The Medusa Touch (film)

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The Medusa Touch
Original 1978 film poster
Directed byJack Gold
Produced byAnne V. Coates
Jack Gold
Arnon Milchan (executive)
Screenplay byJohn Briley
Based onThe Medusa Touch by
Peter Van Greenaway
StarringRichard Burton
Lino Ventura
Lee Remick
Harry Andrews
Music byMichael J. Lewis
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Ian Crafford
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures (USA)
Release date
14 April 1978
(United States)
Running time
105 min
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Medusa Touch is a 1978 British supernatural thriller film directed by Jack Gold. It stars Richard Burton, Lino Ventura, Lee Remick and Harry Andrews, with cameos by Alan Badel, Derek Jacobi, Gordon Jackson, Jeremy Brett and Michael Hordern. The screenplay was by John Briley, based on the novel The Medusa Touch by Peter Van Greenaway.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Monsieur Brunel, a French detective on an exchange scheme in London, is assigned to investigate the murder of novelist John Morlar. As they examine the crime scene, Brunel discovers the victim is still alive in spite of his severe injuries and has him rushed to hospital.

With the help of Morlar's journals and Dr. Zonfeld, a psychiatrist Morlar was consulting, Brunel reconstructs Morlar's past life. Seen in flashback, it is filled with inexplicable catastrophes and the sudden deaths of people he disliked or who offended him. Morlar was even more convinced when a supposed psychic examined his hands, became ill, refunded Morlar's fee, and excused himself. Dr. Zonfeld scoffs at this explanation, asking Morlar if he seriously believes in palmistry as a means to predict the future. However, Morlar has realised these disasters are not coincidences as he had first thought, but caused by himself.

As flashbacks continue, it becomes shown that Morlar is a psychic with powerful psychokinetic abilities. Morlar's earlier legal career is seen to have halted in a courtroom defence speech that reveals his disgust at the world. To prove to Dr. Zonfeld that he can cause disaster, he forces a full Boeing 747-200 to crash into a London office tower, killing all on board.

Brunel eventually figures out that Zonfeld has attempted to kill Morlar in order to stop him killing more people, particularly astronauts in a manned space mission that is occupying the media. Failing to convince him, she had then bashed in Morlar's skull with a blunt object. Brunel confronts her and she admits trying to kill Morlar. Brunel does not arrest her right away, as what evidence he has is not truly enough to prove, in a court of law, that she was responsible. He is also becoming convinced of Morlar's telekinetic powers. Later, Brunel returns to Dr. Zonfeld's office, but he discovers her corpse where she had committed suicide, leaving a note where she admits the realization that she cannot live in a world in which Morlar also lives, apologizing to Brunel for leaving the mess for him to deal with. In the meantime, Brunel discovers that Morlar had mentioned in one of his journals news about a cathedral being repaired and how he intended to punish the hypocrisy of those praying there to God but caring nothing about the suffering He inflicts. From his hospital bed, Morlar manages to bring down the cathedral on the "unworthy heads" of a VIP congregation attending the fund raising event for the crumbling building's restoration. Morlar seems able to keep himself alive by sheer willpower. An enraged Brunel runs from the collapsing cathedral to the hospital, where he tries to kill Morlar to end the destruction, just as Zonfeld had, but he too is unsuccessful. Morlar writes on a pad the name of his ultimate target: Windscale (now Sellafield). The destruction of this nuclear power station is Morlar's final and greatest disaster.

Production notes[edit]

That Morlar is disgusted with the world is cited in Kim Newman's 1988 book Nightmare Movies, wherein Newman describes Morlar's dialogue as "incredibly misanthropic."[2]

Film and novel[edit]

The film follows the plot of Van Greenaway's novel fairly closely, but changes several details.

  • In the novel, the detective is not a Frenchman but an English character named Inspector Cherry, who appears in several other Van Greenaway books. (The film is an English-French co-production.)
  • In the novel Zonfeld is male and is a Holocaust survivor whose experience of Sachsenhausen concentration camp contributes to his eventual suicide.
  • At the end of the book, Morlar's hand does not scrawl Windscale but Holy Loch, the site of an American nuclear submarine base.

Minster Cathedral[edit]

Bristol Cathedral was used as the location for the fictional London place of worship, called Minster Cathedral in the film.[3]

Kent locations[edit]

The Reculver Towers near Herne Bay were used for the scene where young John and his parents are having a picnic whilst on holiday. John wills the car to move towards his parents, which causes them and the car to fall over the cliff. Herne Bay was also used for the scene where a young John Morlar (Adam Bridges) stays with his parents and is out on the seafront. The hotel is now residential properties.[4]


After the opening establishing shot, the film cuts to a close-up of Edvard Munch's The Scream. The camera zooms out to show that this is a framed copy hung in Morlar's apartment. In the ensuing opening scene, after Morlar is murdered, the camera pans over the wall of his apartment and comes to rest on a copy of Caravaggio's Medusa, which underlies the opening credits.


Cultural references[edit]

A sample from the film (Richard Burton's line "I will bring the whole edifice down on their unworthy heads") was used in the Manic Street Preachers' 1998 song "Ready for Drowning". The 2005 Manic Street Preachers song "Leviathan" includes the lyric "Baader Meinhof and Medusa Touch".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Variety film review; 8 February 1978; page 18.
  2. ^ Newman, Kim (1988). Nightmare Movies: Critical History of the Horror Film, 1968-88. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7475-0295-1.
  3. ^ "The Medusa Touch". Retrieved 5 September 2011.
  4. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office The Medusa Touch Film Focus".

External links[edit]