You have to feel sorry for Medusa. She may be a hideous snake woman who can turn people to stone, but originally she was an innocent maiden who was raped by the God Poseidon in the temple of Poseidon’s wife Athena. Athena responded, not by filing for a divorce or reporting her hubby to the police, but by putting a curse on the poor woman, ensuring that no man could look at her without dying. This story isn’t uncommon in the wierd and wonderful world of Greek mythology, where the Gods and Goddesses behaved just as badly as humans. Medusa has been depicted several times in films but for me it’s Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion marvel in the [far superior to the remake] 1981 version of Clash Of The Titans that is the best film representation of the character, and the whole scene is great too. It’s extremely suspenseful, superbly lit in red and black tones, very atmospherically scored, and boy does Medusa have a great death scene! Harryhausen’s creatures often died well, some pathos usually creeping in where you see the monster’s death throes and for a few seconds are on its side [the creatures are, after all, the true stars of his films]. There’s no pathos with Medusa’s death, but it’s very very memorable and certainly made a huge impression on me at the cinema!
Perseus and his companions have been journeying widely. First of all they have visited the Stygian Witches to find out what can kill the Kraken, a huge sea beast to which Perseus’s beloved Andromeda is to be sacrificed in fourty days. Now they have arrived at the Isle Of The Dead, the reason being that the only weapon which is more powerful than the Kraken is the head of Medusa, because it can turn any living thing that looks into her face to stone. First they have to fight a two-headed dog and lose two men to it. Then they enter Medusa’s temple and are faced with having to try and kill her. Instead of a fast-paced action scene, we have a slow, tense game of cat and mouse around the pillars with the humans trying to avoid Medusa’s gaze while getting ever closer to her. Both of the surviving companions of Perseus are slaughtered, one by one of Medusa’s arrows, one by her gaze. Eventually Perseus hits upon the idea of watching Medusa in the reflection of his shield while hiding. When she gets lose enough, WHAM!…his sword removes her head and we get some startlingly graphic images. We see the head being cut off, Medusa’s headless body writhing, the head partially decomposing, and finally some very thick and gooey blood streaming from the neck stump. Perseus stumbles outside and holds the head up victoriously.
The highlight of a great fantasy adventure and probably the scariest sequence in Harryhausen’s filmography, it shows intriguing hints of darker and more horrific pathways that the great man and his producer Charles H. Schneer could have gone down if they hadn’t been so intent on making family features.