The Medusa Touch (1978)

If you had ever told me that trading a dirty fish tank for Sir Richard Burton (Cleopatra, The Robe) in a movie about a killer brain would be total downgrade, I would have been right to scoff at such an absurd suggestion.

But then I watched The Medusa Touch in which the viewer is subjected to almost two hours of Burton whining to his psychiatrist (Lee Remmick obviously cashing in on her supernatural notoriety from her role in The Omen. For his part, Burton was fresh off The Exorcist II, so he was just cashing in.) about how he keeps hoping people would die horrible deaths and then they did. After that, I couldn’t help but think wistfully back to the golden age of killer brain movies like Donovan’s Brain.

That 1953 cortex classic was pretty much like The Medusa Touch, but instead of the scowling Burton in full on sourpuss mode, we had a brain living in an aquarium making people do bad stuff like smoking cigars and cheating on their taxes. You know what The Medusa Touch gives us? Shots of brainwave machines and a comatose Burton all gauzed up from the head injury his attempted murder resulted in. Somebody just put a pillow over his face and put us all out of our misery already!

The story is as thin as it is stupid. John Morlar (Burton) is apparently killed by several blows to his head by an unknown assailant. During the investigation of the crime scene, it is discovered he is still alive and is transported to the hospital where it comes out that in spite of the severe injury to his brain, it is still quite functional. The remainder of the film details the efforts to root out the attacker, but morphs into an all effort to prevent another disaster the still functioning brain is plotting.

There’s nothing much to the actual investigation beyond Inspector Brunel dividing his time gossiping with Remmick’s Dr. Zonfeld about what a weirdo disaster-obsessed freak Morlar was and Brunel checking in at the hospital to gawk at Morlar’s amzaing EEG results.

Dr. Zonfeld surely commits some type of malpractice when she spends session after session listening to him recount every person he wished dead (nanny, parents, teacher, wife, etc.) and tells him it’s all coincidence when any normal person would have just screamed in his sweaty face “then stop wishing that these people would die, you moron!” You don’t need Burton’s mega brain to know that!

As we get to know Morlar, no reason ever develops as to why we would even care who tried to cave his head in. He’s a singular unpleasant person, prone to theatrically delivered monologues about stuff like god, the devil, the establishment and whatever else was pissing him off at the time.

Brunel becomes convinced that Morlar had some sort of telekinesis ability and cryptic entries in Morlar’s journal lead Brunel to suspect that his brain was fighting to stay alive so that it could cause another disaster, the collapse of a cathedral during an event attended by  the Queen of England!

No reason is given for Morlan’s powers, nor why they solely seem to exist to cause death and mayhem. If we had the power to affect things with our mind, most of us would spend our days using it for common sense things like getting another beer from the fridge without leaving our chair or pulling pranks on loved ones (who keeps hiding my car keys!), not forcing a jumbo jet to crash into a high rise or blowing up national landmarks as part of some ill-thought out political agenda.

I also wasn’t sure why I should care if we ever found out who the person was that tried to kill Morlar. The guy was not only a repulsive jerk, he was a flat out menace. The person decorating the floor with his skull fragments was simply saving Seal Team 6 the effort of taking this telekinetic terrorist out. But even though the person who tried to kill him was way out in front of all this, the person inexplicably chooses not to finish the job and the movie eliminates that character with no good explanation.

Even when The Medusa Touch finally ended, it still couldn’t shake off the aneurysm-inducing scripting by having the nearly dead Morlan scrawl the name of his next target on a piece of paper for Brunel to see. Why send the message? Just to taunt the police? Why continue to try and wreck stuff? Just because you’re a prick?

And let’s be honest about how needless the climax at the cathedral was. That place was falling apart in front of people even before Morlar put the hocus pocus on it. How do you justify not closing the building when chunks are falling off here and there?

The Medusa Touch is a dull and meaningless 100 minute brain fart that leaves the audience ransacking its medicine cabinet in search of a bottle of Excedrin Migraine.

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