The Legacy is one of those sophisticated devil-worshipper films that were popular during the 1970s following Rosemary’s Baby. While it has some narrative flaws, it was one of the staples of my late-night TV viewing as a teenager and I still have a fondness for it. The story plays out as if it were an old-fashioned, country-house murder mystery and features a number of grisly, magically induced baroque deaths. But there’s really little doubt about who’s responsible in the end.
Los Angeles architect Maggie Walsh (Katharine Ross) receives a job offer in England. The work itself isn’t clearly defined, but the letter encloses a check for $50,000 as a retainer–a massive amount of money in the 1970s–and asks that Maggie be in the UK by a specific date a couple of weeks away. Her business partner and lover Pete Danner (Sam Elliott)* is dubious about taking a job they know nothing about, but the check is certainly real.
Maggie decides to accept. In fact, she wants to go right away to spend a few days as a tourist and to look up “where her English blood came from” before meeting with her client.
During the opening credits, accompanied by the movie theme song sung by Kiki Dee, we see Pete and Maggie in London, then zipping around the countryside on a motorcycle. They pass through a charming little village, stop to have a picnic lunch beside a stream, then ride down a narrow lane where they swerve off suddenly into the trees to avoid a crash with a Rolls Royce coming up the other way.
The owner of the Rolls (John Standing) is extremely apologetic as he checks the couple for injuries. They aren’t hurt, but the motorcycle is a bit banged up.
The gentleman offers to take them to his house for a spot of tea while the local mechanic comes for the bike and repairs it. Only when they’re actually in the back of the limo does he introduce himself as Jason Mountolive.
After a brief stop in that village for Harry the chauffeur to speak to the garage mechanic, they drive on to Jason’s house, Ravenshurst, which is a lovely old mansion on a grand estate.
Jason sends his guests in through the front door, telling them that “Adams” will take care of them. He stays in the car as it goes around to the back. While he seemed perfectly fine while talking to Maggie and Pete after the accident, something is seriously wrong with him; he’s very weak, and the chauffeur has to help him out of the car and up the back stairs to his room.
Maggie and Pete, meanwhile, are impressed by the gorgeous interior of the house. They see no sign of Adams or anyone else, apart from a white cat with mismatched eyes like David Bowie–one green and one blue.