Monday, May 24, 2010

The Legacy (1979)

Always a sucker for ‘70s thrillers set in old mansions with an occult/satanic twist, I decided to check out The Legacy, a 1979 flick starring Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross. While it focused less on the occult than I expected and was set up more of like a murder mystery whodunit, I found myself enjoying The Legacy, creepy cats and all (more on this later).

The film is about Los Angeles architect Margaret Walsh (Katharine Ross) who receives a mysterious job offer from England. Before her job starts, she and her boyfriend Pete (Sam Elliott) embark on a bike ride through Europe, but trouble starts when an accident puts their fate in the hands of the wealthy Jason Mountolive (John Standing), who insists they recuperate at his sprawling estate. Soon, other guests begin arriving and Margaret realizes she may have been handpicked and brought to the estate to inherit a sinister legacy. As various guests begin dying off, can Margaret and Pete escape before it is too late?

As far as 70s satanic films go, The Legacy pretty middle-of-the-road. It’s not one of the best but it’s certainly not one of the worst. However, I appreciate that it’s not your typical satanic cult film and not a lot of emphasis is placed on the “black magick” aspect of the film. Instead, it focuses on the mystery of why Margaret is part of the proceedings and who is going to die next.

The story takes a while to get going, as the first 30 or so minutes are spent on Margaret and Pete exploring the estate and puzzling over the other guests and the rather unhelpful help. The “mystery” as to why they are there and why guests are dying is pretty obvious, but it’s still fun to watch them slowly piece it all together.

Of course, it has its WTF moments – like the horrible opening credits that feature the worst song EVER to assault my ears in a horror movie, or the copious shots of cats throughout the estate (which are never really explained, though I guess they are Mountolive’s or the Devil’s minions keeping an eye on things), or repetitive shots of Margaret and Pete driving round and round on country roads trying to escape but somehow always ending up at the estate – but it also hosts some neat-o moments. The first death, featuring a drowning in a pool, comes pretty unexpectedly and jars you awake after the somewhat slow first 30 minutes of the film. There is also a scene that occurs a bit later featuring a rock star (played by Roger Daltrey) choking on a chicken bone and an emergency tracheotomy being performed on him that’s quite well-done! And who can forget the reveal of Mountolive on his deathbed?

Sure, the gore is non-existent and some of the deaths are a little cheesy (especially the one where Charles Gray’s character burns to death), but director Richard Marquand (who would go on to direct 1983’s Return of the Jedi) does a pretty good job of delivering an atmospheric, not-quite-satanic occult/supernatural story. The use of the mansion, with its labyrinth of seemingly never-ending rooms and grounds, creates a creepy atmosphere as the estate takes on a character all its own. Marquand even creates a claustrophobic feeling, even with all that space, that makes the audience feel as trapped as the guests. And the ending just feels pitch-perfect in a dark, twisted way!

The Legacy is an entertaining, though at times cheesy, occult flick from the ‘70s. From the awful opening music number to the silly “sinister” shots of cats (yeah, WTF?!) this movie had me giggling most of the time, but it also had its moments of tension and shocks and was entertaining throughout it’s hour and a half running time. It may not be entirely memorable, but The Legacy decides a look at least once!

Available from Amazon!

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