Estate of Decay: The Inheritor (1990)

Dave dons his woollies and braves the wintry wilds of Wisconsin for a barely seen horror movie from the producer of Hellraiser.

On 30th March 1987, Abergavenny-born Brian Savegar was holding an Oscar aloft on the stage of the Academy Awards [1]. Less than a year later, he was freezing his butt off in the wilds of Wisconsin on the set of a low budget horror picture. To him, though, it was a direction that made complete sense, as he confessed to a regional news program at the time:

“It’s different, but it stems from a long, long friendship with [producer] Chris Webster. We met on a rugby field fourteen years ago! I’d like to establish myself in the States, as there’s so many areas of filmmaking I’d love to explore, and this seems a good place to begin.”

When Christopher Webster built Windsor Lake Studios in Wisconsin in ’87 with a view to it becoming a genuine alternative to the costly locations of Los Angeles and New York, art director Savegar was one of the first people that the Hellraiser (1987) producer brought with him to add a degree of experience to a largely local crew. Billed as an ‘advisor’ [2] on local TV news for Windsor Lake’s debut production, Trapped Alive (1988) (helmed by another Brit, Leszek Burzynski), it was on the second feature for the fledgling movie house where Savegar would be handed the megaphone.

THE INHERITOR (albeit sans ‘the’ on the title card) tells the story of Alison Williams (Lisa McGuire), whose twin sister dies while lodging at the lakeside (Windsor Lake, ironically) mansion of famed author Simon Proctor (Barnaby Spring). Adjudged by the medical examiner (a fleeting Dan Haggerty) to have succumbed to a heart attack at the tender age of twenty-two, it’s a demise that leaves a host of unanswered questions. So Alison hitches a ride into deepest Wisconsin with local bobby Sgt. Deacon (John Patrick Rice), and beds down for an extended stay in a house of many secrets…

Bursting with classy cinematic touches like a beautifully framed conversation by the lake, a brandy in the shadow of a roaring fire, and interiors lit by subtle candlelight, The Inheritor – at times – has the elegance of an atmospheric British horror running through it. Sadly, it also has a terrible script that’s delivered ineptly by a threesome of ill-suited leads. Written by ‘Julian Weaver’ [3], the dialogue feels as if it’s been put through Google translate and the actors forced to deliver their lines phonetically at gunpoint. “Your sister talked about you a lot,” asserts Simon. “But not while you were in bed, surely!” responds Alison, in the one of the frequent dim-witted exchanges in the movie.

Consistency is an issue too. The film begins like an excerpt from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, before its haunted house body and a bewildering subterranean ending that features a hirsute, horned creature in a G-string. It’s a schizophrenic blend that means all the well-crafted atmosphere and eloquent set pieces get lost amid the tangents of a feature that needs stronger direction.

Considered the illegitimate child of the Windsor Lake trilogy [4], The Inheritor saw both Trapped Alive and The Chill Factor (1993) bag a cassette release from bargain basement outfit AIP in 1993 before they graduated to Blu-ray in a pair of stacked editions from Arrow in 2019. Savegar’s film can, at least, claim to be the first of Webster’s Wisconsin productions to escape. It hit VHS on Wednesday 2nd May 1990 [5] via VidAmerica – its sole edition to date.

USA ● 1990 ● Horror ● 83mins

Lisa McGuire, John Patrick Rice, Barnaby Spring, Dan Haggerty ● Dir. Brian Savegar ● Wri. Julian Weaver, based on an idea by Brian Savegar

Art courtesy of VHS Collector

[1] For Best Art Direction, A Room with a View (1985).
[2] The credits have him listed in the more traditional role of Art Director.
[3] ‘Weaver’ scripted all three Windsor Lake movies – although it’s long been suggested that the name was a pseudonym for Webster himself.
[4] Interestingly, the studio then played host to the triptych of early ’90s Fangoria Films productions: Mindwarp (1991), Children of the Night (1991), and Severed Ties (1992).
[5] Incidentally, the same day that Schlock Pit favourite Spontaneous Combustion (1989) made its U.S. video store bow.

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