Despite crossing the line between entertainment and cinematic purgatory with the frequency of an annoying hiccup, this tale of dark magic, witchcraft and botched tracheotomies surprises with an unlikely charm.
Richard Marquand, remembered by many for directing Return of the Jedi, made his feature film debut with The Legacy, a messy, uneven, nonsensical film that portraits profound stupidity. Yet, despite crossing the line between entertainment and cinematic purgatory with the frequency of an annoying hiccup, this tale of dark magic, witchcraft and botched tracheotomies surprises with an unlikely charm. The illegitimate child of Hammer horror suffering from the out of control tendencies of a belligerent toddler.
It begins when Katherine Ross’ Los Angeles-based interior designer Maggie Walsh unwisely accepts a mysterious call to England for a job. She ends up – with partner Pete Danner (Sam Elliott) – staying at the stately home of Jason Mountolive (John Standing), a hospitable and wealthy British gentleman, who invites the couple to stay for the night after knocking them off a motorcycle they were riding together. It’s the sort of grand medieval estate you’d find in The Innocents, The Haunting or The Devil Rides Out, only missing Vincent Price scene-chewing (although, fittingly, there is a dinner scene with a mighty serving of ham).
Instead of realising as quickly as the audience that their predicament is filled with ominous clues they settle down for sex when they should be running for their lives. Danner, the macho all-American, also takes a dig at the jobbing English plumber. Writer Jimmy Sangster, who made his name scripting classic Hammer films, finds his brand of camp diluted by a director bred on far more radical, raw and penetrating material (both from the States and Britain), their incompatible collaboration revealed, most strikingly, by The Legacy’s tonal shifts.
That’s supplemented by for example, the absurdity of Roger Daltry, having just left the stage at a Who concert by all accounts, turning up as carefree guest of Mountolive. One wonders if his talents would have been better suited to replacing the jaunty, upbeat music and incongruous Kiki Dee pop tune that fit inharmoniously with Marquand’s attempts to unsettle. Similarly, I’m not sure if it was Sangster or Marquand’s idea to halt the film’s stuttering momentum to fetishise actress Marianne Broome’s arty swim routine but her eventual demise under the water is definitely from the writer’s creative closet.
Yet, as many missteps as The Legacy takes, it still manages to find a sense of intrigue, if only because you’re hoping that someone, at sometime, is going to explain what it’s all about. Ross is talented enough to evoke our sympathies despite working with a weak script; the foreboding movement of numerous foe leaving her enveloped by a unnatural, dark force causing the odd hysterical outburst.
Thankfully she’s grounded by her hero – Danner – who doesn’t believe things go bump in the night. Elliott’s freewheeling charisma is a definite highlight: you get the feeling no matter what ungodly monster might be lurking around the corner, this moustached leading man – perhaps a relation of Ash Williams – will find a way to send it back to hell.
Curiously, The Legacy is therefore appealing in its own odd, quirky little way. That it reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby (without the unnerving tone and powerhouse central performance), Suspiria (without the style), and Witchfinder General (without the scares) at least suggests it possesses a few good ideas even if many of them fall flat. While, for some, the only thing memorable about Marquand’s effort will be the sight of Sam Elliott’s butt, others will cling to The Legacy’s unique ability to disturb through incongruity.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Richard Marquand
Written by: Jimmy Sangster, Patrick Tilley, Paul Wheeler
Starring: Katharine Ross, Sam Elliott, Roger Daltrey
Released: 1978 / Genre: Horror
Country: UK/USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed The Legacy courtesy of Powerhouse Films which releases the film on limited edition Blu-ray on July 29, 2019. More details here.