The Best Movies You've Never Seen About Unfortunate Inheritances

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week we're thankful we don't have wealthy relatives as we take a look at movies about the untimely deaths that come before and after inheritances!)

Inheritances are something I'll never have to actually deal with, sadly, but I still love seeing them used on plot set-ups in movies. They're a great way to bring disparate characters together with a common goal, and while the films can cross genres from comedy to horror, their shared theme of absolute greed ruling the day is a fascinating motivator. One of my favorites is 1994's Greedy, but everyone's seen that comedic gem – yes, I said comedic gem – and if you haven't you should remedy that immediately. The cast offers up a wealth of funny with Michael J.Fox, Kirk Douglas, Colleen Camp, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, and more bringing the laughs, but all of them bow before the godlike skills of the late Phil Hartman.

But to the point of this column, there are plenty more that may not get the same kind of play on cable or feature the same caliber of big name stars but still deliver the goods. I've listed six below, but fair warning, only the first few feature any degree of comedy. The rest are darker, grimmer, and bloodier.

Keep reading for a look at the best movies you probably haven't seen about inheritances that leave some people richer and other people dead.

The Weekend Murders (1970)

Family members descend on a British estate for the reading of a will they hope will leave them wealthy beyond their dreams, but all but one of them are disappointed to discover they've been shortchanged on their inheritance. The frustration doesn't last long, though, as a murderer begins offing the group one by one and every single one of the living looks guilty as hell.

This Italian production teases some giallo elements with its mysterious killer, memorable score, and lady bits, but it's almost closer to an Agatha Christie joint with its focus on the mystery. The suspects are clear and numerous — as are the motives — and they're far from generic in their charismatic awfulness. A Scotland Yard inspector is on the case, but his idiocy is paired with a seeming simpleton of a copper who's actually the smartest character in town. It's fun keeping up with (and trying to get ahead of) his deductions.

Did I mention the movie is also hilarious? There are plenty of funny beats that land through sharp dialogue and comedic expressions, but both the editing and score are used to fun effect as well. It's played dramatic to the point of laughter as each new body discovery is chased with camera cuts to individual reaction shots and music stingers. Sgt. Thorpe (Gastone Moschin) is the secret weapon, though, as the common man standing above the fray of snobs, pricks, and liars. His observations, both verbal and otherwise, are priceless through to the very end.

The Weekend Murders is available to buy and stream on Amazon.

Arnold (1973)

A wealthy old man has passed, but on the day of his funeral he also celebrates a wedding. Well, he doesn't celebrate — he's dead after all — but his mistress (Stella Stevens) marries his corpse just in time to attend the reading of his will. His widow is none too pleased, and she grows less happy as the will (communicated via an audio recording by the man of the hour) leaves her mostly in the cold while leaving most of his fortune to wife number two. The next few days see new messages from the dead man... along with several new deaths.

This is a zany little flick that offers up more than a few moments of absurdity as the plot moves forward and the bodies hit the floor. Per his instructions, Arnold's casket is kept open so everyone has to see him, and it has a cassette player built into the side with tapes mysteriously appearing at times to allow Arnold to presciently comment on events. As with James Wan's Saw films, Arnold's recordings seem eternally one step ahead of the listeners as they make warnings, pass judgment, and then comment knowingly on a person's demise. The deaths are somewhat elaborate, but the humor is unavoidable. The film opens with a character singing the title track ("Arnold") in a cemetery, a single eyeball watches from behind portraits, a barmaid's bosom becomes a constant distraction, and the local constable (Bernard Fox, Dr. Bombay from Bewitched!) plays amateur Sherlock with very funny but less than accurate conclusions.

While clearly a comedy, the film offers up some grim deaths along the way. A woman's face melts and burns after applying some sketchy beauty creme. A man literally explodes when a cursed suit constricts until he pops. Another is poisoned, paralyzed, and tossed into a compactor. A man is beheaded by a dumbwaiter. Shower walls close on the illicit lovers within. Each death is chased by a shot of their newly carved headstone, and as the cast dwindles and the truth becomes clear the mystery builds to a satisfying end. The supporting cast is filled with additional familiar faces including Roddy McDowall, Elsa Lanchester, Victor Buono, John McGiver, and Jamie Farr helping make this a goofy but surprising watch.

Arnold is not currently available.

Bell from Hell (1973)

John has spent the last few years in a mental hospital enduring therapy, taking his medications, practicing the art of mask-making, and it turns out, biding his time. He's released early on a temporary pass and heads home to reunite with his aunt and three luscious cousins, but they're none too pleased to see him. They've been living high on his inheritance, and he's looking to settle some scores for their betrayal.

