Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Night Of Medusa (2016)

Starring Haley Zega, Carmen Vienhage, Liam Wildes, Joshua Kennedy, Traci Thomas
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An exchange student from Greece begins classes at New York's Pace University, and is tormented by a cruel roommate and her friends, while haunted by a statue out of classic mythology.

One of Joshua Kennedy's most original movies, although it abounds in classic film references, is one of his greatest works, a memorable tale of an innocent girl abused by those around her, who will receive their comeuppance thanks to her connection to a legendary monster.

Kennedy has gone on record time and again professing his love for his favorite film of all time, Hammer's 1964 production of The Gorgon, which involved the discovery of one of the legendary sisters of Medusa turning victims to stone in an English village.  In Kennedy's audio commentary for his production, he mentions borrowing character and crew names, as well as camera setups from Terence Fisher's film, and impressively also works in references to The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Carrie, The Empire Strikes Back, and many others.

However, as stated before, this is a very original effort from Kennedy, "a dark fairy tale," as he describes it on his commentary, with two lovely and wonderful actresses, Haley Zega and Carmen Vienhage, playing polar opposites, dressed throughout the film in bright and dark clothes to illustrate this further.  Vienhage had appeared in a few other Kennedy productions as bubbly blondes, but shows her dramatic range here, playing a selfish and morally bankrupt student who's eager to humiliate her roommate.  Zega, as the victimized Elaine Carlisle, is as sweet and innocent as Vienhage is cruel and we feel her torment and confusion through a fine performance, which ultimately leads to a quest for vengeance.

Also in the cast is Liam Wildes as a handsome paramour for the inexperienced Elaine, who has his own ulterior motives, and Kennedy himself, playing the mysterious Count Saknussemm, whose name comes from the 1959 filming of Journey To The Center Of The Earth, but as Josh points out in his commentary, is modeled after a number of cinema icons, with a beard tailored to resemble Peter Cushing's in The Gorgon. A mixture of familiar faces from Kennedy's past productions and new ones fill out the cast, with Traci Thomas memorable as Carlisle's loquacious resident advisor.

The film's soundtrack commences with a stirring organ piece by Tom Milligan, preparing us for a unique experience.  In addition, Kennedy assembles a number of memorable classical music selections, including portions from Swan Lake and Tristan und Isolde to create a neoclassical background for his "fairy tale," which are well utilized in scenes including the Perseus & Medusa statue and other classical statues shot at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Although the film is very much contemporary in focus, with cell phones and an Instagram site providing important plot points, the music, the scenery, and Kennedy's clever use of primary colors give it a nostalgic feel.  Night scenes shot on the streets of New York and within Central Park under a full moon recall the Hammer Gorgon production and contribute outstanding atmosphere.

Kennedy doesn't have the budget for an elaborate creature makeup or special effects capturing characters turning to stone, but visually composites live snakes filmed at a local pet store effectively enough, and uses camera tricks and sound effects to cleverly create the stone transformation.  He also wisely uses them in only limited glimpses as first, as he unravels Carlisle's connection to Medusa slowly and mysteriously, as done in The Gorgon and other classic creature films.

Nominated for The Rondo Classic Horror Award for Best Independent Film this year, The Night Of Medusa is an entertaining mix of the classic and contemporary and another fine Hammer tribute in the same spirit as Kennedy's excellent Dracula A.D. 2015.  However it stands on its own as a compelling original story and an affecting and moving film.

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