Friday, September 16, 2011

Legacy, The (1978)

... aka: Legacy of Maggie Walsh, The

Directed by:
Richard Marquand

Booking an interior design job from a mysterious client in London, who doesn't quite clue them in on what exactly they'll be doing but offers up a 50,000 advanced bonus, American architect Maggie Walsh (Katharine Ross) and her boyfriend Pete Danner (Sam Elliott), also an architect, decide to fly from Los Angeles to England for a few weeks. While they're out taking a country drive on their motorcycle, they're run off the road by a Rolls Royce being driven by Harry (Ian Hogg), the chauffeur of wealthy Jason Mountolive (John Standing). Because their bike is badly damaged, Jason offers to take them back to his home (a huge, ornate mansion called Ravenhurst) for some tea while they're waiting for repair work to be done. The two are set up in a guest room, explore around the home (which includes a huge indoor pool) and then begin to take notice of some rather peculiar behavior from the staff, their host (who we learn is terminally ill) and a handful of jetsetter guests who have just arrived there via helicopter.

Amongst the elite guests, we have Jacques Grandier (Lee Montague), who owns nearly every luxury hotel along the Mediterranean, Barbara (Hildegarde Neil), who owns the largest publishing empire in Europe, Maria Gabrieli (Marianne Broome), who is a championship swimmer and the most prominent hostess in Rome, Karl Liebknecht (Charles Gray), a former decorate soldier for Hitler, industrial complex making weapons. Clive Jackson (Roger Daltry, yes, that one), who is a successful musician. Somehow, using his wealth and "power," Jason had managed to turn all of their lives around. Each had a rocky beginning to life (one was an impoverished refugee, another a former Nazi soldier, another a Parisian hooker, etc.) and now they're all wealthy and successful. They're all beholden to Jason and must return to his mansion whenever he asks them to. The home is also fully staffed with a bunch secretive cooks, butlers, etc., who seem led by the mysterious Nurse Adams (Margaret Tyzack). Why Maggie (who's had a ring that matches one worn by the other guests and won't come off slipped on her finger by a rapidly deterorating Jason) has been summoned there is all part of the mystery.

After Pete is almost scalded in a burning hot shower, Maria turns up dead in the pool and no one seems to be willing to help them leave, Maggie and Pete decide to high tail it out of there. They steal a few horses, make it to a neighboring village and then steal a car, but no matter what road they take they end up right back at the house. Resigned to her fate, Maggie heads back in to face her fears head on. One of the guests seems to be using black magic to kill off the others. Someone is burned to death by fire that shoots out of the fireplace and then has their burnt remains fed to some vicious dogs. Daltry is given an unsuccessful tracheotomy after choking on a chicken bone and shards of glass from an exploding mirror impale one of the others.

Clearly made to cash-in of the 70s craze of Satanic-themed films spurned on by the box office success of THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE OMEN (1976), this major studio release has obviously been afforded a rather healthy budget and the whole thing has this glossy, professional sheen to it. Not only does the film look fantastic, but the cinematographer has really tried to spice up the proceedings with some interesting camerawork and odd camera placement (including one inside a shower nozzle!). The art direction is also exceptional, and the mansion the movie takes place in is incredible to look at it. Though the leads are a little on the mediocre side, some of the supporting performances are pretty interesting, particularly those given by Standing, Tyzack and Gray.

All that said, this film isn't very well-written. Apparently three different writers (one of whom was Jimmy Sangster) worked on the screenplay and it was drastically altered from its original version. What's left is muddled, confusing, full of obtuse biblical references and cluttered with so much mumbo jumbo that the plot ends up with more holes in it than Neil's pin-cushioned body. It also fails to deliver a single chill despite the awesome Gothic setting, probably because the movie can't decide whether it wants to be a moody Gothic horror film or a lighthearted mystery / romance romp. The score is also a little on the light side. Hell, the whole thing opens with a hokey love song ("a looooove that never grows ollllllld!") by someone named Kiki Dee and throughout the film we're continually tortured with an instrumental version of the same song. Needless to say, that really doesn't up the fear factor any.

But hell, let's just end this on a good note because, surprisingly enough, the movie itself ends up on a good note with a very interesting resolution to Maggie's predicament. I can't really spoil what happens but it really flips the concept of 'good vs. evil' right over onto its head and I didn't really see it coming.


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