Friday, April 27, 2012

The Legacy (1978)

          Mindless and silly but entertaining in a guilty-pleasure sort of way, this good-looking horror flick features one of those inane plots about an otherwise ordinary person whose lineage designates her the inheritor of a fearsome supernatural power. Katharine Ross, lovely and lightweight as always, plays Margaret, an American summoned to England under the pretense of a lucrative commission for interior-design work. She brings along her sensitive-stud boyfriend, Pete (Sam Elliott), and soon after their arrival in the UK, the couple encounters trouble. Riding a rented motorcycle, they’re run off the road by the town car of Jason Mountolive (John Standing), a super-wealthy English gentleman. He invites them back to his sprawling estate, where it soon becomes clear Margaret was expected—she’s a distant relative of Mountolive, and he’s the person behind her mysterious job offer. In classic horror-movie fashion, Margaret ignores obvious warning signs and sticks around to see what happens.
          What happens, of course, is a serious of bizarre deaths involving the various loathsome relatives Mountolive summons to his estate. Eventually, we realize that the Mountolives are witches, and Margaret is expected to take her place as the clan’s new Satan-worshipping matriarch. Unfortunately, one of the other potential heirs is trying to take out the competition, so Margaret and Pete must dodge a few nasty attempts on their lives. Based on a story by Jimmy Sangster, a veteran of the Hammer Films assembly line, The Legacy gets goofier with each passing scene, to the point that the ending plays more like accidental humor than intentional horror.
          Still, some of the deaths are enjoyably gruesome, like the one in which flame leaps from a fireplace to cook a victim. Director Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi) makes good use of regal locations, while the British supporting players (including Rocky Horror Picture Show narrator Charles Gray and rock singer Roger Daltrey, of the Who) are lively. And though neither gives a strong performance, Elliott and Ross display believable attraction: They got together offscreen after making this movie, and they’ve been a couple ever since.

The Legacy: FUNKY

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