Way back when in 1996 a little series called Poltergeist â€“ The Legacy was kinda-sorta spun off from the Poltergeist film series and it lasted three seasons. A lot of the creative team that had revived The Outer Limits around the same time were involved in bringing this supernatural series to life and while it didn't last as long as its fans would have hoped, it had a good run and proved to be a fairly enjoyable series, even if it got lost in the shuffle a bit.
The basic premise behind the series is that a wealthy man named Derek Rayne (played by Derek De Lint) heads up a secret organization called The Legacy who are in charge of keeping the forces of evil at bay and who go about investigating all manner of paranormal and occult related incidents. The work in rather covert ways and answer to no government affiliation of any kind, instead, Rayne bank rolls everything himself to ensure that politics don't come into play with the way that they operate. Derek's father was himself an archeologist who was killed in a mine while the two of them were searching for a fifth sepulcher that, when combined with the four others of its kind, would allow the gates of Hell to open up and bring all kinds of crazed ghastly apparitions to life. Along with a psychic named Alex Moreau (Robbi Chong), a former special ops agent named Nick Boyle (Martin Cummins), and Julia Walker (Jordan Bayne), they are the only thing that stands between mankind and the ultimate evil, known as The Darkside.
All twenty-one episodes (the pilot was a two-parter, so technically you could say its' twenty-two episodes) that made up the first season are included in this set, unedited with the brief nudity and gore intact, and spread across five discs. Here's a basic rundown of what happens in the series from a few highlight episodes from this inaugural seasonâ€¦
Pilot (parts one and two): The episode in which we're first introduced to the team gives us Rayne's background story and some basic information on who these guys are and what they do. Their first adventure takes them to Ireland where they meet up with a widow named Rachel who is seduced by a man named Shamus Bloom (William Sadler) who becomes possessed by the evil. After he's had his way with her, she starts to hallucinate that she and her young daughter will be reunited with her late son and husband and her behavior becomes very erratic. In order to save Rachel and her daughter, Derek and his team are going to have to find the key to the fifth sepulcher that contains the evil and put a stop to it, but it isn't going to be easy with a possessed Shamus running around and with Rachel acting the way she isâ€¦
The Tenement: Alex is taking Kyle Vance to court, he's a slum lord and she's pressing charges against him to make him pay for what he's done. As this is going on, she has a psychic flash and sees a vision of a woman in a run down apartment building, which urges her to push for Vance's punishment to include forcing him to live in the building until he's brought it up to code. Alex knows that there's more going on in and around this building than she first realized and she begins an investigation that leads to the discovery of a seriously twisted haunting that stems from the weird past that cloaks the building in evil.
Do Not Go Gently: An old friend of Nick's named Liz is due to marry her fiance soon, but a serious asthma attack leaves her hospital ridden and laying in a coma. While she's out of it, she has a vision of a boy being murdered by a ghost and this spurs her to wake up from her coma. When she does, she sees that the boy in the hospital bed next to her is the boy from her vision, and he's just that very second passed on. Nick, at the request of Liz's husband to be, comes to the hospital and the Legacy team investigates hoping to save her from the same fate that befell the poor dead boy.
The Bell Of Girardius: Derek note only runs The Legacy but he also runs a few museums as well. One of the women in charge of a specific museum is Miranda Blake and she has to give Derek the unfortunate news that they've been the victim of a burglary and that a magical item named The Bell Of Girardius has been stolen. Derek knows that this relic has the ability to re-animate the dead and he and his team must act quickly to make sure that it isn't used for evil purposes.
The Thirteenth Generation: Hundreds of years ago a witch was put to death but before she passed on she cursed the family of the man who killed her for thirteen generations to come. Derek is invited to Boston University to lecture on his life and his experiences in archeology, and while he's there, a series of murders starts up that appear to have a connection to that old witch's curse from way back when.
Revelations: A girl gets the scare of her life while enrolled in a private boarding school where she believes that one of her teachers is a real life monster. Luckily for the people that run the school, Rachel used to be a student there and she's willing to help poke around to see what she can uncover before the press gets wind of what has happened. Once Rachel arrives and starts her work, things start to get strange and her memories of the time she spent at the school go completely blank.
The Inheritance: Rachel's aunt has passed away and as the only living member of the family left, she stands to inherit all that she has left behind. After the funeral Rachel goes to check out her late aunt's house and is alarmed to discover a supernatural presence of some kind. Derek has a vision that does not bode well for Rachel, who is bound and determined to find out what happened there in the past.
The Reckoning: A man who claims to be three hundred years old and who had connections to Derek's father shows up at Derek's mansion. When Derek lets him in and realizes that this guy is in fact the real deal, he's disturbed by the man's warning that a dead man will come back to life to make things rough for him.
How does the series hold up, ten years later? Pretty well, actually. The biggest thing you'll notice, in terms of the bad, is that the primitive computer graphics look pretty awful by today's standards. A lot has changed in ten years and what might have been state of the art, or close to it, at the time now looks sadly dated and quite silly which does manage to take the impact out of some of the scenes in which spectral manifestation occurs. The other noticeable flaw is that some of the characters are pretty clichĂ© and predictable. There are more than a few times where you just know what someone is going to do because you've seen similar characters on similar shows do the same thing before and since.
Other than that, however, Poltergeist â€“ The Legacy holds up well. The show still manages to conjure up some unique and imaginative scenarios, the scripts are tight and well paced, and there are even a few moments of genuine horror and creepy frights packed into almost all the episodes. Some work better than others (the pilot is exceptionally strong once it starts moving) but all of them have something that makes them worth a look, be it a keen monster, an eerie ghost, or some sort of important character development.
The series was originally shown in fullframe and that's how it was composed, so it's good to see that MGM has retained the show's original aspect ratio as that's how the episodes are presented on DVD. Picture quality is quite good. There is some grain evident throughout (mostly in the darker scenes) and some of the digital effects look really primitive but these are minor issues and don't distract from the series much at all. Print damage isn't an issue and although there are some shimmering effects in a couple of scenes, compression problems are kept to a minimum. With a lot of the series taking place at night and in darker locales and shadowy areas, MGM has seen fit to ensure that the black levels are stable throughout and don't break down or pixilate at all.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is predominantly wrangled towards the front speakers but the rears do kick up now and then during the shootouts and action scenes. Dialogue is consistently clear in each and every episode and there aren't any audible problems with any forms of hiss or distortion. There could have been a bit more bass in the mix but other than that, this mix sounds quite. French and English subtitles are included for each episode as is are alternate French and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 language tracks.
Aside from an insert that gives us some information on each of the central characters in The Legacy, this five disc set is barebones (though there are menus and chapters for each episode provided).
While the low budget and dated effects work hamper the show from time to time and many of the characters border on the clichĂ©, Poltergeist â€“ The Legacy gets enough right that fans of supernatural/horror television ought to enjoy the material anyway thanks to some interesting plot lines and strong writing. The DVD release is skimpy on the extra features but the audio and video quality is quite nice, making this a solid recommendation for fans of the show or of this type of material in general.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.