Hollywood tapped into a more modern, less monster-driven strain of horror in the ’70s through films like The Exorcist and The Omen, aiming beyond the usual adolescent audience to create an upscale style of spooky genre fare that grown-up ticket buyers could get into. However, that doesn’t mean the films that followed in their wake also hit the “classy” mark. The Legacy is an interesting example of a movie that goes for the appearance of upscale horror but offers plentiful trashy cheap thrills under its expensive veneer.
The Legacy was adapted from a tale concocted by Hammer Films veteran Jimmy Sangster and it offers a yarn that mixes Exorcist/Omen-style Satanic horrors with a Ten Little Indians-style plot structure. It starts with interior designer Margaret (Katherine Ross) and her beau (Sam Elliott) trekking to England for a job offer. While riding in the country, they are accidentally run off the road by the limo of reclusive millionaire Jason Mountolive (John Standing).
He insists on spiriting them away to his mansion, where several wealthy colleagues have gathered for some sort of secret meeting. Margaret and Pete soon discover that it’s no accident that they ended up here, that Jason isn’t as healthy as he first appears and that his friends are all connected by some sort of sinister skullduggery. The couple tries to escape but keep finding their attempts blocked as the guests begin dying in mysterious and gruesome ways.
The Legacy never connects as the upscale horror it would like to be because its trashy roots are too obvious from the start: the plot has a slapped-together quality, the solution to the “mystery” is foregrounded early on and the shocks are more tacky/silly than scary.
However, that doesn’t mean The Legacy isn’t entertaining. In fact, if you’re in the right mood, this can be a delightful bit of camp. Ross and Elliott make a likeable, low-key pair of leads who keep the film anchored even as the plot gets loopier and loopier. The cast of wealthy cannon fodder includes colorful turns from Roger Daltrey and ex-Bond film baddie Charles Gray, who indulges himself with a bizarre German accent. That said, the big scene stealer might be Margaret Tyzack as the prim, dismissive nurse who runs the house in an officious and creepy manner (she’s like a subtler variation of Ms. Blaylock from The Omen).
The Legacy is also gleefully gruesome for an attempt at upscale horror. The death scenes make use of novel if improbable weapons like a pool and a phantom chicken bone that prompts a gonzo choking scene. There’s also an oddly jaunty but melodic score by Michael J. Lewis, complete with late-’70s rock touches, that feels like a Bond movie score hastily reworked for a horror flick. The production values are impressive, including location shooting at a gorgeous mansion and stylish lensing by English vets Dick Bush and Alan Hume.
The biggest surprise behind the camera in The Legacy is the surprisingly classy direction by Richard Marquand. He and his talented cinematographers give the film a stylish look full of imaginative angles and sleek camera moves, managing to pump up the oft-silly storyline and genuine sense of atmosphere. He digs into the setpieces with energy, with the best probably being a memorable scene where the heroes steal a car and take off down the country roads, only to keep ending up back at the mansion. Marquand would die too young but he’d rack up some impressive credits after this film on Eye Of The Needle and Return Of The Jedi – and The Legacy shows off the sense of craftsmanship he’d bring to those films.
In short, The Legacy is total camp but horror fans with a taste for such kitschy indulgences will find irresistable nonetheless, with the big price tag and the upscale horror pretension making it all the more delicious.
Blu-Ray Notes: This title has just been revived for blu-ray by Scream Factory. They delayed the release to do a new 2K scan of the film and the results have a nice vintage look, bringing out the shadowy lighting and earthy color schemes with a nice level of detail for an older film. The original mono soundtrack is presented in a lossless form and it’s a solid presentation of this straightforward mix.
Though this is not one of Scream Factory’s “Collector’s Editions,” they still made the effort to include a few extras. The first is a nearly 14 minute interview with film editor Anne V. Coates, who is a veteran with a lot of major credits beyond this film. She talks about her philosophy of editing, which involves following the story and performances, and also reveals she directed the 2nd unit on this film. An 11 minute chat with makeup FX artist starts with some info about how he got into the “closed shop” of the U.K. film makeup business before giving a quick overview of how did he major effect in the film.
The extras are rounded out by some vintage promo material: a t.v. spot plugs the book and the film’s creative deaths, a radio spot focuses on the Ten Little Indians aspect of the plot and a trailer offers a longer, more-involved mix of both. An image gallery is the final inclusion: it offers a 10 minute animated presentation of stills, lobby cards, promo pictures and several poster designs.