The dysfunctional family and oddball servants of deceased millionaire Christopher Dean gather at his remote mansion for the reading of his will. Having nothing but contempt for the lot of them, Dean has distributed his fortune equally between them but included two important provisions – they must all spend a week in the mansion together, and if any of them dies during that period, the others get to split the departed one’s share of the inheritance. Before long, the telephone lines are cut, their cars have all been sabotaged, and one by one the greedy, bickering heirs begin to meet grisly ends at the hands of an unseen killer. Is one among them trying to horde the fortune for themselves, or is someone else with a grudge against the Dean clan exacting brutal, bloody revenge?
Shout! Factory’s ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE DVD line hits stores this September, bringing episodes of Cassandra Peterson’s popular horror hostess show to home video for the first time. Among the movies featured is the gory 1971 whodunit, BLOOD LEGACY, under the alternate moniker LEGACY OF BLOOD (not to be confused with the 1978 Andy Milligan film of the same name). This muddled mix of THE CAT AND THE CANARY and DEMENTIA 13 is certainly one of the weaker titles in the line, but is redeemed slightly by a few outrageously gruesome deaths, some seriously over-the-top performances, and the presence of a trio of venerable genre icons. Despite a pretty slow pace and several incomprehensible twists, it’s fun in a perverse sort of way. Kind of like eating really sour candy until your taste buds are numb and your head hurts…
As Elvira sagely observes during one intermission, this movie is more a collection of seedy subplots than a single, coherent story. The late patriarch is revealed to have been an abusive, insufferable sadist who liked to beat his manservant Igor with a wooden cane while his children watched. Igor, oddly enough, seems pretty upset that his regular torture has come to an abrupt end and demands that the maid, Elga, take up the rod in their master’s stead. The two youngest of the grown children, Johnny and the lovely Leslie, apparently once had a torrid, incestuous affair with one another, leaving both virtual raving lunatics. Leslie’s so off her nut that she’s perpetually bed-ridden and married to her psychiatrist, an ascot wearing cad who takes a rather libidinous interest in his wife’s bitchy older sister, Victoria. He might get somewhere with the ice queen if she weren’t so busy fluctuating between suspicion of and attraction to Frank, the rugged gardener whose heart she once broke. We know he’s rugged because he sports a Clark Gable moustache and his room is decorated with weaponry and other morbid paraphernalia – including a lamp made out of the Nazi soldier who stuck him with a bayonet in World War II! He’s also probably the most normal, well-adjusted person in the entire cast of characters.
I’m sure I’ve seen films with more overwrought, scenery-chewing performances, but I can’t remember when. Richard Davalos and Brooke Mills work overtime to out “loon” one another as the star-crossed Johnny and Leslie, respectively. Rambling incoherently and constantly contorting their faces and bodies with a subtlety reminiscent of William Shatner on cocaine, this pair wrings every last possible drop of sleazy melodrama out of every single scene they are in, with no regard for credibility or pathos. Almost as bad are Jeff Morrow (THIS ISLAND EARTH, THE GIANT CLAW) as Greg, the brother who displays his denial of every unpleasant event with a flippancy that borders on callousness, and Merry Anders as his wife Laura, who seems perpetually on the brink of tears. Buck Kartalian does his fair share of maniacal mugging as the masochistic butler, and is even reduced to hunching down and walking like a chimpanzee during the flogging flashbacks. Ivy Bethune isn’t bad until the final shot, when director Carl Monson requires her to deliver the film’s closing joke and undermine every bit of goodwill she’d built with the audience up to that point. John Smith is utterly forgettable as Carl, the shrink with the wandering eyes. Leading this eclectic group is none other than the legendary John Carradine, perhaps the most prolific actor in cinema history. True to form, Carradine does his best to infuse some very bad material with a little life, leading to yet another overblown performance in a film he probably would have preferred not to be in.
Aging scream queen and former Howard Hughes ingénue Faith Domergue (THIS ISLAND EARTH, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA) fares much better than the other players as Victoria, while John Russell is pretty solid as Frank. These two were clearly past their prime here, but both still look good and seem to be the only ones in the cast intent on holding on to any dignity. Their scenes are about the only moments in the film that can be taken even remotely seriously.
Elvira’s in good form (no pun intended!) on this disc, avoiding annoying skits in favor of some decent commentary on the film and plenty of self-effacing banter. I particularly enjoyed the line, “It’s not pretty being easy!”
The make-up effects aren’t very good, but LEGACY OF BLOOD does feature some grisly, pre-slasher era killings. One man is tossed into a fish tank, where we get a nice long look at the fish chewing the flesh from his bones. Another is stung to death by bees (while tied to a chair, no less), his face swelling and blackening as the little buggers hit him again and again. A couple is about to hit the hay for the night but get some slumber of a more permanent variety when they find that someone has rigged the bedside lamp to electrocute them. Perhaps in tribute to many of the performances, the actors keep going back to the refrigerator to dine on a foil-covered ham. Imagine their surprise when they learn that the tasty pig rump under the aluminum has been replaced by the severed head of the inept local Sheriff! The killer even takes time out to hack a poor, defenseless dog to death, just to make its owner suffer. In terms of brutal cruelty (and only in those terms!), this picture was ahead of its time.
It’s possible that this ugly epic could have been better, had the director and his co-writer been a bit more talented. With Domergue, Morrow and Carradine on board, there was potential to make a tense, tongue-in-cheek thriller ala the better cinematic adaptations of TEN LITTLE INDIANS. Sadly, in the hands of Monson and Eric Nordon – the geniuses behind PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER – these savvy screen veterans are wasted on a movie that can’t decide whether it’s a horror film, a murder mystery, a tawdry soap opera or a macabre spoof. Ultimately, it’s not a very good example of any of these. Without its “bad movie” merits and one-time star players, it would have nothing to recommend at all.