The Legacy review
Director Richard Marquand died at the early age of 49, but before he did so he directed a couple of fairly important movies. One of them was Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, his most well-known project, in 1983. But he also helmed the somewhat obscure horror title The Legacy in 1978, a British murder mystery that owes a lot of its influence to the cozy mysteries of Agatha Christie like And Then There Were None. Starring Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott, The Legacy takes supernatural creaky house elements and pairs it with a cast of potential suspects, to mixed results.
Marquand’s direction is slow and deliberate, as is often the case with British horror, and The Legacy inches along as it introduces its large cast of characters. It all begins with an invitation for main characters Margaret (Ross) and Pete (Elliott) to travel for an architectural job that has already advanced them $10,000 without any description of the gig, and as they travel cross-country on their bike, they accidentally wipe out. They’re forced to stay at the expansive Mountolive estate with five other people, all from different walks of life – one’s a musician (Roger Daltrey), one’s an arms dealer, another a prostitute, etc. – with one thing in common: a weird insignia ring they can’t take off.
The Legacy casually amps up the tension as Margaret and Pete discover there’s occultism afoot at the Mountolive estate. At first they enjoy the lush wintry countryside, the ridiculous indoor pool, and the fireplace in their bedroom as they shag on Elliott’s carpeted chest; but when Maria (Marianne Broome) drowns in the pool – supposedly an expert swimmer – and Margaret is given the same type of ring the others have by the rapidly-dying Mountolive, they decide that the manse isn’t as homey and welcoming as they once thought.
Marquand does a fairly good job of layering on the sinister suspense, giving the viewer just enough to keep watching. The Legacy is like a melting candle – it really takes time to start burning, but when it does, the wax just continues to drip. Both Margaret and Pete react with realistic decisions, first stealing a horse, riding into town, and then hijacking a car when the others at the estate refuse to let them leave of their own volition. In one of the best scenes of the film, Pete and Margaret drive around town looking for a way out, only to find that every path simply leads them back to the same place. They’re forced to come back and see how it all plays out, which is a good use of the supernatural to ensure the characters have to stay despite the actions surrounding the estate.
But The Legacy‘s brooding pace doesn’t work out as well as it should, and that’s due in part to the film’s refusal to acknowledge that its secret – who becomes the new heir to Mountolive’s money and supernatural powers – has already been exposed. The story only works if there’s truly mystery behind the successor to the legacy, and it’s already clear from the start of the film; all of the methods employed to keep Margaret at the house, all of the deaths occurring that don’t involve Margaret, are telling indications that she is the obvious successor, and Marquand doesn’t attempt to circumvent the spoilers that are dropped throughout the film.
It’s Mountolive’s obsession with Margaret that really gives things away, and unfortunately The Legacy doesn’t steal enough from Christie’s And Then There Were None in terms of the mystery. The killer and the final survivor should be the main focus of the film, but when those answers are already clear from the outset, it means that the viewer is basically just watching to see what kind of grotesque death befalls the other party-goers.
The Legacy does succeed in this regard, because it has some effective special effects, occasionally gruesome for this style of film. And its leads are interesting enough, especially Elliott in a typecast gruff roll. Marquand capitalizes on some of the atmosphere of the immense estate, meaning the film isn’t entirely devoid of tension.
Still, it’s not enough to warrant The Legacy‘s pedestrian ending, a conclusion that is basically foretold from the outset. Some will enjoy this British film’s fusion of haunted house shenanigans and the murder mystery format of picking off victims one by one, but it’s not one of the more effective examples in either genre. It’s no surprise, then, that Marquand’s Legacy hasn’t had a titular lasting impact on audiences.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.