The Medusa Touch (film)

The Medusa Touch is a 1978 British supernatural thriller/horror 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]

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

Plot summary

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 seemingly inexplicable catastrophes and the sudden deaths of people he disliked or who grievously offended him. Morlar had become even more convinced when a supposed psychic examined his hands, became ill at what he foresaw, and promptly refunded Morlar's fee. Dr. Zonfeld scoffs at this explanation, asking Morlar if he seriously believes in palmistry as a means of predicting the future. However, Morlar has realised the disasters were caused by his own will.

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. Later, he proves to Dr. Zonfeld that he can cause disasters when, with her watching, he forces a Boeing 747-200 to crash into a London office tower, killing everyone on board.

Brunel eventually figures out that Zonfeld has attempted to kill Morlar in order to stop him killing more people, particularly American astronauts in a manned space mission that is being widely broadcast in the media. Failing to convince him, she had bashed in Morlar's skull with a blunt object and left him for dead. Brunel confronts her and she admits trying to kill Morlar. Brunel does not arrest her right away, partly because he is also becoming convinced of Morlar's telekinetic powers. Later, Brunel returns to Dr. Zonfeld's office, but he discovers she had committed suicide, having left a note apologizing to him for leaving such a mess to deal with. From his hospital bed Morlar manages to bring down a cathedral on the "unworthy heads" of a VIP congregation attending a fundraising event for the crumbling building's restoration. Brunel races to the hospital and tries to kill Morlar to end the destruction, just as Zonfeld had, but he too is unsuccessful. Morlar, who is inexplicably still alive, writes on a pad the name of his next target: Windscale nuclear power station. It will be Morlar's most destructive disaster yet.

Production notes

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

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

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

Kent locations

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

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


  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".
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