So successful was 1985’s MEDIUM that it was reportedly ripped off by many subsequent Polish films. Its director Jacek Koprowicz went on to make another horror-tinged thriller, 1988’s ALCHEMIK (also released in miniseries form as ALCHEMIK SENDIVIUS), which at the time had the distinction of being the most expensive film ever made in Poland.
In the early 1930s the parapsychologist Wagner uses his telepathic sister to psychically uncover the presence of a nearby medium. This shadowy individual, named Orwicz, is amazingly powerful, simultaneously controlling several people who under his influence do things against their will—and immediately lose all memory of what they did.
One day the young Nazi sympathizer Krank and his police investigator superior Selin investigate Orwicz’s house. There’s no sign of Orwicz, but Krank and Selin discover that a number of the house’s previous residents were brutally murdered and, even more startling, that Orwicz himself died 30 years earlier. They determine that Orwicz has achieved immortality of a sort by projecting his consciousness into other peoples’ bodies, and pay a visit to Wagner to inquire how they might stop Orwicz.
The three conclude that the best way to take down Orwicz is through a SCANNERS-like psychic duel between him and another equally powerful medium. But where to find such a person? And how can they stop Orwicz’s psychically controlled subjects from battling Krank, Selin and Wagner through seduction, murder or worse?
This film’s success, I’m guessing, was due to its resolutely fast paced, plot driven aesthetic. The film, in short, is markedly entertaining, something Polish films generally aren’t. It’s also extremely well visualized, and unique in its audacious mixture of period drama and psychic horror. Yet there are problems.
The opening scenes are plain confusing, plunging us into the action, which from the start is extremely complex and exposition-heavy, without properly setting up the characters. Furthermore, it takes some time for things to come clear amid the multiple protagonists and interwoven plot strands.
Another complaint is with the actors. All are technically proficient but sorely lacking in charm or charisma, which isn’t helped at all by the fact that nearly every character is evil or distant—the closest thing to a “hero” is the Nazi sympathizer Krank, while the villain doesn’t show up until the final scene.
Final thought: MEDIUM is a rare film that could actually stand to be remade by Hollywood, albeit with more charismatic leads and a clearer narrative.
P.P. Film Polski
Director: Jacek Koprowicz
Screenplay: Jacek Koprowicz
Cinematography: Wit Dabal, Jerzy Zielinski
Editing: Miroslawa Garlicka
Cast: Wladyslaw Kowalski, Michal Bajor, Jerzy Zelnik, Jerzy Stuhr, Graznya Szapolowska, Jerzy Nowak, Ewa Dalkowska, Piotr Machalica, Ewa Kasprzyk, Hanryk Bista, Zygmunt Zintel