Vana Rambota in Medusa (1998)

Stone Dead: Murder and Myth in ‘Medousa’

A wry tale which takes in Greek mythology, punk rock and influences of American suspense-drama, this is an effective and curious thriller about myth and obsession.

Audacious and knotty as it is viewer-friendly, Greek filmmaker George Lazopolous’ first and (seemingly) only film mines a territory at once strange and familiar. A wry tale which takes in Greek mythology, punk-rock rebellion and the influences of the American suspense-drama, Medousa is an effective and curious little thriller about myth and obsession. For such a low-budget effort, it shouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as it really is. Lazopolous, however, manages a fine balance with the many disparate elements he has at his disposal.

The story is essentially a modern update on the Medusa Greek myth (Medusa here is given its proper Greek anglo spelling, “Medousa”). Singer-songwriter Thanos Amorginos (in his acting debut) plays Perseas, a thief who belongs to a small burglary ring which targets wealthy homes. His backstory sets up the first quarter of the film where we watch him observing his self-absorbed mother, a woman overly preoccupied with her love-life and physical beauty. Perseas is a bored prepubescent who has developed a serious interest in illusionist acts; namely knife-throwing. When his mother is away on dates with her soon-to-be husband, Perseas sneaks out of the house and down to the local club to watch the magic acts. He makes friends with the illusionist who teaches him how to fling knives.

Fast-forward to the present day and Perseas is a grown man, a little more wayward now, considering his life of crime. Weird occurrences are happening all over the city involving the appearances of strange statues found in alleyways and apartment buildings. These statues seem to share a strong likeness to several men who have disappeared across the city. Is it some elaborate hoax? Not according to a local busybody who once witnessed an act so bizarre, she’s embarrassed to even discuss it with the police. Apparently, a mysterious black-clad woman has been roaming the streets, stopping men dead in their tracks — literally.

Meanwhile, Perseas and his crime ring have found a new job — an old mansion at the edge of town, sure to be filled with plenty of valuables. Imagine Perseas’ surprise when he learns that the mansion is his old childhood home. The even bigger surprise comes when he and his motley crew discover a host of statues, made in the likeness of several missing men, stored away in the cellar.

In all likelihood, no American filmmaker would have the courage to create something as outlandish as Medousa, so Lazopolous deserves credit for his daring take on thriller conventions. What makes Medousa such an absorbing and amusing watch is the sheer ridiculousness of its convolutions. Milking the Greek myth for all its worth, Lazopolous drums up an atmosphere that coyly merges an almost gleeful salaciousness with serious arty pretentions. The result is like watching a train that’s just about to derail and waiting for the ensuing carnage; at each possible juncture of wreckage, Lazopolous skilfully swerves and sets the story back on course before the next near dangerous upset. The thrill here is in watching the story just barely escape its mounting absurdity — a practice in either artful disorder or artless consistency. You decide.

The film reaches a climax that is as fiendishly clever as it is laughably corny; it involves rear view mirrors, knife-throwing and the Gorgon herself, decked out in spiked heels. Elegantly framed and filmed in a muted haze of earthy colour, Medousa’s visual palette places the film squarely in a Euro arthouse niche to which it could only belong. Its soundtrack, raucous and loud, appropriately integrates the strains of punk-rock into an ordered mess, a touch neatly imprinted on an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink drama that, remarkably, never sinks beneath its own onerous weight.

Mondo Macabro presents Medousa with a clean transfer and a fairly sharp audio track. Extras are minimal but they do include interviews with both the director and the leading actor. Amorginos, star of the film, recounts his first moments meeting the director in a pub one night. Not sure if he was being picked up or simply put upon, the actor, on a whim, agreed to take the lead in Lazopolous’ feature; an aleatory move for an equally aleatoric film.

RATING 8 / 10