Brunel, a French detective on temporary assignment with Scotland Yard, investigates a mysterious series of disasters. The uncanny events begin happening shortly after writer John Morlar was hit over the head by an unknown intruder and rendered comatose. Slowly, Brunel begins to connect the strange things that are happening in the world with the deranged dreams of the comatose Morlar. He gets the final clue he needs from Morlar's reluctant psychiatrist, Dr.Zonfield, who holds the key to Morlar's past. Once it is discovered that Morlar has the ability to think horrible thoughts and make them come true, Brunel and Zonfield must take off with dispatch to a London cathedral, where the Queen is scheduled to make an appearance -- but Morlar is thinking about the cathedral, and it is crumbling fast.
Directed by: Jack Gold
. Starring: Richard Burton
, Lino Ventura
, Lee Remick
, Harry Andrews
, Alan Badel
, Marie-Christine Barrault
, Jeremy Brett
, Michael Hordern
, Gordon Jackson
, Michael Byrne
, Derek Jacobi
, Robert Lang
, Avril Elgar
. Music by: Michael J. Lewis
"I'm not terribly pro-establishment," says veteran TV and film director Jack Gold, and a glance at his CV confirms it; from 1973's The National Health to The Naked Civil Servant and the anti-Thatcherite Good And Bad At Games, Gold's output tends to reflect the nation's malaise during any given decade.
Of Richard Burton's destructive nihilist John Morlar, Gold professes, "I agree with his opinions"; sentiments with which original audiences might also have concurred. The Medusa Touch is a perfect film for Britain in the 1970s - that bleakest of decades, subject to mainland bombings, loss of national identity, union strangleholds, decaying estates and governmental corruption on an unprecedented scale. And, of course, Punk: a spiritual ally of John Lydon and Co, all Morlar lacks is a dog collar and a safety pin through his nose.
1978 had its fair share of neo-supernatural and conspiracy thrillers, including Magic, The Eyes Of Laura Mars, the Kaufman remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Boys From Brazil, Omen II and Capricorn One - but the complex (and very English) Medusa Touch doesn't quite belong to either category; The Fury probably comes closest, with its tale of raging telekinetic twins.
As the film opens, novelist John Morlar has just had his head bashed in with a figurine of Napoleon by assailants unseen. As he lies hospitalised in a coma, with a faltering pulse but a "screaming" brain EEG, it's up to French detective Brunel (Ventura) to discover whodunnit and why.
Through flashbacks, we discover the misanthropic Morlar's terrible gift - the ability to kill with his mind. Before the first hour is up, he's dispatched his nanny, his parents, his schoolteacher, a high court judge, his neighbour, and his wife and her lover, in steady succession. Branching out into mass-murder, he sends a jet liner crashing into a skyscraper, simply to prove to his sceptical psychiatrist Dr Zonfeld (Remick) that he can - "If you say coincidence to me again, I shall drive my fist through your face." As a vindictive aside, he also bungs-up a manned space flight. But Morlar (who's keeping himself alive through sheer willpower) is just warming up; good as his word - "The moment they begin to pray I will bring the whole edifice down on their unworthy heads" - he crowns a bunch of visiting Commonwealth dignitaries with huge chunks of Westminster Abbey.
It's around about now that Brunel starts to believe what we've known all along. Coincidence? Nah. As the film ends, Morlar (whose very name suggests a cross between a decaying tooth and a subterranean cellar-dweller) falteringly scrawls the name of his next target on a notepad beside his bed: "Windscale." Ouch.
Aside from the cultural anachronisms (""I was expecting a man!" a surprised Brunel tells Doctor Zonfeld), and a high-level conspiracy subplot that goes nowhere, The Medusa Touch feels surprisingly fresh, even contemporary, with its ghastly scene of a jet slamming into a tower block. The wonderful supporting cast, including Gordon Jackson, Derek Jacobi, Harry Andrews and Jeremy Brett (least of all cameos Shaw Taylor and Gordon Honeycombe), reads like a who's who of British stage and screen.
But the fact this hysterical, if at times rather plodding, melodrama succeeds at all is mostly down to Burton who was having a dry spell at the time (but looks like he's woken up in a skip), along with the vituperative richness of his dialogue. As the director says, it's "the sort of stuff Burton eats for breakfast".
Morlar's motivation isn't blackmail or revenge - he's just a grumpy old bastard who appeals to the irritable git in all of us. "Don't bother me with your middle-class crap," he tells a woman soliciting members for her tennis club. Burton's rants are worth the price of admission on their own, whether ruminating on the relationship between power and evil ("To build a cenotaph, first choose a million victims") or willing his fish-wife neighbour to toss herself out of the window.
This particular scene is one of the highlights of what is often a blackly comic film. Sighs Brunel, on being told of another supporting character's mysterious fate, "Let me guess..."
Behind-the-scenes footage on the 2006 Network DVD edition shows how the film crew 'destroyed' Westminster Abbey (without harming a single extra therein). It's 18 minutes of utter dullness. Anyone who's been a film extra will immediately recognise the tedium involved - the sitting around, the sudden flurry of activity, the sitting around again. Spot the crewmember to the left of shot casually chucking a polystyrene concrete block into the fray.
In the audio commentary, Stephen Jones recalls horror films being "in the dumps" when the film first came out, which obviously didn't faze director Jack Gold, who describes the origins of the film and getting it off the ground. We learn Lee Remick didn't want to do the film initially, feeling it was too close to The Omen, while screenwriter John Briley (who also wrote Gandhi) hadn't been crazy about Peter Van Greenaway's original source novel - "he had to be talked into it". "I'd rather watch this than Gandhi," chuckles Kim Newman.
Gold reveals Burton was actually off the booze while fiming - "He was taking a pill that made you sick when you drank." All three concur that the jet liner-into-skyscraper scene is standout ("This is an astonishingly well-made film for the 1970s!" breathes Jones), and Gold describes being in New York during 911 and making a connection: "My God, it's just like The Medusa Touch!"
Nevertheless, "It's not a film of my heart," the director concedes, which momentarily stumps Newman and Jones into silence; after all, they've just spent over an hour-and-a-half indulging the man, and talking the thing up. No, says Gold, "I've more attachment to my small films for television." But ultimately he thinks, "It's a good story, well told." What more could you ask for?
Review by Ali_John_Catterall from the Internet Movie Database.