Burnt Offerings (1976) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A family moves into a large old mansion that seems to have a mysterious and maybe even sinister power over their actions.

  • Ben and Marian Rolf rent a grand old country mansion as a summer getaway for themselves, their twelve year old son Davey, and Ben's Aunt Elizabeth. They feel they can't turn down the rent deal offered to them by the house's owners, siblings Roz and Arnold Allardyce, despite some reservations. First amongst those reservations, they are to take care of the house on their own, which Ben feels is too big a job, especially for Marian and the interior housekeeping. In Marian's words, the large size of the house is a "waste". And second and perhaps more important amongst those reservations, the Allardyces' aged mother will be staying in her room at the house, the Rolfs who are to provide a tray of food left outside her room three times a day, which Marian vows to take care of on her own, with no other members of the family to go into that isolated wing of the house so as not to disturb Mrs. Allardyce's peace. Upon their arrival at the house for the first day of their stay, they find a note from Roz and Arnold stating that they had to leave on an emergency, only with the necessary keys enclosed with no address or telephone number where they can be reached. As the summer progresses, the family members individually begin to exhibit unusual and unexplainable behavior, and unusual and unexplainable things start happening around the house. The strongest behavior ends up being Marian's total focus on renewing the house into what she says she wants it to be, or so she implies she is doing. These occurrences threaten both the loving family dynamic as well as the individual lives of the four. The answers to what is happening may be who or what lies behind the closed and often locked door of Mrs. Allardyce's bedroom.

  • Ben Rolf, his wife Marian and their son David visit a country manor for renting to spend summer vacation. They are welcomed by the weird siblings Roz Allardyce and Arnold Allardyce that offer the mansion for nine hundred-dollar only for the whole summer. The only condition is to feed their mother Ms. Allardyce that lives recluse in the attic three times a day. They move to the house with Ben's Aunt Elizabeth and soon Marian becomes obsessed for Ms. Allardyce and the house. Meanwhile evil things happen to the Rolf family and Ben feels that the house is absorbing their life forces. After the death of Ms. Allardyce, Ben decides to live the manor but he realizes they are trapped in the real estate. What is happening to the family?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Ben and Marion Rolf and their son, 12-year-old Davey, drive to a remote and rundown Victorian mansion that was advertised for a summer rental. Walker, the handyman, answers their knock at the door and lets them look around. Davey plays outside while Ben and Marion find a greenhouse full of dead flowers. Roz Allardyce, a woman in her late fifties, greets the Rolfs, and the couple informs her that Ben's Aunt Elizabeth will also be joining them for the summer. After Roz and Ben negotiate the oddly low, one-time rental price of $900, they are joined by Roz's wheelchair-bound brother, Arnold. The two siblings rave about how the house is "practically immortal." Also, Arnold and Roz tell the Rolfs that their 85-year old mother is living upstairs, and they will have to take food to her every day over the summer. Davey, bleeding, comes inside after being hurt. Everyone except Arnold leave to help Davey clean the cut. When Walker passes by to throw out a dead potted plant, Arnold tells him that the plant isn't dead. Surprisingly, Walker notices a new leaf is growing in the pot.

    A few days later, the Rolfs come back with seventy-four-year-old Elizabeth to find the mansion's key and a note saying that Arnold and Roz had to leave. Ben is upset that they didn't include a number where to reach them. Marion goes to the upstairs parlor and knocks on Mrs. Allardyce's bedroom door. Getting no answer, she draws back the parlor curtains to let more light in and admires a table full of old photos and a music box. Noticing a tray of dirty dishes, Marion carries them downstairs. Marion tells Ben she didn't see Mrs. Allardyce and then declares that the third floor is off bounds to everybody except her. The old lady will be Marion's responsibility. Elizabeth then declares that all the clocks in the house have stopped working.

    The next day, Ben and Davey restore a dilapidated pool, and then find the Allardyce family graveyard while exploring the surrounding woods. Ben notices there are no graves more recent than 1890. A week passes and still Mrs. Allardyce doesn't respond to Marion's knocking. Also, her tray is barely touched. Marion opens the music box and a dreamy expression crosses her face as the music plays.

    Meanwhile, Elizabeth, Davey and Ben are at the pool. Ben dives in and finds a pair of broken glasses that he puts on. Davey jumps in and, although the boy can't swim, Ben lets his son somersault off his shoulders. Suddenly, Ben thrusts Davey down and holds him under the water. Ben doesn't let go until Davey hits him in the face with his scuba mask. During the night, Ben dreams he is a boy and is being driven to his mother's funeral by a skeletal chauffeur with an evil grin.

