Originally released in 1971, Legacy of Blood is constructed on the House on Haunted Hill mold, where a group of people is coerced into staying in a supposedly haunted house so that they can receive some type of reward. And even though this cliché structure is in place, Legacy of Blood nevertheless manages to turn the genre on its head by simply assembling the weirdest cast of characters ever created. Not even Richard Matheson’s Hell House has such demented occupants wandering is horrid halls.
The movie begins with the death of Christopher Dean (John Carradine), a secretive, perverse, and mean-spirited old man who is very, very rich. Dean’s family and servants gather in his mansion to have his lawyer read the will. Naturally, the will states that everyone assembled must stay in the mansion for one week, at the end of which they will receive their inheritance. Needless to say, no one in the group is thrilled at the proposition, but the assembly is greedier than it is bitter, so all of them agree to the terms.
As the group settles down, the story of the family starts to unravel, and this is where the weirdness sets in. It turns out that Dean was one demented man who tormented his children, who were also equally demented. There are hints at incest, torture and abuse, and of complicated plots coordinated by Dean to set the children against each other. It is also hinted that the kids may be related only to their father, as different mothers may have been involved.
Making things worse is that someone within the group has started to systematically murder other members of the family in particularly gruesome ways. When a local constable becomes involved in the proceeding, he too is killed. The murders are typical fare, such as death by piranhas (in a fish tank, no less), decapitation (the head is wrapped in foil and left in the fridge), electrocution, and bees (stung to death).
The movie eventually makes it to a climax of sorts, where the killers are revealed. However, the movie’s end line, where the only surviving character (the maid) breaks the fourth wall, is one hell of a groaner.
What makes Legacy of Blood stand out for me is the weirdness of the flick. Oh, some of it is pretty standard for horror fans (masochism and sadism), but this movie revels in dementia. For example, the limousine driver (John Russell) is a veteran of World War II. This dude delivers one of the best lines in the movie. When asked what happened to him during the war, he replies with the following:
“A kraut stuck a bayonet into me. I made a lamp out of him.”
And he’s not bluffing. Later in the film, we get to see the skull and skin of the man having been transformed into a reading lamp.
Then there’s the character of Johnny Dean, who had an incestuous relationship with his sister and is several beers short of a six pack anyway. Johnny is given to bursts of manic laughter, and when he confronts his sister’s husband (a psychiatrist, no less), he lets out the following zinger: “I had her first!”
Although these and other nuggets make Legacy of Blood an interesting experience to sit through, the bulk of the movie is sheer boredom, with characters wandering into the same pieces of the mansion to endlessly talk about their hang-ups. The bulk of the violence is off screen, and although there is some gore, it’s simply not enough. I would recommend Legacy of Blood to those who enjoy overwrought horror, bad horror, or weird horror. If you are not of that ilk, then by all means avoid this one.
Legacy of Blood can be purchased as a standalone item or on anthologies, such as Classic Drive-In Series Horror, one the DVDs from the Let the Nightmare Begin Horror ultimate collectors edition (50 movies).