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The Medusa Touch (1978)
Great fun as Police procedural turns to Horror!
With an extraordinary stage presence and a baritone voice so pleasant he could read the phone book and get a standing ovation, RICHARD BURTON would make even the dullest movies interesting (the exception that proves the rule being the dreadful 1977 Exorcist-sequel, THE HERETIC).
Legendary for his two turbulent marriages to Liz Taylor, this Welsh Wonder of the World ranks up there with the giants of British film and theatre, but sadly so did his health. The man, who in 1974 nearly drank himself to death, suffered from both kidney disease and an enlarged liver at his early death ten years later.
The toast of Hollywood in the early 1950's (Humphrey Bogart was one of his biggest fans), the 1960's saw him as one of the highest-paid movie stars in the world, he received a total of six Academy Award nominations. A Socialist and an Atheist with a strong contempt for Capitalists "exploiting the poor," he even suggested all actors were "latent homosexuals."
Like so many of his stage and screen roles, Richard Burton could be larger than life. So what better part for this man, than the starring role in THE MEDUSA TOUCH, playing a writer living in horror convinced that he can murder people just by thinking about it!
Most critics strongly dismissed this film upon its release in 1978. In retrospect I guess it's easy to see why a movie like this would seem silly, almost archaic at the time, especially as it was following gritty classics like Deliverance, The French Connection, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and beautiful spectacles like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Seen with 21st Century goggles however it's near impossible not to enjoy what is going on here. THE MEDUSA TOUCH starts out with a brutal murder, takes on the shape of a police procedural, then flirts more and more with the supernatural, before moving into possible Sci-Fi territory and finally punching you in the face with scenes of both Action and Horror!
"Horror" in this case meaning closer to Hammer House than it does the cynical US horror movies of the era (just so I don't get any angry messages from people who were expecting ROSEMARY'S BABY or THE SHINING).
THE MEDUSA TOUCH has plenty of quirks and odd twists along the way, even a suicide-scene sprinkled with comedy, but this just adds to the fun, the end result being a movie quite unlike anything else. The movie's finale I found so memorable, I wanted to hug the screen, but that probably says more about me than anything else! Other people might want to punch the screen, and I would pity them for taking their movies so seriously.
Italian veteran actor Lino Ventura is a fun choice co-starring as the French (!) police detective who has to figure out what is real and what's not. The beautiful Lee Remick is also along for the ride as Burton's doctor. The rest of the cast is made up of familiar faces, almost like a who's who of British film and television; Gordon Jackson, Harry Andrews, Michael Hordern, Derek Jacobi, Michael Byrne and the greatest classic "Sherlock Holmes" in the history of television; Jeremy Brett.
The highlight of the cast is still Burton though. There is always something about this man's presence that lends extra credence to anything he's in.
Compared to similar films, THE MEDUSA TOUCH seems somewhat forgotten today. Why this is, I'm not sure. Could it be so simple that it followed on the heels of the aforementioned EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC? A genre movie so boring, it works like a black hole on any nearby piece of celluloid.
THE MEDUSA TOUCH is anything but boring. It might be eccentric and throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, but just like Richard Burton, it is never boring!