And so we continue wading through the 50 films contained in the Mills Creek set Chilling Classics. This is movie number three.
The opening credits for Medusa play over a Greek mask, are spelled out in a Greek font, are accompanied by song with Greek lyrics and feature actors and crewmembers with names like Theodore Roubanis and Takis Kavouras. I’m no anthropologist, but I’m going to take a flyer and guess the film takes place in Greece.
Our name star, however, proves to be suave tanning poster boy George Hamilton. Despite not having starred in a movie since 1971’s Evel Knievel (in which—really—George Hamilton played Evel Knievel), he still gets his name above the title. For what it’s worth, if I’m remembering correctly, Hamilton last appeared on these pages as the co-star of Sextette.
That wasn’t quite enough to get the bad movie fan in me drooling, or anything. However, when the next two names to appear were those of Lucianna “The Green Slime, The Klansman” Paluzzi and Cameron “I starred in so many crappy movies that I was in the last flick featured in this set, Memorial Valley Massacre” Mitchell, well, let’s just say Pavlov’s dog had nothing on me. Oh, and Mitchell was in The Klansman, too. Small world.
The film was helmed, meanwhile, by Gordon Hessler, a long time genre pro, who directed several Vincent Price films such as The Oblong Box, Scream and Scream Again and Cry of the Banshee. He also directed such titles as Scream Pretty Peggy, the 1971 version of Murders in the Rue Morgue, the nifty ‘Spanish Moss’ episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and probably his best film, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Later he made a couple of flicks with Sho Kosugi, Rage of Honor and Pray for Death.
The danger here is that Hessler sometimes tried to get entirely too arty, as he did with Scream and Scream Again and Rue Morgue. His best work, which is stolid journeyman stuff mostly, often was the result of working on tight TV schedules. Meanwhile, I’m assuming long-time Sinbad (and Ray Harryhausen partner) producer Charles H. Schneer made sure Hessler didn’t get all fancified shooting Golden Voyage. Unfortunately, Medusa was made in 1973 and starred a guy who wanted to epitomize ‘hip,’ so we’ll have to see how crazy this gets.
The film proper opens on a cabin cruiser floating around the open water. It is boarded by (I guess) fishermen, and we get a long POV shot—uh oh, directorial flourishes already—as the interior of the boat is searched. Eventually the main cabin is approached, and proves to contain a bed on which lie the bodies of a man (Hamilton) and an attractive woman. A Champaign bottle lies between them, and they died holding each other’s hand. So presumably we’re looking at a double suicide here. For what it’s worth, this represents a nicely moody opening.
Then Medusa joins the roster of films narrated by a dead character, a trope common enough that Stanley Kubrick made a gag about the idea in A Clockwork Orange. “Do you believe in reincarnation?” Hamilton’s rather chatty voice from beyond the grave begins. “I do. My name is Jeffrey Hendal, and exactly three hours ago I died.” In any case, as he waits to begin his next life, Jeffrey figures he might as well tell us his story. That’s actually kind of droll, so maybe this will prove to be a decent movie.
Jeffrey was, he explains, the “heir to a large mining empire, which I share with my late, but devoted, sister.” He was, however, a bit of a black sheep. This is established when we flashback to a traditional large, multi-generation Greek family party. The harmony of this, however, is disrupted by the arrival of Jeffrey, who is dressed in a manner suggestive of a universe in which the ‘70s-era Elvis and Elton John were one person rather than two.
He is also very obnoxiously drunk, which brings glowers of disapproval from pretty much all concerned. This includes his aforementioned sister, Sarah (Paluzzi). We didn’t get a great look at the dead woman on the boat, but I assume it was her, especially since Deceased Jeffrey has described her “late.” Jeffrey continues to act like the family screw-up, and manages to make rather an impressive ass of himself. Ultimately some of his cousins (I assume) literally carry him off. Once he’s removed, though, the party resumes much as it was before.
Then we cut to a café. I’m not a huge music person to start with, and I have to say we’ve gotten a rather disconcerting amount of Greek music and dancing already, nine minutes in. This has that dreaded ‘travelogue’ feel to it, one of those movies that pads things out with lots of extraneous footage of the local color. If this is the reason the movie last an hour and forty minutes, well, they could have pared it down some as far as I’m concerned.
Speaking of running long, yikes, nine minutes in and already two pages of review. Bullet time!
- Extended Greek dancing footage! What could be better!
