Remembering an overlooked 70s thriller: The Medusa Touch (1978)

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The opening scene of The Medusa Touch is straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock film: A man is seated on his couch watching the news footage of a space shuttle disaster on TV. He turns around and an unseen assailant batters him to death with a heavy statue. The dead man is John Morlar (played by Richard Burton), a well-known author. The police soon arrive and the Chief Investigating Officer is a Frenchman named Brunel (played by the legendary French actor Lino Ventura). While searching Morlar’s apartment for clues, Brunel notices something very strange: Morlar is still alive.

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Arrangements are made to get Morlar to the hospital and very soon he is put on life support and under constant supervision. Brunel heads off to investigate why an attempt was made on Morlar’s life. Brunel tracks down every single person that Morlar knew and tries to gather clues. Morlar had also evidently left plenty of notes. Among the various people that Brunel meets is Morlar’s psychiatrist Dr. Zonefeld (Lee Remick). Morlar had confided in her every single detail of his life. “I have a gift for disaster”, he told her once. As Dr.Zonfeld narrates them, we are treated to a series of flashbacks that begin with Morlar’s childhood.

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When Morlar was a child, his parents died tragically during one of their picnic trips and he somehow felt responsible for that. He firmly believes that he had willed it. Then there is also the violent death of a schoolteacher of his whom he hated and again, he thinks he had caused it. There are many more incidents described all of which were caused by Morlar whenever someone insulted him or despised him. Morlar is soon revealed to be a man with telekinetic abilities. Sometimes he caused these tragic accidents in order to prove to some people that he was telekinetic. Brunel soon learns a terrifying secret about Morlar that shakes him to his core. I do not wish to spoil it by going further so I am going to stop right there.

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The 70s witnessed Richard Burton doing some inconsequential films just for the sake of earning a paycheck. He was going through several bad marriages and a bad drinking habit. Surprisingly, he was sober throughout the filming of The Medusa Touch. It was as expected, dismissed as just another one of these inconsequential films. But for me, it’s an exception. I think it’s a grossly underrated horror/thriller film that has not received it’s due. Roger Ebert hated the film and I didn’t agree with his review. Burton is truly menacing as Morlar and his dialogues are recited with his usual eloquence and ferocity. The background score is really spooky and sets the tone of the film right from the opening scene. And the ambiguous ending is creepy and gave me the chills.

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