FEBRUARY 3, 2010
At the urging of my good friend Matt (who reviewed the film for his own column over at Dread Central), I queued up The Legacy the other day and put it in the #1 slot, despite having never heard of it. And as I watched it, I began to notice similarities with other 70s movies that I never would have seen had it not been for HMAD (such as The Sentinel), thus renewing my resolve to continue on with the site. You can’t go through life without seeing the “Expert” from Rocky Horror Picture Show (Charles Gray) being immolated and fed to dogs.
His death is one of the five in the film that are ironically tied to some crime that the person committed in the past (very Agatha Christie-ish). Gray’s character was responsible for a fire that killed some people, so he dies by the flame as well. How exactly the villain is able to set all of this stuff up is never quite clear (what if Gray never went near a fire again?), but it allows for some delightfully silly death scenes, made even funnier by the fact that director Richard “Ewoks” Marquand seems to be playing them straight.
And that is part of the joy of the film. It starts off like a lot of films of this era - very melodramatic, without any evidence that you are watching a horror film (though the opening Kiki Dee ballad about a “Sunset stained with gold” is certainly a candidate for ironic terror), and then it slowly draws you into the horrible goings-on. But the pacing is on such an even path into gonzo-ville that the silly stuff never really sticks out as such in the context of the film. For example, the finale of the movie involves Sam Elliott running around with a crossbow, while a guy on a roof shoots at him with a rifle (both men are terrible shots). Out of context, that sounds ridiculous, and it’s certainly not how you’d expect the movie to end up based on the first reel. But when it comes after a woman is suddenly annihilated by shards of glass, it’s almost like “Well, how else would this particular movie end?”.
There are also at least two moments that I swear were the inspiration for particular gags in the movie Airplane. In one, a nurse who wears a nun outfit is reading “Nursing Times” magazine, featuring an obviously upset guy with an oxygen mask on its cover, which reminded me of the scene in Airplane where the nun and the little kid have seemingly swapped their issues of "Nun’s Life" and "Boy’s Life". Then later, right before his death, Gray solemnly points out that a character who died from choking on a chicken bone was not eating chicken, revealing “He had ham.... and some pate!” (again, played deadly serious. Gray also has a ridiculous German accent, for the record), which reminded me of the classic “We had a choice, steak or fish.” “Yes, I remember, I had lasagna.” exchange. Weird.
Now, the movie is weird, a bit dull, and somewhat confusing, but the only thing that really bugged me is that we are never told if the Satanic folks that run the house are using their powers to trap Elliott and Katharine Ross in the town, or if they just have no sense of direction. At one point, they steal a car from the house’s chauffeur, and try to escape, only to end up driving back to the house over and over. If they have that much power, why did they let them drive around at all? And if they just can’t find their way out, why the fuck are they so dumb? Granted, I have a pretty keen sense of direction and can usually find my way around anywhere just using common sense, but still, they should have clarified whether or not it was their powers or not. This scene also includes a hilarious bit where Ross drives straight into a truck for no goddamn reason at all.
As a horror film, it doesn’t quite work. There’s a creepy-ish scene at the end of the first act where Ross and the others first “meet” their dying host, as he talks in an unsettling whisper and briefly appears to be part monster, but otherwise the horror elements are extremely light; the death scenes often lack buildup and two of them are presented as accidents anyway. But it certainly works as a “what the hell am I watching?” slice of 70s cheese, which is why I opted not to mention too many specifics (Gray’s death is spoiled on the trailer, for the record). And for the ladies, there’s a shot of Elliott’s ass that is more gratuitous than the one in Loaded Weapon 1 that was parodying such moments, which I think is pretty impressive.
The only extra is the trailer, though the trailer reveals that there was a novelization for the film, which I must read at once. I’d love to read what was going on in Elliott’s head during key scenes, such as the one where he fights a woman who makes cat noises.
What say you?