Movies About 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.

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