The Legacy (1978) has been one of my favorite films since I first saw it almost 20 years ago. It’s of a particular era and style that I really like. The Legacy is a combination satanic thriller and creepy old house film of the same vein as The Sentinel (1977) and Superstition (1982), two other personal favorites. The plot concerns Maggie and Pete, played by Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott, a couple visiting England on a working vacation, when a road accident leaves them stranded at the estate of the mysterious Jason Mountolive (John Standing, The Psychopath). Other guests (including Roger Daltry as Clive, a music manager, and Charles Gray as Karl, a former Nazi) soon arrive, but just as quickly start dying, and the American couple begin to expect that black magic is at work.
Here are my five favorite things about the movie:
1: The setting. Mountolive’s estate, where most of the action takes place, is as sinister as it is elegant, as claustrophobic as it is sprawling. It’s a haunted house without a haunting. Pools freeze over, fireplaces erupt with balls of fire, etc. These don’t occur at the house’s will, but at its master’s. The filming location, Loseley Park in Surrey, England, exudes gothic atmosphere and is completely believable as a home to nefarious deeds and deaths.
2:Nurse Adams. I love cats. My partner and I share our home with several feline companions, and they’re like children to me. And the next cat I get, I’m naming Nurse Adams. Nurse Adams spends part of the movie as Mountolive’s caregiver and head of household and part of the film as his familiar, a pretty white cat with one yellow eye and one blue. (Side note: Growing up I had a cat that looked just like this one, right down to the differently colored eyes.) Nurse Adams acts as both protector of Mountolive’s legacy and as a harbinger of doom to those fated to die before the weekend is out. She is the most interesting character in a film full of interesting characters.
3: The deaths. Specifically the death of Maria Gabrieli (Marianne Broome), an accomplished swimmer who drowns when the top of the swimming pool turns to glass, and she is trapped underneath the water. This is a visually stunning sequence, with shots from both outside the glass as Maria desperately bangs her fists on it and shots from within the pool as she runs out of breath and sinks to the bottom. Clive’s death is also impressive, with Daltry really giving the scene is all as he chokes on a chicken bone, even though, as Karl reminds Maggie later, he’d been eating ham.
4:Maggie and Pete. I just discovered that Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross are married in real life. They met on the set of this film and fell in love. And you know what, I can see it. Elliott and Ross have excellent chemistry, and when watching the movie, you can easily tell how deeply the characters care for each other. Sure, Elliott’s Pete is grumpy and spends the whole film being very, well, somewhat stereotypically American, and Ross’s Maggie occasionally descends into nervous panic. But at the end of the day, these characters have each other’s backs. Pete fights for Maggie when he believes she’s in danger, but when she accepts her fate as the inheritor of Mountolive’s satanic legacy, he’s willing to share her happiness with her. Which brings to me to my final favorite thing:
5: The happy ending. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Satanic horror film end on such a positive note. Upon first watching this film, you really fear for Maggie and Pete’s safety. You cheer for them as they try to escape the sinister Mountolive estate and worry for their lives as the other guests begin dying. But once you’ve seen the film once and know its ending, upon rewatching it, it seems like a different kind of movie. It almost seems like a fairytale, a Cinderella story even. Maggie, knowing nothing of her family’s heritage, comes to England where she discovers herself and her history and inherits wealth and power beyond her wildest imagining. In the closing lines of the film, Pete asks Maggie what she’s going to do with all her newfound power, to which Maggie replies, “Anything I want,” as they stroll arm in arm across her new estate. It’s an empowering ending unlike any other film of its kind. Satanism here is not Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, but her fairy godmother, enabling her to actually live happily ever after.
Note: Visit Kathryngrace at Final Women for more of her perspective!