranded in space, Morlar is bludgeoned to death in his London apartment, launching Inspector-Detective Brunel’s (Lino Ventura) murder investigation into who might have wanted the antic scribbler dead. But things take a decided turn for the bizarre when, after being rushed to hospital and set up on life support, Morlar’s brain shows signs of activity despite the fact that his body appears to be dead. Brunel proceeds to interrogate everyone who had dealings with Morlar, only to find that there aren’t many of them left alive. Only his therapist, Dr. Zonfeld (Lee Remick), seems to have the answers that might unlock what foul and incomplete vengeful deeds the patient might still be struggling to realize….

Scorned upon its initial release in the late ’70s, when tales of possession and telekinesis were running rampant in the wake of Carrie and The Omen, this quieter and contemplative horror/thriller never quite becomes the mature and suspenseful shocker that it wants to be, but neither is it a complete wash-out. Most complaints of the time seem to be directed toward the lugubrious pacing as we watch the non-believers slowly comes to terms with what we already know: that Morlar is the real deal and people better watch their butts around him. But even so, these are punctuated with well-crafted scenes of tension and mayhem, as when a runaway motorcar threatens the young lad’s horrid parents, a school (and its tyrannical schoolmaster) is engulfed in flames, a jetliner collides with an apartment block, and the climactic crumbling of a grand cathedral. This is quality stuff, and the final credits coda, alluding to further and darker deeds of a more modern nature, delivers the desired dread-soaked chills.

Unfortunately, its star’s presence may well have been the film’s biggest critical deficit. Burton was admittedly damaged goods by this point in his storied career, having just embarrassed himself mightily with Exorcist II: The Heretic, and by no means was this project the best career move to right his listing ship. Playing a man whose moral center is essentially crumbling away, the actor is given license to bulge his eyes, furrow his brow, and pitch his sonorous voice every which way as only Burton could, yielding an elevated, some might say hammy, performance that elicits more titters than shivers. It’s entertaining at times, but for all the wrong reasons.

By contrast, Ventura, making his British film debut, is a dependable and solid protagonist, and he is surrounded by some of the finest of the country’s acting talent in the form of Harry Andrews, Derek Jacobi, Gordon Jackson, Michael Hordern, and a very young and handsome Jeremy Brett. While it’s never quite explained what the heck American Lee Remick is doing in London practicing psychiatry, she lends her luminescent presence and piercing eyes to the cause with great effect.

What is most intriguing about the narrative is that Morlar doesn’t ever seem to try NOT to cause harm. He feels his anger rising, he knows the consequences, but he doesn’t ever seem inclined to redirect, think happy thoughts, start a meditation practice, or contemplate forgiveness. He simply feels his rage and/or indignation and lets his petty nature take its course. As the film progresses and his antagonistic nature is given full flower, he becomes a legitimate monster, consciously using his gifts to bring about destruction, but this transformation is a long time coming and it’s a sticky wicket that screenwriter John Briley (adapting the novel by Peter Van Greenaway) never quite resolves. After all, much of what the viewer learns is via flashback courtesy of the conversations that Inspector Brunel has with Dr. Zonfeld, wherein Morlar’s desire to come to terms with his powers have driven him to seek medical assistance. This seems like the actions of a man who wants to stop, or at least control, his dangerous tendencies.

Then again, perhaps it isn’t so much help that Morlar is seeking, but rather someone to confirm his own beliefs, i.e. that he is capable of causing destruction at will and that this is not all some wild string of coincidences, a line of reasoning Zonfeld understandably pursues until it is too late. As the credits roll and viewers contemplate their doomed fate (and the movie’s questionable logic), there is still a sense of having taken an emotional journey; in spite of its overt flaws, Medusa Touch lands squarely in the “flawed but worthwhile” column, one which adventurous genre fans might be tempted to seek out.

The Medusa Touch is available now on Blu-ray from ITV Studios and via streaming on Shout! Factory TV and can be viewed HERE:


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