- Watching this are Sarah and her respectable fiancée Nikos. However, it’s Wackiness Ahoy! when an open-shirted Jeffrey enters with a pair of bimbos. That guy! He and Sarah spot each other, and they exchange heated Significant Glances as he makes out with the bimbos to get her goat. Man, I hope they’re not going to get into a whole incest thing here, ‘repressed’ or not.
- Nikos, who sang an entire song at the party, now joins the band to perform a traditional Greek dance. Yeesh, Fame didn’t have this much dancing in it.
- In what I assume is another traditional Greek thing, the café patrons join in the fun by smashing mounds of plates to the floor. Whoever owns the local Crate & Barrel must be very well off.
- Late that night, Jeffrey meets some black guys at a secured warehouse location. He exchanges a container of earthen jars for a briefcase full of cash. I’m assuming it’s a drug deal, but maybe he’s illicitly selling valuable Greek antiques or something. They don’t say, so I guess it really doesn’t matter.
- And Cameron Mitchell enters the picture! He’s playing Angelo, and meets Jeffrey on the aforementioned cabin cruiser. Apparently Jeffrey owes him a large amount of money, on which tonight’s profits are a partial payment.
- A fellow named David Edwards arrives on a jet, and is met at the airport by Sarah. The almost comically stereotypic Greek main theme plays on the soundtrack during this, which mainly serves to make me wish I was watching Zorba the Greek or Never on Sunday. Maybe things pick up later, but we’re already getting kind of bogged down here.
- Edwards is driven off in a police car—it’s an escort, he’s not under arrest—but they are intercepted on a mountain road undergoing construction by a gang of goons led by a shotgun-wielding Jeffrey. They block the cop car with a bulldozer, grab Edwards, and then Angelo uses another and a shotgun-wielding Angelo. Then Angelo jumps into another dozer and knocks the cop car, with the driver still in it, down the mountainside. (Amazingly, it doesn’t explode.) So I guess Angelo’s kind of a jerk.
- I guess Edwards was the attorney for Jeffrey’s sick father. He has a newly drawn will with him, or some other MacGuffin. Anyway, a piece of paper everyone is chasing. In any case, Mitchell of course really chews the scenery here with his patented psycho act.
OK, you know, I’m really going to stop here with the in-depth stuff. I’ve never thought Hamilton was a particularly good actor, and he doesn’t really change my mind here. He’s OK, I guess. The film becomes sort of / kind of a psycho thriller, albeit a dull one with many of the murders occurring off-camera. Still way too many time-eating music scenes as things go along. Even so, I don’t feel that motivated to blow the film’s various plot twists. Just kind of mediocre, I guess. It’s a character piece where you aren’t really that interested in the characters.
One of the subsidiary characters is played by Hamilton’s then wife, Alana Stewart. Given this and the emphasis on the local Greek scenery and culture, the film comes off as a bit of a vanity project that was mostly set up to give Hamilton a comparatively rare starring role while affording he and the Mrs. a free vacation in a sunny clime. Hamilton and Stewart divorced a few years down the road, but apparently remained friends, since in the mid-‘90s they tried a tandem talk show called George and Alana.
Ms. Stewart was also a very good friend of the late Farrah Fawcett, and at the risk of seeming unchivalrous, seems to be milking that a bit since Ms. Fawcett passed on. This includes some TV appearances and a subsequent book. Aside from Hamilton, Ms. Stewart was also married to Rod Stewart for a while. Fans of the weird world of Hollywood might get a kick out of knowing that she was also, at various points in time, the mother-in-law of both Shannon Doherty and Angie Everhart.
For her part, Paluzzi (like Hamilton) again confirms my impression of her as a striking woman who isn’t exactly a world-class actress. There’s a reason you star in stuff like The Green Slime, and again, she basically seems like the woman you hired when you couldn’t get Ursula Andress. And given Ms. Andress’ filmography, this didn’t seem like much of a chore to start with.
If I had to try to find something nice to say about the film I’d say the dogged police inspector character wasn’t too bad. Not exactly groundbreaking, but believably a cagy, smart cop. And there was one nice plot twist. The film’s opening as described above wasn’t bad. Mitchell is always kind of interesting to watch, although he’s not really a favorite of mine. Let’s just say that he’s no Big Bill Smith or Charles Napier. So…meh.
I’m not sure what Medusa has to do with anything, by the way. I guess there’s a folklore connection or metaphor I’m not getting. Otherwise, why call it that?
The presentation was decent, although too dark in many scenes, and (of course) zoomboxed and again pretty obviously ripped from an old video tape. One more movie and I’ll be through the first disc! Luckily, it seems like something that at least finally is some outright enjoyable schlock.