The Medusa Touch (1978) | Richard Burton is mad as hell in the trashy telekinetic disaster
‘I am the man with the power to create catastrophe!’
Misanthropic novelist John Morlar (Richard Burton) is possessed with the power to move objects and cause the death of anyone who stands in his way.
When Morlar is left in a critical state after being savagely beaten in his flat, French exchange detective Brunel (Lino Ventura) seeks out Morlar’s psychiatrist Dr Zonfeld (Lee Remick) to research Morlar’s history. But delving into Morlar’s past, Brunel unearths chilling evidence of his destructive telekinetic powers, from the deaths of his nanny and parents, to the burning down of his boarding school and the crashing of a passenger airliner over London.
Convinced of his powers, Brunel learns Morlar’s next target is Minister Cathedral and the assembled Commonwealth Heads of State, including the Queen. But its only when Brunel fails to avert that disaster that he discover the true horror of Morlar’s power is YET to happen…
‘I will bring the whole edifice down on their unworthy heads’
Directed by Jack Gold (TV’s The Naked Civil Servant) from a script by Oscar winner John Briley (Gandhi), this screen adaptation of Peter Van Greenaway’s 1975 novel combines Omen-styled supernatural suspense with the thrilling action of an Irwin Allen disaster movie. Cynics might chuckle, but The Medusa Touch trashy fun with the rich purring of Richard Burton, a spectacular collapsing cathedral, and a starry cast all in the offing.
With wild, staring, bloodshot eyes, Burton overacts outrageously in a role that film critic Kim Newman (who supplies the audio commentary) calls his ‘best screen work of the 1970s’. Mind you, I think he fared better in 1977’s Equus, which only helped us all to forget the horror turkey that was The Exorcist II: The Heretic. Adding continental flair to the proceedings is famed Italian actor Lino Ventura (whose detective was made French in order to secure finance the film), while Lee Remick provides a nice tie-in with The Omen, which she appeared in two years earlier.
You’ll have great fun picking out the famous faces amongst the cast, including a young Derek Jacobi, future Sherlock Jeremy Brett, and reliable Scot, Gordon Jackson. There’s also a Theatre of Blood connection with Harry Andrews playing the Assistant Police Commissioner and in a bizarre bit of casting Michael Hordern as a fortune telling psychic. The film’s music, meanwhile, is by Michael J Lewis, who composed the wonderful score for the 1973 Vincent Price-starred black comedy horror – and one can only imagine how the Merchant of Menace would have handled Burton’s role?
Ironically, it’s in the film’s supposedly comic dialogue where film is at its best. His character’s scathingly vitriolic dissection of his faithless wife and the British judicial system is a standout – made even more dramatic intoned, as it is, in Burton’s brooding poetic brogue.
Even though the cathedral in the climactic scenes was intended to be London’s Westminster Abbey, it was named Minister Cathedral because it was filmed at Bristol Cathedral and the director didn’t want people to be confused by it. I still was, and had to look it up. The model plane used to crash into London’s Center Point tower (not identified in the film) originally resided in a airline office foyer.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The film is presented by Network Distributing, as part of The British Film collection, in a shiny new High Definition transfer made from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio, and features the following special features which were originally included on the 2006 Special Edition DVD.
• Audio commentary with director Jack Gold, Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
• Destroying the Abbey: behind-the-scenes footage
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Image Gallery
• Booklet by Kim Newman
Posted on September 15, 2014, in British Film, Cult classic, Disaster Movies, Must See, Must-See, Psychological thriller and tagged 1970s British disaster movie, Cult classic, Jack Gold, Lee Remick, Lino Ventura, Michael J Lewis, Must See, Network Distributing, Peter Van Greenaway, Psychological thriller, Richard Burton, The British Film, Theatre of Blood. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.