Note: this review pertains to the British Region 2 DVD edition
By Adrian Smith
best known for his work as both a writer, director and producer with Hammer
Films, Jimmy Sangster actually relocated to Hollywood during the early 1970s,
where he worked very successfully in both film and television. Whilst there he
wrote a supernatural script set in a run- down hospital in downtown Detroit.
Much to his chagrin, the script was altered to more closely resemble the Hammer
movies that were, to him at least, ancient history. Although keeping the
American protagonists, events were manipulated to allow the story instead to
take place in an English country estate featuring a collection of stereotypical
butlers, chauffeurs and curtseying maids. The film is essentially Agatha
Christie meets Dennis Wheatley through the filter of Dario Argento.
Ross is Maggie, a successful American designer who receives a mysterious
invitation to work in England. Accompanied by her handsome lover Pete (a
youthful and impressively moustachioed Sam Elliott), they jet off to a grey,
dull English world of narrow country lanes and chirpy market stall holders.
Following a minor motorcycle accident they find themselves guests of the
aristocratic Jason Mountolive, who conveniently lives in the kind of stately
home that Americans seem to think all the English live in. What they don't
realise until it becomes too late is that their arrival there was no accident.
When other guests begin to arrive, all successful in their respective fields,
it becomes clear that diabolical dealings are underway, and they may be lucky
to escape with their lives, or their souls.
The Legacy is perhaps best remembered now for
being the film that Ross and Elliott first met on, and subsequently married. It
is a peculiar film, mixing cosy drawing room talk with spectacularly violent
and gory deaths. Richard Marquand had to be influenced by Argento's Suspiria,
released just one year before. Maggie suspects she is descending into madness,
feeling that she is losing her grip on reality. And when people like The Who's
Roger Daltry and former Bond villain Charles Gray turn up only to suffer
spectacularly, she realises that she may be to blame. Could it be something to
do with a sixteenth-century witch, with whose portrait she bears an uncanny
the plot makes very little sense, The Legacy is a very entertaining film.
Ross and Elliott show genuine chemistry (perhaps unsurprisingly) as the
innocent couple around whom the sinister events unfold. The house becomes a
character itself as the camera glides around its oak-panelled hallways,
revealing hidden doors, tapestries, archaic ornaments and an increasingly
anachronistic collection of 1970s furniture. Although mostly shot on location
at Loseley Park House in Surrey, parts of it were also shot at Bray Studios,
the spiritual home of Hammer films.
The Legacy in some ways represents the end of
an era. By the tail end of the 1970s the money to make films in Britain was
running out, and companies like Hammer had gasped their last breath, and
Marquand was courted by George Lucas to direct the last part of his Star
Wars trilogy. It is well worth taking a look at, and this new DVD from
Odeon Entertainment presents an excellent widescreen print. A booklet with background information is the only
significant extra, which is a pity. It would be good to hear how Katharine Ross
and Sam Elliott look back on the film now, and perhaps a word or two from Roger
Daltrey on his dramatic, fish-based demise.