A Deadly Legend (2020) is the latest entry in a long line of horror films that remind us that trying to reopen old campsites or doing property development on ground that is rumoured to be cursed is never a good idea.
Joan (Kristen Anne Ferraro), her husband Bob (Jeffrey Doornbos), her daughter Krissy (Andee Buccheri), and her niece Amy (Daniella DeCaro) are all driving to a remote, disused campsite which Joan has plans to turn into luxury homes. However, before they manage to arrive, a ghostly-looking girl, Luci (Tatiana Szpur), walks into the road and causes a car accident.
Flash forward to a year later, and Joan is about to secure the final funding and go-ahead for her development project. Bob died in the car accident, but Joan is confident if her project gets to go ahead, then she’ll be able to put this terrible year behind her.
While the local planning committee seems completely fine with the new development, local antique shop owner, Carl (Judd Hirsch), warns Joan that she’s going to dig up ground that’s connected with Devil worshippers and release something that’s been buried for centuries. Carl is promptly dismissed as a local coot, Joan’s request is approved, and to celebrate she invites everyone up to the lodge for a weekend of relaxing and partying.
We also find out from a brief visit to Matthias’s crystal shop that both Amy and Krissy have a type of psychic energy around them, which connects to both the crystals and each other.
This is where things start to go wrong, and it doesn’t take long to find out that Carl was right, and there is something very wrong with the ground surrounding Pilgrim Lake. Luci starts popping up all over the place, first killing Carl, and then possessing Mike (Eric Wolf), a member of the construction crew so that he can unearth the sacred stones for her.
Not content with having one baddie, we also have the Chain Witch, who kills and then possesses Joan’s friend Eva (Jean Tree), so she has a body to work with. The Chain Witch is there to stop Luci’s evil plan, and stop her opening the gate in the sacred stones. However, rather than focus her energy on Luci, or even Amy and Krissy, who are apparently crucial in opening the door, the Chain Witch instead kills as many supporting characters are possible. Even though they are on her side, and don’t want the Satan worshippers to succeed either, that doesn’t seem to matter to her.
And this is where things get a little confusing for the remainder of the film. With two ancient beings running around, a mystical door to somewhere, and two potentially psychic teenagers, there is a lot of exposition to get through in this film. In fact, we’re still in heavy exposition territory with only 15 minutes left on the runtime. It’s a lot to absorb.
The film also tries to pack a lot in when it comes to stories and character connections when there just isn’t enough time to cover them all satisfactorily. There’s a hint of relationship troubles between Matthias and his policeman son, Eva has a domestic abuse backstory, Carl has a mysterious notebook and a lot of knowledge about the cursed land, and Joan seems to have a connection to the ghostly Luci after the car crash last year. There’s far too much shoved into such a short runtime. It feels like the filmmakers were trying to give us lots of character development so we’ll feel connected when people start dying, but really most of it feels crammed in for the sake of it. It’s all just more information to process when we already have this very complicated backstory from the 1700s to try and get our heads around.
It also tries incredibly hard to be serious and make us invested in this legend and the villains that come with it but also adds in these mistimed moments of comic relief from Lori Petty’s character Wanda. Wanda is an over-the-top drunk whose only concern is how much beer she can get, and not the fact people are dying around her. However, she doesn’t really fit with the tone the rest of the film is trying to hit. Instead of giving us lighter moments we can laugh at, we just recognise how annoying Wanda would be to everyone else in this situation.
As the audience, we don’t really feel anything when the characters die, as we’ve not had the right amount of time to bond with them. It feels like the protagonists should be Krissy and Amy, as they have this psychic bond, as well as the shared trauma of the car crash. However, they spend a lot of the runtime off-screen, while other characters desperately search for them. We’re not given an adequate connection to root for these cousins to use their shared power against the powers of evil.
Instead, it’s Joan who’s placed at the forefront of the story, and that’s a poor decision because she’s definitely a morally questionable character. I’m sure just a little research into Carl’s tale would have shown that a whole family was murdered at the lake-side lodge 50 years ago and that there might be some truth to his story. Even a little excavation before work began would have shown the location of the sacred stones, and perhaps they could have been left alone. She’s putting profit before the safety of the town and her family. When we find out the full extent of her prior relationship with Luci as the film comes to an end, it’s definitely hard to relate to her for us to connect to her.
Finally, the villain design of both Luci and the Chain Witch makes it incredibly hard to be scared of either of these women. The Chain Witch is dressed the same way as Eva was when she died, which means she’s rocking a tiny green bikini, but now with added chainmail to reflect her weapon of choice. Luci is given a very standard ‘creepy woman in a horror film’ look with a long floaty dress, long hair, black eye makeup, and a white complexion. She also speaks in a drawn-out husky voice which is an incredibly over the top way to signify she’s not of this world.
Overall, A Deadly Legend fails to deliver in even the slightest scares but instead tries to force frights with extremely loud musical cues. It suffers from an overly complicated backstory, a large cast of characters that we feel no connection to, and not one, but two, very forgettable killers.
Rating: 1 out of 5