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Film / The Medusa Touch

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The Medusa Touch is a 1978 horror/thriller film based on a book of the same name by Peter Van Greenaway. It features Richard Burton as John Morlar, a man who believes his life has been surrounded by catastrophes of his own making; individuals he has become angered with suffer fatal accidents. Not only this, but he claims to be the cause of a number of larger scale disasters such as plane crashes.

The film begins with Morlar's bludgeoning by an unseen assailant, and after he is initially pronounced dead, he is soon rushed to hospital after showing slight signs of life. Whilst Fish out of Water detective Brunel (Lino Ventura) investigates the attempted murder, Morlar's story is told in flashback through conversations with his former psychiatrist Dr. Zonfeld (Lee Remick).

Provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Morlar’s mother was emotionally abusive, constantly insulting him, calling him useless, and acting like his imagination was a curse.
  • Affably Evil: Morlar is pretty friendly and civil to those he respects, though it takes some time for him to become evil.
  • Agent Scully: Dr. Zonfeld, at first.
  • Anachronic Order: Flashbacks galore.
  • Anti-Villain: John Morlar. At first, he, while understandably a jerk, never wanted to kill people, but his telekinetic powers activated whenever he was angry and killed whoever had endured his wrath, and throughout his life he sees the injustices of the corrupt world order cause others to suffer as well. Eventually, all the trauma causes him to snap and conclude he was given his powers to tear down the government he despised for so long, no matter how many people are killed.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Most of the people Morlar killed early on in life were assholes who abused him, like his fundamentalist nanny, his abusive mother, and his Sadist Teacher.
    • To a lesser extent Dean and the Deacon, Obstructive Bureaucrats who had gotten in the way of Brunel and the Assistant Commissioner’s attempts to stop Morlar’s plan to collapse the cathedral, is among the casualties when it does collapse. Of course, they are understandably skeptical of Brunel's claims.
  • The Cameo: Michael Hordern and a young Derek Jacobi make appearances as a Fortune Teller and a publisher respectively.
  • The Cynic: Morlar. In spades.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Morlar is one of these right from his schoolboy days.
  • Death Glare: When Morlar fixes his gaze on someone, expect something very bad to happen them very soon.
  • Downer Ending: Brunel's attempt to kill Morlar is unsuccessful, and Morlar sets his sights on his next target, a nuclear power station. It’s also implied that Morlar used his powers to cause Brunel and the doctors treating him to commit suicide, and with the Assistant Commissioner dead, the only person left alive who knows about Morlar is Sgt. Duff, who likely won’t be believed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Zonfeld is unable to finish Morlar off and is found slumped over a desk with a hypodermic needle in her arm. It’s implied, however, that it was a Psychic-Assisted Suicide, and a similar fate is implied to befall Brunel and the doctors treating Morlar.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Sgt. Duff.
  • Enfant Terrible: Averted, in his youth Morlar doesn't seem to intend for bad things to actually happen, at least, not any more than a normal person.
  • Faux Shadow: While searching Morlar's flat, Brunel doesn't notice someone approaching. Threatening music starts, but it's just Duff.
  • Fictional Document: Morlar's novels, plus a few of the newspaper clippings in his scrapbook.
  • Freudian Excuse: A good portion of Morlar’s issues come from the long lines of misfortunes he has had to deal with throughout his life. The only question is why he didn’t snap sooner.
  • The Fundamentalist: Morlar’s nanny was one of these, constantly railing about how he and the other sinners would be damned to hell rather than actually take care of him.
  • Hanging Judge: Judge McKinley, who sentenced a man to nine years in prison for printing out flyers encouraging the recipient to support his effort to have a war museum closed down, in spite of Morlar pointing out repeatedly that he hadn’t actually done anything illegal, out of his own personal biases. Pissed, Morlar kills him with a heart attack.
  • Jump Scare:
    • Sgt. Duff rigs a laughing ghost puppet to jump out at Brunel as a practical joke.
    • When Dr. Zonfeld goes to kill Morlar in the hospital, his eyes snap open, despite his being in a permanent coma.
  • Kill It with Fire: Morlar killed Conley and four other boys by setting his school on fire.
  • Knight Templar: Morlar sees his abilities as tools for bringing down the corrupt world order, at the expense of human life.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: While Morlar initially targeted people who had wronged him, he moves on to using his powers to kill large numbers of random people out of sheer hatred for his fellow man.
  • Newscaster Cameo: ITN's Gordon Honeycombe is seen presenting television news reports. Shaw Taylor hosts the Moon mission coverage.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The Assistant Commissioner’s attempts to evacuate the cathedral results in him being one of the victims when Morlar causes it to collapse.
  • Not Quite Dead: Morlar survives severe head injuries that crack his skull and cause severe damage to his brain, and becomes lucid enough to carry out his plans.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Dean and the Deacon.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Zonfeld's confession is a re-run of the opening scene, but this time showing her.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Mrs Pennington berates her husband for buying a stale fish and ends up saying she'll kill herself. Morlar encourages her to do just that.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The police in general appear to be this after getting over their general scepticism of Morlar's abilities. The Assistant Commissioner is a particularly good example.
  • Sadist Teacher: When Morlar sasses him after being caught staring out of the window at the leaves, his teacher Conley instructs him to pick up exactly 1,149 leaves - in the rain no less - and if they are wrongly numbered, he will be soundly thrashed. When Morlar collects the leaves, Conley smugly instructs him to dry them, as he can't have wet leaves ruining his floor.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Morlar claims to be the reason behind the family car knocking his parents off the cliffs, despite the fact that he was nowhere near it at the time and insists that he did not tamper with the brakes.
  • '70s Hair: Even in the flashbacks.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: While never a saint, Morlar genuinely regretted his killings at first, but his isolation, the injustices he suffered or witnessed others suffer, and his telekinetic powers activating every time he got angry, he snapped and came to the conclusion his powers were needed to bring down the corrupt world order.
  • Tragic Villain: Morlar.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Morlar claims to be crusading against an unjust and corrupt political and social system, but the fact that he's more than willing to kill large numbers of completely innocent people in order to kill one or two people who (arguably) deserve to be punished suggests that his moral crusade is just a mask for his general misanthropy.
  • World of Jerkass: The reason Morlar is a misanthropic mass murderer is that almost everyone he's interacted with in his life has been a thoroughly detestable person, starting with his religious zealot nanny, emotionally abusive mother, and sadistic schoolmaster in childhood to his equally despicable shallow, adulterous wife later in life.