FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Mar 21, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: MEDUSA (1973)

Okay, let's get this out of the way right up front: save for the sculpture in the opening title sequence, there is nary a gorgon in sight in the 1973 film Medusa. Not a single snake-coiffed queen to be found! One could certainly call this false advertising and file a law suit, although it's possible that an adept defense lawyer could argue that the film itself is a Medusa, seeing as how it has the ability to turn viewers to stone using the power of absolute fucking boredom.

So if we don't get a proper Medusa in Medusa, what do we get? Well, we get Ritz Cracker pitchman/ anthropomorphized ascot George Hamilton, the actor known more for his perpetual suntan (and his friendship with Imelda Marcos) than for his acting. To be honest, I don't think about George Hamilton very often. Hardly at all, you could say. But when I do think about George Hamilton, I picture him on the cover of People Magazine. I don't know if he was ever actually on the cover of People Magazine--surely he was at some point--but it feels like the place he fits best.

Medusa begins as the dead bodies of a man and a woman are found clutching hands on a bed in a boat that's adrift at sea. The man is Jeffrey (Hamilton), an American playboy who'd been galavanting around Greece. The woman is his sister Sarah (Luciana Paluzzi), who was newly married. "Clutching hands on a bed?" you say. Yes, Jeffrey and Sarah are close. So close and weird, in fact, you will often wonder if they are in love and/or "doing" "it." But it's never really addressed in blatant terms, so I guess it's up to you, the viewer, to decide the true nature of their relationship. How exciting!

Anyway, Jeffrey tells us in a voiceover that he's chilling in limbo, waiting to be reincarnated (I am not kidding), and he will tell us the tale of how he done got dead while he waits.

Jeffrey must be a shit storyteller, because Medusa immediately descends into an incoherent mess of a...well, it's less of a movie than it is a series of scenes that often have no relation to one another, make little sense, and might even have you cursing the day you ever heard the name "Mill Creek Entertainment."

As best as I can gather, Jeffrey needs money to continue his playboy ways. He owes money to a gangster named Angelo (Cameron Mitchell, 50-Pack King and the ONE bright spot in this movie), who also owes money to someone. To get the money, they are searching for a will that someone has absconded with. Also, Jeffrey might be a homicidal killer? This shit is all over the place and going nowhere, I am telling you!

The buzz that Hamilton garnered early on in his career had fizzled by the early 70s, so he turned to producing dreck like Medusa to give himself some starring vehicles. It's fun, admittedly, to keep this in mind should you decide to give this movie a go (please do not give this movie a go), not only because it's just plain terrible, but because you can feel how wonderful Hamilton thinks it all is. He is the very picture of pleased with himself throughout, overacting and treating subjecting us to impressions of Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, and other actors that you'd rather be watching. He relentlessly mugs for the camera, to the point where it's surprising he never actually says "Ain't I a handsome stinker?" and there's no little ding! sound gleaming off of his impossibly white teeth. There are also some scenes featuring his then-wife (and current political pest) Alana Stewart, which seem to be included solely to give them a chance to work and flirt with each other.

Make no mistake, Cameron Mitchell overacts even more throughout Medusa, but--bless him forever--it's in a way that serves...well, if not the movie itself, then surely us viewers. He interacts with other characters mostly through bizarre monologues delivered in strange situations. Don't try to get a handle on crime boss Angelo, he is unknowable and unexplainable! Just enjoy scenes that find him, say, all lathered up and enjoying a Turkish bathhouse, or delivering lines like these:
Old man Hendell's in pain, see? So they spaced him out on morphine, see? So how's he of sound mind, see? How can he write a will, baby, how?

Seeing all those sentences end with "see?" might cause you to think he is talking like a James Cagney-style 1930s gangster, but he is not. He is talking like a 1970s Cameron Mitchell. I love him, and without his presence I actually may have turned Medusa off. I found it to be that much of a slog. Consider this a warning to you, see? Use your time wisely, baby, wisely!

I really do love Angelo though

I will admit, I was a bit jazzed during the opening credits, what, with its NYC coffee cup font, Greek folk song, and promise of a Medusa. Director Gordon Hessler is the man behind some lesser-but-fun Cushing, Price, and Lee joints from AIP (Scream and Scream Again, The Oblong Box), the Bette Davis made-for-TV flick Scream, Pretty Peggy, and the curio/masterpiece KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Cameron Mitchell was just gonna be the icing on the cake!

But it became quickly apparent that Mitchell was not only the icing, he was the whole entire cake--that there would be nothing else in this movie that remotely approached the entertainment value of any of the other Kessler films I just mentioned. And it didn't take long to realize its most grievous sin, that there was to be no Medusa in Medusa

I realize that it's generally unfair to lay the blame for a disastrous movie on only one person, as there are a shitton of contributing factors and moving parts that can break down at any point between "idea" and "big screen." But I don't care! I'm laying it all on George Hamilton's perfectly tanned, egotistic shoulders. Opa!


Steve K said...

I hold a special place in my heart for George Hamilton because in the summer of 1981 when I was 14, my mom, in a sincere effort to help me clue in, took me to see ZORRO: THE GAY BLADE. (That is how little of over queer representation in the media there was; this is what my mother had to resort to. One can only imagine how it would have turned out if she had instead taken me to see CRUISING.)

Anyhow, it did not work: I did not clue in just then, but I did develop a lifelong love for Brenda Vaccaro.

Stacie Ponder said...

AW MOM. That's actually really sweet. Those little things mean so much, and it's sad that not all parents are like that.

And side note, I think my love for Brenda Vaccaro comes from her work as the 8-packs-a-day sounding angel in Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (which STILL traumatizes me to this day)

Kristina said...

Do you remember the George & Alana talk show? Anyway Mill Creek should have made things convenient for us and just put out a 50-Cameron, baby, Cameron Mitchell collection

Stacie Ponder said...

I *do* remember their talk show! I mentioned to someone else that it feels weird sometimes to have been the kid who read TV Guide, Parade, and her grandmother's Star and Enquirer cover to cover every week because it gave me all this knowledge about so many actors, etc without *actually* seeing any of their work. Such is the case with George Hamilton!

I'm also amused by just *how many* (usually short-lived) celebrity-hosted talk shows there have been over the years, like with the most random people.

And I think a 50-Cameron Pack is a GREAT idea. There could be, like, four volumes!

Kristina said...

Swap out Parade for Rona Barrett’s Hollywood magazine and I was also that kid! there have been more failed celeb talk shows than total victims in this dvd set