The Medusa Touch (1978)
By: Rip on May 3, 2011  | 
Beyond | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 104 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jack Gold
Starring: Richard Burton, Lee Remick, Lino Ventura, Harry Andrews, Alan Badel
Screenplay: Peter Van Greenaway
Country: UK / France
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At home alone in London, John Morlar (Richard Burton), a successful writer of doom-laden prose, sits watching a television broadcast of an American space flight when he is viciously assaulted and left for dead by an unknown assailant. On an (unlikely!) exchange programme, French Inspector Brunel (Lino Ventura) is brought in to investigate and is puzzled when it is brought to light that the novelist didn't seem to have a single enemy in the world. However, he soon discovers a clue which leads to an American psychiatrist, Dr Zonfeld (Lee Remick), who had been treating Morlar for reasons unknown. Meanwhile, Morlar is in intensive care at hospital, with nothing working but his brain as it fights a desperate battle for survival. As Inspector Brunel's investigations on Morlar deepen, he discovers that, even as a child, the author was somewhat of an outsider and all around oddball. Further research shows that a vast series of disasters and unsolved mysteries happened around Morlar, occurrences that Morlar himself believed he was responsible for, having engineered them through unconscious telekinesis. The death of Morlar's parents on a childhood visit to the coast (an amazing sequence) was only the beginning and was soon followed by the burning down of his school, the driving of a woman to throw herself out of a high rise window, the car accident deaths of his unfaithful wife and her lover, and various other fateful 'coincidences'. But through all this, Brunel and Dr Zonfeld remain skeptical of Morlar's power - that is, until he causes a Jumbo jet airliner to fall out of the sky and crash in to an apartment block right in front of her (a spectaularly staged moment), all the while listening to him rant about causing even greater disasters. And as the mystery of why and who attacked the enigmatic novelist remains unsolved, Brunel comes to the realization that, despite being in a coma, Morlar's brain is working overtime to cause yet more disasters. Even unconscious, the hate-filled John Morlar is determined to wreak havoc upon the world he feels has rejected him, with Westminister Abbey and the Queen next on his list...

This rarely seen French/British co-production from 1978 maybe a little slow, but is never less than engrossing. Much of this is due to the fine performances of its terrific cast, even when they're spouting some utterly preposterous dialogue. The legendary Richard Burton is always a joy to watch and listen to, and here he is only seen in flashbacks as he lay in hospital wrapped in bandages throughout the film's entire running time. In fact, half to most of the movie, takes place in the past. Burton makes a great villain and his put-upon character will have you reluctantly siding with him. The great French actor, Lino Ventura, is customarily fine, though I did feel Lee Remick may have been miscast. But that's not her fault and she was obviously put there for star power. One of the joys on the thespian front in The Medusa Touch is spotting all the wonderful British character players, the likes of Derek Jacobi, Gordon Jackson, Michael Hordern, Harry Andrews and many more. The film is also nicely lensed and mention should be made of the special effects. The scenes of destruction as perpetuated by John Morlar are very realistic and superbly executed. Whilst hardly an action film, these moments are a welcome injection of excitement.

The Medusa Touch was unfairly maligned for many years, but seems to have grown somewhat of a cult reputation over the years. Sure, it's a little plodding at times and completely unbelievable, but hey, it's a sci-fi/disaster/revenge movie, and is enormously entertaining. After all, how you can you go wrong with the mighty Richard Burton being thoroughly obnoxious?

This is the second Beyond Home Entertainment title I have reviewed for Digital Retribution and the second one to have incorrect details on the back cover. As opposed to the DVD slick's claim of a 4x3 transfer, it is in fact 16x9 enhanced with an approximate 1:78 aspect ratio. And a beautiful transfer it is too, especially for a 70's Brit flick. Quite sharp and very clear, with a nice colour palette and devoid of edge enhancement, aliasing, etc, it appears to be a remastered print and one, I suspect, ported from the R2 UK Network Special Edition.
Like the the video quality, the audio seems to have been remastered. It's a 2 channel mono track, but it sounds great. Levels are all spot on, with no distortion at all. Clear as a bell.
Extra Features
The previously mentioned UK Network SE features a commentary and a making-of, but unfortunately, we in R4 don't get them. Instead, we get text bio's for Richard Burton, Lee Remick and Harry Andrews, plus the film's trailer. This release does not include subtitles. It should also be noted that the film's runtime is 104 minutes, as opposed to 96 minutes advertised on the back cover.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Whilst this release of The Medusa Touch may be lacking, it does feature an excellent A/V presentation and we're probably lucky to even get this obscure oddity at all. It's a very grim flick, but a surprisingly entertaining one, with a customarily fine turn from Richard Burton as a villain worth rooting for. Recommended.

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