Sunday, March 17, 2024

Medium (1985)

... aka: Ling yu an jian (Supernatural Cases)
... aka: Mediet
... aka: Медиум
... aka: Mysteria replica di un omicidio (Mystery - Replica of a Crime)
... aka: Un misterio llamado Aleksander Orwicz (A Mystery Called Aleksander Orwicz)

Directed by:
Jacek Koprowicz

Setting: 1933, Nazi-occupied Poland. Greta Wagner (Ewa Dałkowska), the powerful psychic sister of veteran parapsychologist / occultist Ernst (Jerzy Nowak), tunes into strange visions that are actually the current activities of another unknown medium. The medium is using his or her powers to control four different people, entrancing them and leading them all somewhere to do different tasks. Andrzej Gaszewski (Jerzy Zelnik) travels from Warsaw to the autonomous city-state Sopot / Gdańsk via train and has no idea how he even got there, but vows not to leave until he finds out. Schoolteacher Luiza Skubiejska (Grażyna Szapołowska) walks right out on her students mid-class, goes to a museum, steals a turn-of-the-century dress and then ends up in a park with no clue how she got there or why she has the dress. She then immediately returns the garment to the museum. Since this hasn't been the first time this has ever happened, she's on the radar of the police and could potentially lose her job. Likewise, out-of-town banker Georg Netz (Jerzy Stuhr) keeps waking up in a strange house, despite the fact he's simultaneously paying for a hotel room in town. He has no idea how he got there, why he's there or why he's been writing gloomy lovelorn poetry while entranced.

Superintendent Selin (Władysław Kowalski) is not only in charge of investigating the above weirdness but also happens to be directly involved. Every night after work, he mysteriously ends up on a beach, where he gets drunk and goes to sleep. When morning comes he doesn't remember the evening before and then turns up at the office every day unbathed, unshaven and reeking of alcohol. His young assistant Krank (Michał Bajor) is something of a sadist who worships Hitler ("it's logical to side with the stronger," he claims) and is conspiring against Selin behind his back. He secretly goes to their higher-ups to report the superintendent's bizarre behavior but they refuse to fire him for it. At least for now.

The strange home that appears to be the centerpiece of the action belongs to a Polish man named Aleksander Orwicz, who suffers from diabetes and is later found in a diabetic coma. While in his hypnotized state, Georg had been showing up there to give him shots of insulin and claims there was another guy present at the time... a guy who looks suspiciously like Selin.

Everything links back to a love triangle (square?) gone wrong that occurred in the same house 36 years earlier. In the late 1890s, extremely rich forty-something banker Stefan Orwicz married beautiful 22-year-old Zofia. He built her a luxurious Italian-style home and the two soon welcomed a son named Aleksander. Things then took a turn for the worst when Stefan went blind due to his diabetes. A live-in doctor named Malicki moved into the home to care for him full time. Soon after, he and Zofia began an affair. That arrangement would soon came to a bloody end when Wiktor Arlt, Stefan's hunchbacked secretary and personal assistant, went crazy and murdered all three of them with an axe. See, he too was in love with Zofia, and would often write her poems about how grueling his unrequited love for her was. After the murders, Wiktor committed suicide, and history may very well repeat itself in the present day unless our heroes can stop it.

This is often cited as one of the best Polish genre offerings from this time, which very well may be true. That's not an endorsement of its quality so much as it is the simple fact that not many horror films were produced in Poland in the 80s and two of those were THE SHE-WOLF (1983) and I LIKE BATS (1986). Some of their other genre films from this time sound promising so this may even end up on the lower half of the scale for me by the time I see the rest. Nevertheless, being slightly better than the two middling films mentioned above doesn't mean Medium is inspiring or noteworthy itself. It's not. Things open well and the intrigue is maintained until about the midway point. That, combined with the competent directing, acting and production values, keep everything watchable even after it starts becoming something of a mess. The true undoing of the film is that it's never able to make its myriad plot threads work together harmoniously.

Slow and talky most of the time, this attempts to dress up its average mystery plot with various needless complications. The script makes room for psychic powers, doppelgangers, leech treatments, telekinesis, spontaneous combustion, human lives linked to sea turtles (?), immortality, physical regression to childhood, horoscopes that combine astrology and math (birth dates and times) to predict the exact time and day of death and a solar eclipse that's somehow needed to bring the bad guy's plot together. Why? You got me! There are a LOT of ideas crammed in here; too many, and this doesn't do an adequate job explaining most of them. The overcast cinematography, funeral pacing, lack of personable characters and humor and Nazi era setting also gave me bad flashbacks to Luca Guadagnino's tedious SUSPIRIA remake from a few years back.

Stripped down to its bones, what this really is is a rehash of the mediocre Aussie film PATRICK (1978), which was a big hit in much of Europe a few years earlier. Both involve a coma patient who's fully conscious inside their unresponsive body and using their telekinetic abilities to strike out against others. There a number of other similarities between it and this one, only this opts to gum up the works with numerous ill-explained supernatural detours.

Outside of its home country, this was given a theatrical and VHS release (on the Penta Video label) in Italy under the title Mysteria replica di un omicidio ("Mystery: Replica of a Crime"), but that appears to be it as far as 80s international distribution was concerned . A West German co-production, it may have also played in some other European cinemas, or on TV, as well. It's now pretty easy to find with English subtitles and is on Youtube, Daily Motion and other websites free to view, and was even available on Netflix for a spell, though I don't know if it's still there or not. Studio Filmowe Tor / Studio Blu offer region free Blu-ray and DVD versions with English subs.

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