    The next morning, Marion goes to the pool where she is shocked to see that it looks brand new. In the living room, Ben apologizes to Davey. That evening, Marion finds Ben by the pool, which she suggests that she polished up to look new. At Marion's cajoling, Ben jumps in and, a minute later, she strips down and joins him. They embrace, but Marion quickly pushes him away and gets out. Ben follows and tries to make love to his wife on the front lawn, but when Marion sees lights on in the old lady's room, she runs away.

    Going into the parlor, Marion opens the music box and falls asleep. The next morning in the kitchen, Elizabeth complains to Marion that the summer vacation is wearing her out. Elizabeth also notices the new gray growing in Marion's hair. Then, instead of taking a nap, Elizabeth brings Mrs. Allardyce a picture she has painted of the house. Elizabeth can barely climb the stairs without collapsing. Responding to Elizabeth's knocking on the parlor door, Marion says that Mrs. Allaradyce is asleep. Out front, Ben sees a model T hearse drive up that is being driven by the grinning chauffeur from his nightmare. Ben covers his face and, when he looks again, the hearse has disappeared.

    At midnight, all the clocks reset by themselves and chime the hour. Waking up, Ben smells gas coming from a heater in Davey's room. Ben kicks the locked door down and carries Davey out to a hallway window. After turning off the gas, Ben smashes out a stuck bedroom window with a baseball bat. In the morning, Elizabeth confesses to Marion that she was in Davey's room, but did not touch the gas. Marion demands to know what else Elizabeth did, as someone locked the door and closed the window. When Elizabeth wonders if Mrs. Allardyce did it, Marion explodes. Later, Ben finds Elizabeth crying in her room and looking twenty years older. She wants to leave the house, but when Ben asks her to come down so Marion can apologize, she says she will later.

    In the parlor, Ben finds Marion, wearing an antique broach and shawl, who insists Elizabeth had something to do with Davey's accident. When Ben asks why he can't meet the old lady, Marion says that Mrs. Allaradyce is sleeping. Meanwhile, Elizabeth sits up in bed, and a loud crack of breaking bones is heard.

    At dinner, Ben asks Marion if she would leave the house if he asked her too. She says he's being ridiculous. Davey yells for help and Ben and Marion find Elizabeth writhing in pain. Ben runs downstairs to phone for help, but the line is busy. Marion then tries the phone and comes back saying that the doctor is on the way. Ben asks Marion to wait downstairs, but instead she goes to the parlor, opens the music box and eats Mrs. Allardyce's food. Sitting with Elizabeth, Ben hears a car coming, which he sees out the window is the model T hearse. Elizabeth's bedroom door bangs open and the grinning chauffeur thrusts a coffin at them. Meanwhile, Marion goes into the greenhouse where the flowers are in full bloom.

    After Elizabeth's funeral, Ben and Davey find Marion dressed in Victorian attire. Marion says she couldn't go to the funeral because she couldn't leave Mrs. Allardyce alone. Although Marion has made a candlelight dinner, she storms out when Ben says he's not hungry. Ben follows her and insists on meeting the old lady. Marion claims she can't open the door as Mrs. Allardyce has the only key. Ben tells her they're leaving in the morning and, although Marion says she can't leave the old lady alone, he claims that in any event he and Davey are going. That night, Ben is awakened by the sound of bricks, tiles and siding that are falling off the house. Ben grabs Davey, runs to the car, and drives off. However, a tree falls, blocking his path. Unable to lift the tree, Ben tries to ram it out of the way with the car, but hits his head on the steering wheel. Marion climbs into the car and drives them back to the house. When Ben looks at her, he sees the chauffeur grinning back at him.

    A doctor comes and says that Ben needs to go to a hospital. When Davey asks Marion if they are going home, she says his father is better off staying put. The next day, a comatose Ben sits by the pool in a wheelchair. Davey jumps in the pool, which begins to churn with giant waves. Marion sees her imperiled son from inside his bedroom, but can't open the window. Ben tries to move, but only falls out of the chair. Marion runs downstairs and smashes a window to get out of the house. She runs to the pool, dives in and rescues Davey. She hugs her husband and son and says they are leaving today.

    Although Marion gets in the car with her family, she quickly gets out, insisting she has to give Mrs. Allardyce their phone number. When Marion doesn't return, Ben goes after her. Finding Mrs. Allardyce's door unlocked, Ben looks in to see the back of a white haired woman in a wheelchair. He asks where Marion is. Not getting an answer, he swings the chair around, and discovers that the old woman is Marion. Ben crashes through the bedroom window and lands on the car's windshield below. Davey yells for his Mom, but the chimney collapses, killing him.

    Later the Allardyce siblings return. The house looks entirely new and the flowers are all blooming. Arnold says that their mother has been restored to her full glory. In the parlor there are four new pictures: Ben, Marion, Davey and Elizabeth... the latest victims of the Allardyce siblings and the house.

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