Katharine Ross, the sweetheart of the late 60s and early 70s, stars with her future husband Sam Elliott in this uneven Satanic Panic film from the director of Return of the Jedi.
The Legacy (1978), directed by Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi - 1983); starring Katharine Ross, Sam Elliott, John Standing, and Roger Daltrey.
The Legacy is one of those bad films that can't be dismissed out of hand, mainly because it's got some decent features sparkling in the muck. It's uneven and poorly paced, but it does have few genuinely creepy moments, and overall, its parts work better than its whole.
The Legacy must have looked very good on paper, with an A-list leading lady and a script by Hammer screenwriting legend Jimmy Sangster. However, this film suffers most from a bizarre type of cinematic schizophrenia — at times veering into rom-com territory with Ross and Eliott (romantic partners in real life with undeniable chemistry), and then switching abruptly into horror mode. The word is that Sangster’s solid script was mangled in production.
The problems surface from the very beginning. The film opens with Maggie Walsh (Ross) and her live-in boyfriend Pete Danner (Elliott) cooing romantically to each other in a plant-filled home office where they apparently work together. Maggie, an architect in Los Angeles, has just received a $50,000 check to do some design work for a mysterious client in England. She’s of English descent and feels drawn to the place, and begs Pete to come with her for an extended stay. He agrees (cutely) and off they go. Then the theme music starts and the opening credits roll over a montage of scenes of Maggie and Pete shopping and touring in England.
The theme song is highly inappropriate; it’s a sugary tune about “the other side of me” sung by 70s pop star and sometime Elton John collaborater, Kiki Dee. It sounds very much like the intro for a 70s sitcom about a single girl taking on the big city. Who the heck thought this song was suitable for a horror movie? Marlee Matlin? (Okay, that was kind of a cheap shot; also, Marlee Matlin would have only been thirteen when this film debuted.) The dreadful theme music, sans vocals, plays again in a crucial scene where the lead characters are trying to escape a gruesome situation, which slaughters the atmosphere as definitively as Mrs. Voorhees getting the machete treatment in Friday the 13th.
The damn theme song is still playing as Pete and Maggie are motorcycling through the English countryside. As luck would have it, they get in an accident and their cycle is trashed. No problem, though. Along comes a courtly “toff” in a Rolls Royce to the rescue. He introduces himself as Jason Mountolive (John Standing), a middle-aged English gentlemen who lives in an ancient country house.
He invites the couple to stay at his lavish mansion, until the cycle can be fixed at a garage in the nearest village. They agree because otherwise they’d be stranded. Once they get to the house, they find that they are expected to stay for more than tea. They also find that five other people have been invited to stay as guests of Mountolive, all apparent friends and business associates who’ve known him for years. The guests are all watched over by a sinister private nurse named Adams, who is clearly modeled on the evil Mrs. Blaylock from The Omen.
After a creepy warm-up where Pete is nearly scalded to death in the shower (we get to see The Stranger’s 32-year-old naked butt, which is actually a pretty good view for some of us), bad things start to happen to the other guests. They are picked off one-by-one in gruesome ways by an unseen entity.
Yep, it’s the old Agatha Christie chestnut, souped up with a side of Satanic cheese. It seems that Jason Mountolive is a Satan-worshipper with vast wealth and supernatural powers, and he’s dying, because he is actually almost four hundred years old. What’s more, five of his six guests must croak so that he can bequeath his wealth and powers to the sole survivor.
Three guesses as to the identity of that survivor! At the end, the mood shifts again to rom-com territory, with Ross and Eliott cooing at each other even though Ross is now the heir of the evil Mountolive. The rushed, off-tone ending kills any sense of creepiness a viewer might have felt during the bulk of the movie.
That said, there’s some super-creepy elements in this film that make it a fan favorite. Adams the nurse is actually a witch's familiar who can change at will into a fluffy, white cat. Her lurking presence is menacing and effective. The other servants are apparently also cats, as we see in one eerie, weird scene. There’s a death in a swimming pool that’s memorably creepy, and a scene with starving dogs that’s very disturbing.
As far as the acting goes, Ross and Elliott are usually quite good actors, but the schizoid script makes them look foolish. The one bright spot is Roger Daltrey — yes, that Roger Daltrey — playing a corrupt but cheery music industry executive. His performance is surprisingly good, so much so that I looked up his filmography in IMDb and was surprised to find that the legendary frontman for The Who has some sixty-five acting credits to his name, most of them “guest starring” roles in television series, but some filmwork as well. (He even did an episode of CSI — but then, who hasn’t?)
The score by Michael Lewis is awful. Was Jerry Goldsmith unavailable? Or just too expensive after getting an Oscar for The Omen? The cinematography is nothing to write home about either; the IMDb credits list two cinematographers, a possible reason why it looks uneven. This film is currently playing on Daily Motion, and is available on disc as well.