MEDOUSA (1998)
Director: George Lazopoulos
Mondo Macabro

Mondo Macabro expands their Greek exploitation collection with their DVD of MEDOUSA, a rare latter day example of Greek genre cinema.

Haunted by memories of his childhood growing up in the countryside with his mother (comedic actress Eleni Filini), her wealthy second husband Andreas, and his mysterious stepsister who wore dark glasses and never went out during the day, knife-obsessed Percy (Thanos Amorginos) has grown into a nightclub owner who leads a band of thieves on the side. When partners Spiros and Katya, who work for a realty company, learn that sinister beauty Ms. Meda will be away from the country house she is renting from them, they alert Percy and his karate kicking bouncer Mitsos about the potential haul. The group drive into the countryside under cover of night and Percy is surprised to discover that the house is the one where his mother, stepfather, and stepsister mysterious disappeared one night. Instead of furniture and jewelry, the thieves discover a drawer full of wallets, a wardrobe of black dresses and skin masks, and a cellar full of clothed male stone statues. Katya believes that Ms. Meda must be a murderess who steals her victims' belongings and turns their remains into statues. While the rest of the group wants to split with the loose change they found in the wallets, Percy wants to stick around, believing that Ms. Meda is his stepsister and that she will be able to tell him what happened to his mother. Meanwhile, a quartet of detectives is investigating the appearances around Athens of clothed male stone statues – the chemical composition of which contains organic material – that resemble missing men and discover that such cases have been popping up all around the country. While Percy and Katya are on a coffee run, the local village priest tells them the truth about Ms. Meda and Percy's own destiny.

A rare latter day of Greek horror long after the days of Kostas Karagiannis – who brought us Mondo Macabro's first two Greek exploitation releases in THE WIFE KILLER and TANGO OF PERVERSION – and ISLAND OF DEATH's Nico Mastorakis (who headed for Hollywood after producing the Greek-set sea monster movie BLOODTIDE), MEDOUSA eschews nudity and graphic bloodshed in favor of a stimulating atmosphere of unease ripe with possibilities that the ultimately unambitious film does not explore (first-time director Lazopoulos intended a straightforward genre piece and it was his inexperience that ultimately contributes the arty Euro horror feel). While most interpretations of the myth of Perseus and Medusa favor him as a hero and depart from the point where he utilized Medusa's still deadly head to turn his enemies into stone (including rivals for the affection of Andromeda), MEDOUSA departs from the source in other manners not so much to throw off those familiar with the myth (although it is strange that no one in the film seems to be familiar with Greek mythology). The changes are more in fitting with the director's conception of protagonist Percy as anti-hero probing his own past trauma. The detective sequences pad out the film with information that might have been more intriguingly revealed in the claustrophobic old house setting among the cellar full of stone statues and the other unnerving clues. The reinterpretation of Greek myth recalls Jean Ray's surrealist novel "Malpertuis" (made into a film by DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS' Harry Kumel) while the film's combination of the detective story element with that of the supernatural is suggestive of the cinema fantastique of both Georges Franju and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Previously unseen stateside apart from some festival screenings, MEDOUSA comes to dual-layer DVD in an attractive progressive, anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen transfer. Although made on a low budget and a rushed schedule, the film's cinematography translates well to disc thanks to the spare visual design and lighting. The Greek Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is without any distracting errors, although the filmmakers appear not to have made much creative use of the Dolby Stereo mix. The optional English subtitles are without errors.

Extras start off with "Looks Can Kill: The Making of MEDOUSA" (34:42), an interview with director Lazopoulos in which he discusses his film education (he went to the London Film School only interested in the technical part but found his film education expanded when he first learned from his professor that his favorite Leone western A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was in fact a remake of YOJIMBO). He discusses the four year development of MEDOUSA, noting how difficult it was to find the mansion location (he expresses his admiration of Dario Argento and muses that such atmospheric locations everywhere you turn in Italy), and admits that he had to compromise when it came to locations, resources, and casting. Although he made the film as a straightforward genre piece, Lazopoulos suggests that English-speaking audiences may have liked it better than the Greeks because they may have perceived it as an art film. "Meeting George" (9:54) is a warm interview with interview with Amorginos who discusses his music career, how he met the director, empathizes with the first-time filmmaker's dictatorial manner, and gives a rather frank assessment of his acting ability. The film's included theatrical trailer (0:43) appears to be a newly-created teaser, footage from which we will likely see in a future release's "More from Mondo Macabro" teaser reel (which is already getting a bit long, looping the familiar music theme repeatedly over all of the represented titles). Sadly not included is one of Pete Tombs' informative "About the Film" liner notes sections. (Eric Cotenas)