The beauty of this dark Spanish thriller rests in a real sense of uncertainty surrounding John. Is he a protagonist? Is he truly insane? Is his quest for revenge justified? The answers to all three questions fluctuate throughout the film, and his penchant for practical jokes doesn't make things any clearer. It's easy to support some of his pranks, but having also seen him spend a day working at a slaughterhouse — fair warning, there's some disturbingly authentic footage here — only to quit saying he's "learned enough" suggests his end goal will be no laughing matter. Renaud Verley does strong work with the character and convinces as a wronged madman, and viewers may also recognize Viveca Lindfors as Creepshow's (1982) cake-refusing Bedelia.

The film's a straightforward thriller, albeit one with a darkly comic sensibility running through it, but it's also something of a subversive allegory about life under Spain's dictatorship at the time. Francisco Franco ruled Spain with a cruel fist, and criticism of his government was met with violence and imprisonment, so artists often couched their commentary in symbolism and subterfuge. Director Claudio Guerin — who tragically died on the final day of filming after falling (jumping?) from the titular bell tower — and writer Santiago Moncada pit our "hero" against symbolic fascists and a complacent, bourgeoisie citizenry who ignore travesties in exchange for personal gain. The film works without that awareness, but extra layers are never a bad thing.

Bell from Hell is not currently available.

The Legacy (1978)

A California couple is contacted by a mysterious client interested in their interior decorating business, but when they arrive in England they discover their new client has other plans. He's brought them there because he's dying, and Margaret (Katharine Ross) is a distant relative who's in his will. She's one of six potential beneficiaries, but over the next few days that number dwindles as the promise of an inheritance sees bodies hit the floor.

Ross is joined by a mustache-less Sam Elliott, and their laid back CA attitudes leave them fish out of water against the crisp British estate and the other performers including Roger Daltrey who's the most recognizable of the Brits. The deaths involve a mix of events that look accidental, mechanical, and supernatural in nature, and what appears like a mere quest for financial gain takes on a far more sinister purpose.

And not for nothing, but while numerous deaths fill the screen it's the one captured in the shot above that has haunted the dreams of those of us who've seen the film. A woman goes for a swim in an indoor pool, and on one of her dives beneath the surface she goes to resurface only to discover she can't. A clear cover has appeared between her and the air, and as she struggles, panics, and violently drowns she sees a blurry figure watching her from above. When I was a kid we had a plastic pool cover that, thanks in part to this movie, terrified me to the point that I started pushing back against my fear by swimming beneath it from one side of the pool to the other. I was a brave and very stupid child.

The Legacy is available to buy and stream on Amazon.

Castle Freak (1995)

John (Jeffrey Combs) is in something of a downturn in his life after a drunk-driving incident with him behind the wheel leaves his teenaged daughter blind and his young son dead. His wife (Barbara Crampton) has channeled her own grief and anger into being over-protective when it comes to Rebecca's care, but all of them find a welcome distraction when John receives word that he's inherited a castle. Unfortunately, it also comes with a bloodthirsty freak!

Director Stuart Gordon's third H.P.Lovecraft adaptation — after Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986) and before Dagon (2001) — is perhaps the least mentioned. It's easy to see why as it lacks the fantastical element that serves as a highlight in the others, but it's also the most purely horrific of the lot. It's a mean and nasty movie, and while there's no shortage of effects work it's mostly in the form of bloody bits and gore rather than to create zombies or otherworldly creatures. And I do mean nasty as the title character takes a carnivorous approach in mimicking the sexual antics he witnesses with a prostitute.

For all its cruelty, though, the film also works as a solid piece of family drama. Combs and Crampton, never at peace while sharing the screen together, play a couple in real distress. Drinking, infidelity, and the enormous weight of grief leaves them at odds as they try to salvage what's left of their family, and enough of the drama filters through the screen in between moments of terror and violence.

Castle Freak is available to buy and stream on Amazon.

Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

A down on his luck widower inherits an estate from his late uncle and relocates to the mansion along with his teenage daughter and young son. They think it's the answer to their woes, but they're unaware that the man was involved in some dangerous supernatural hobbies and that his collection of ghosts in the basement is itching to escape. They're not unaware for long.

I'd be lying if I said I fully understand the why or the how behind most of the action in this movie, but just because I don't understand something doesn't mean I can't enjoy it. (It probably should, but it doesn't.) So that said, yes, this isn't exactly the smartest horror film, but it brings so much new to the table that the film is an entertaining romp all the same. It's a haunted house, but one haunted by ghosts brought into the home intentionally, and even the design itself is memorable with its glass walls and floors covered in latin scrawls. Add in some terrifically creepy ghost designs, some fun gore, and a sense of humor — "Is that half the lawyer?" — and you have a good time at the movies.

This was the second of Dark Castle Entertainment's twenty-one features, and if that number surprises you you're not alone. After starting strong in 1999 with House on Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts, Ghost Ship (2002), Gothika (2003), and House of Wax (2005), the production company went in some sporadic directions. They mostly left big budget revamps of old-school horror behind in favor of action, more traditional horror, and... George Clooney's Suburbicon (2017)?

Thir13en Ghosts is available to buy and stream on Amazon.

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