The Legacy (1978)

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?

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  1. I agree with just about everything, but how could you not mention the swimming pool scene? Don't want to spoil it, but it's one of those scenes that creeped the hell out of me as a kid, and kept me from spending TOO much time underwater. (Others have mentioned this scene to me too, often not even knowing what movie it was from.) In terms of nightmare fodder, it's right up there with Annie Ross turning into a robot in Superman III.

  2. 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

  3. Just some clarification, by watching this movie in this age of technology and desensitization that we all live in now kind of dulls any fear or point this movie originally tries to make, so take that with a grain of salt first. To have appreciated the movie for what it was worth you had to have seen it around the time of its release, supernatural things were still going bump in the night back then...we didn't have cell phones and movie cameras to prove them wrong on the Discovery channel. Anyway,the point behind the driving scene is the desperation of hope that they can EVER get away. Sure Jason had enough power to trap them there, but the way that the Legacy works is that you must give yourself up to it, just like giving your soul to Satan. Which is why you see Maggie get out of the car beaten by the fact that there is no hope of escape. The people that serve Jason are minions,some familiars(like the cat/Adams), or even sub-demon types that shift(like the man that does all the jobs in town),they are only there to guard the town and house from outsiders in exchange for their power and immortality, they may not even be alive just ghouls that exists as long as the power exists, hence how the react to the regime change. With each of the deaths, they will fit the actions for which Jason met each of his new "seal-bearers" at the time of giving their soul to him in exchange for their life and power. His power is drawn through them and so is his life expectancy. He lives only as long as he has not found his last "heir", when this last person is found the cycle is completed, and the new one begins(which explains how Jason was healthy one second then after meeting Maggie he struggled to get out of the car and then preceded to be bedridden). It also keeps with the Satan "Chaos Theory" by having these people perpetuate their crimes,get away with them, and then benefit from the rewards and spoils of power until it consumes them. As to the quick deterioration, the closer you are to touching "pure" evil the faster the body deteriorates, so in the final transfer(although somewhat unclear in the movie) part of Satan himself is actually transferred to the heir to the Legacy(hence the clawed hands, disfigured demon face etc.) The movie doesn't really say whether the recipient is under complete control of the power or if they are now just Satan's disciple. However, by seeing the character change in Maggie to one more assured and almost arrogantly cocky, you would assume she is partly infused with Satan himself, if not him in her body.It would make sense if she is just a conduit for Satan to touch the world, and her body would be eventually consumed by the evil. This is a great movie, far ahead of the time, and ranks up there with the Omen and the Exorcist as far as Satanic depth, each just has a different perspective on the Satan supernatural interaction with the world. The Legacy also has one of the best ending lines..."You know I have the power now"..."Yeah, I know, what are you going to do with it"..."Anything I want!" Yeah cue the credits Satan won. Who says that the good always have to win, and that God conquers all...this movie actually glorifies that the evil side won by turning a good person to the benefits of what Satan offered instead(its what we all want, money,power,fame..etc. Just capitalism at its finest).


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