I can't help but praise Joshua Kennedy's filmmaking finesse, especially the loving manner in which he recaptures the Gothic essence of Hammer Studios. He did a marvelous job in his homage, "Dracula A.D. 2015" (see Oct '15) and flavored his science-fiction opus, "The Vesuvius Xperiment (see Nov '15) with many of the studio's finest traits.
Now, Gooey Film Productions brings us Kennedy's "The Night of Medusa": a heartfelt homage to Hammer's atmospheric classic, "The Gorgon". The latter is a Kennedy favorite, but instead of merely rehashing a film he holds near to his heart, he's distinguished his tribute with spellbinding friction and ample angst.
The story focuses on a Greek exchange student, Elaine Carlisle (Haley Zega), who upon entering prestigious Pace University encounters unfounded disdain from her roommate, the snooty Courtney Ambrose (Carmen Vienhage), who has no idea that the meek Carlisle is the reincarnation of the dreaded Medusa, but then neither does Carlisle know such...at least not at first.
Before long, Carlisle experiences a series of weird, sleepwalking sessions and ultimately returns to her deadly roots to attain revenge, but she's not alone upon her terrifying trail. The mysterious and mystically stationed Count Saknussemm (played by none other than Kennedy) guides her along the maddening stretch of discovery.
Though Carlisle invokes Stephen King's downtrodden youths, her circumstances also capture the delightful tension of such teen horror classics as "Blood of Dracula", "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" and "Twisted Brain", with perhaps a layer of Edward L. Cahn's "She-Creature" paving the way, occasionally bridged by elements of William Castle, Alfred Hitchcock and Coffin Joe.
Also, like Hammer's "Gorgon", "Medusa" is, by its basic design, an unpretentious monster tale, though rendered with a shadowy trepidation that would make even the likes of Terence Fisher and Freddy Francis envious. Still, Kennedy never lets the shadows stand in lieu of what's promised. Our celebrated Titan eventually surfaces from out Carlisle's comely guise, snapping at the screen with her trademark serpentine strands and as a result, stirs the required scares.
Zega and Vienhage are perfectly cast, staging their opposing roles with passion and conviction. Of course, Kennedy's script is a strong foundation upon which their performances can grow.
Kennedy, in particular, makes a strong impression as Saknussemm, administering the right commanding tone and highbrow posture. Through an ominous, mostly mute persona, he channels Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but also one might argue, enlists the distinct, menacing panache of Vincent Price and Michael Gough. (For further proof of Kennedy's villainous projection, check out "Vesuvius".)
The rest of "Medusa'"s cast, which includes Jonathan Danziger; Nick Ries; Madison Reiske; Traci Thomas; and Liam Wildes, is also believable in its varying roles; Femforce contributor Mark Holmes even cameos as a security guard. (BTW, the stately Metropolitan Museum of Art acts as a major backdrop in the film, adding to the eerie air of scholarly sophistication.)
I've already watched the film twice in one sitting and have a hankering to leap in again, but I suppose the same enthralling quality can be found in any Kennedy endeavor, including "Medusa'"s joyful DVD accompaniment, "Slave Girls on the Moon": a science-fiction spoof, which also serves as a companion piece to Kennedy's equally tongue-in-cheek "Voyage to the Planet of Teenage Cavewomen" (see March '15).
Fonda is tracked by her assistant, Chloe Trustcott (Madelyn Wiley), but when she, too, is captured, the duo plans an escape with fellow prisoner Mai-Ling (Tomi Heady), a combat-skilled (and later peg-legged) rebel. (Incidentally, "Medusa'"s Vienhage also plays one of the inmates, in this instance supplying an effective comedic tone.) To ensure success, the gals decide to throw a talent show to distract their sadistic warden (the brilliantly expressive Kennedy) and his "Invaders from Mars"/"Man from Planet X"-ish henchman, Lobo (the joyfully lustful Jeremy Kreuzer). From there, the crazy hi jinks spread like wildfire, nicely capped by yet another Holmes appearance.
"Slave Girls" is a loving, nostalgic homage to space operas ranging from "Buck Rogers" to "Barbarella" (sprinkled with a dash of Stanley Kubrick, Jules Verne, and a generous heaping of Edward D. Wood, Jr.), but even more so, the adventure acknowledges the women-in-prison genre, popular during the '70s drive-in scene. The film's crossover elements blend remarkably well, so much so that they won Kennedy "Best Comedy" at the 2016 Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival Awards.
Each film (whether viewed separately or back-to-back) creates a pleasant, throwback experience, offering further proof that Kennedy is one of the most versatile, indie filmmakers going today. (For those interested in his perspectives, the Alpha New Cinema DVD release supplies insightful commentary on both installments.)
Don't deprive yourself of the fun; order this dandy, Kennedy double feature today at oldies.com.