The Medusa Touch (film)

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This article is about the 1978 film that starred Richard Burton. For the source novel written by Peter Van Greenaway, see The Medusa Touch.
The Medusa Touch
Original 1978 film poster
Directed by Jack Gold
Produced by Anne V. Coates
Jack Gold
Arnon Milchan (executive)
Screenplay by John Briley
Based on The Medusa Touch by
Peter Van Greenaway
Starring Richard Burton
Lino Ventura
Lee Remick
Harry Andrews
Music by Michael J. Lewis
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Edited by Anne V. Coates
Ian Crafford
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures (USA)
Release dates
14 April 1978
(United States)
Running time
105 min
Country United Kingdom & France
Language English

The Medusa Touch is a 1978 British supernatural thriller film directed by Jack Gold. It starred 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]

Roger Ebert named The Medusa Touch as the worst film of 1978.

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 seeing, 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.

As flashbacks continue, it becomes shown that Morlar is a psychic with powerful psychokinetic abilities. Disgusted at the world, Morlar has caused two recent disasters: an airliner crash into a London office tower and the loss of a manned spacecraft. Dr. Zonfeld, who came to see Morlar at his home, had tried to stop him from killing the astronauts in the spacecraft, but she had failed. She had then bashed in Morlar's skull with a blunt object.

Brunel eventually figures out that Zonfeld attempted to kill Morlar, and confronts her over it. She admits that it was her, but Brunei 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. 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 mean time, Brunel discovers that Morlar had mentioned, in one of his journals, news about a cathedral being built 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 tried to kill Morlar to stop him from killing the astronauts, but is also unsuccessful in stopping him. Morlar writes on a pad the name of his next target: the nuclear power station at Windscale (now Sellafield).

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.
  • 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]


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".


  1. ^ Variety film review; February 8, 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 2011-09-05. 
  4. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office The Medusa Touch Film Focus". 

External links[edit]