Burnt Offerings (1976)
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It may not be action packed (although the scene with Reed trying to kill his soon in the pool was terrifying--and ultra-realistic), but it certainly gets under your skin. This film is about mood, and it is both beautifully entrancing and ominously mesmerizing. I actually found the acting quite good. Reed was wonderful. I loved the two weird siblings, Roz and Brother (Burgess Meredith, wonderful actor). Their adoration of the house sends chills up my spine.
The true stars of the movie are the music (Bob Cobert's amazing Music Box Theme) and the house (Dunsmuir House & Gardens, in Oakland, California). For true horror buffs out there, this movie inspired the creators of PHANTASM to drive up to Oakland and use this same mansion as the infamous Morningside Mortuary. Which is probably, when the opening moments of PHANTASM rolled in 1979, I already had such fear upon seeing the mansion again on screen!
I have to wonder if other elements of BURNT OFFERINGS inspired PHANTASM as well. Note the creepy old lady upstairs at the end. Reminds one of PHANTASM's eerie fortuneteller. How about B.O.'s terrifying hearse chauffeur? He's kind of like a forerunner of the Tall Man!
BURNT OFFERINGS is well worth the viewing. Don't expect any real jolts or screams. But turn off the lights and let it really sink in. It's well worth a viewing. There are many moments (such as the house renewing itself during the rainstorm) that are bizarre and horribly fascinating. I haven't seen this good a haunted house movie in years.
And definitely visit Dunsmuir in real life. This place is spectacular. You'll fall in love with it, just like Karen Black! I certainly did. I spent awhile helping out as tour guide and volunteer at the estate while attending college in the Bay Area.
I have not read the novel, and have only seen the 'edited for T.V. version (about four times). But from reading other posters' comments and reviews, it seems that many people are baffled by what the title 'burnt offerings' means and what the heck is going on in the movie. From what little I have seen on television, the theme seems to be that the house injures and even kills its resident occupants in order to renew itself. Sort of a fertility rite, where death was enacted to bring about the Springtime, or renewal. Whenever someone gets hurt, or killed, the house renews a part of itself. Minor injuries may only repair a simple light bulb, or bring a few dead potted plants back to life or restore a cracked mirror. But look what happens at the end !!
The old lady upstairs, Mrs. Allardyce (?sp) is supposedly an eighty-five year old woman'. Isn't that the approx. age of the house (in 1976? Wouldn't you say the Dunsmuir house looks about that old, built in 1891, perhaps?) When the professor / renter asks the owners of the house what 'the catch' is (why it's so inexpensive to rent), the response from one of the owners (who are insulted at the idea that it's a 'catch' -- their response is, 'it's our mother.' -- is that intended as the 'catch? that the house is their mother? (then the conversation shifts to that she is an eighty five year old woman, and that she stays in the upstairs room). I think there may be some symbolism here of the death-and-renewal, earth-goddess sort.
And, by the way, this is NOT a 'haunted house' but what might be described as a slightly different genre' -- a 'living house.' Not haunted, as on the changeling or The Haunting, nor 'demon possessed' as on the Amityville Horror, but a 'living house' -- this one with an appetite and a penchant to renew itself. Lots of old houses, to me, seem to have a soul and thoughts and demeanor of their own. Enjoy the renewal rites.
What I personally look for in a movie is atmosphere and this one has it by the bucket-load! Despite having been shot in the 70's, it has a beautiful timeless quality. It's far from perfect (let's face it, no film is), and its plot certainly isn't original either, but it's the film's bleak, sinister and unsettling atmosphere (possibly in connection with its 70's look) that makes it what it is, and it's exactly this atmosphere that will stay with you for a long time.
Highly underrated and not known by many people, Burnt Offerings is very well made. Great script, very well shot and extremely well acted. Oliver Reed is fantastic (which kind of goes without saying) but hopelessly out-creeped by the naturally creepy "mother of creep" Karen Black. Black and Reed, both masters of their chosen craft, work like a dream in this movie; a solid acting foundation with Bette Davis being the icing on the cake, as it were.
Certainly a must for Oliver Reed fans (although die-hard Olly fans will most likely have seen it at some point), but it's also a must for fans of good old-fashioned, atmospheric horror.
Just sit back and enjoy. If you're watching it for the first time, you'll likely be wondering afterwards how this one could've escaped you all these years ...
"Burnt Offerings" is pretty much a typical haunted house story, but with a bit of a spin to it. It's about Marian and Ben Ralf (played by Karen Black and Oliver Reed) and their son, who move into a summerhouse in the country that is owned by a very strange brother and sister. The price is a steal, the only catch is that they would have to supply minimal food and care to the sibling's grandmother, who lives in an upstairs bedroom. Marian takes on this duty, and the family begins to prepare themselves to have a relaxing summer out at the old manor. Ben's Aunt, played by the legendary Bette Davis, also is staying with them at the summerhouse. After staying there for awhile, strange things begin to happen, and Marian becomes very secretive of the grandmother in the upstairs room. In fact, nobody in the entire house besides her have even seen the old woman. As tension mounts between Ben and Marian, strange events plague the family, including apparitions, strange sounds, etc.
The ending of this film was pretty different, it may be a bit confusing, but it's still good. Apparently the film is based on a book, which I may personally like to read myself. There are some parallels to "The Shining" too, even though this was released 4 years before that. But, Mr. Stephen King himself noted the novel as one of his favorite horror stories, so it leads me to believe he may have taken some inspiration from this story for "The Shining". Karen Black and Bette Davis give great performances, they are the most remarkable in the film. Oliver Reed was also great, and the kid, while a little whiny and unconvincing, was good enough for his role.
Overall, "Burnt Offerings" has a pretty good story, good acting and a well known cast (primarily Black and Davis). One of the better classic haunted house tales, with a different twist on it that makes it stand out a little in my mind. 7/10.
It is no coincidence that this movie is from the mastermind behind Dark Shadows. Dan Curtis masters suspense and terror in a way very few can. The musical score by Robert Cobert contributes to the unsettling mood of the film perfectly. It is one of my favorite scores of all time. The acting is incredible. Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Bette Davis, and Lee Montgomery all have great chemistry as a family and are all wonderful in their respective performances. The characters are all likable. I don't usually like happy endings in horror movies, but this is a case where I wanted the characters to live because I liked them so much. But sadly, that was not meant to happen. Overall, this film has everything I could want in a horror film and I am glad to be a fan of it.
Now I know that many people consider The Shining as the best haunted house movie. Yeah, I'll agree that one is spooky. But for pure just-to-creep-you-out styled chills, you can't beat this one. The movie starts out with a young family renting an old somewhat run-down looking mansion for the summer for the mind-numbingly low amount of $900... for the whole summertime, not just monthly. The owners (a brother sister pair played by Burgess Meredeth and Eileen Eckhardt along with their caretaker played by Dub Taylor) are a little strange but nice. The condition, they must care for their old mother who lives in a upstairs room. So the family - father Oliver Reed, mother Karen Black, their son Lee H. Montgomery (who, despite his mention in The Golden Turkey Awards as one of the most obnoxious child actors ever, comes across as a pretty decent actor) and Reed's elderly aunt played by Betty Davis (who isn't - for once - playing some old nutcase, diva, or all around self-centered bitch) moves in. It isn't long before we find out about the evil surrounding the house. . . every time someone gets hurt, which is often, the house starts looking a little better. Not only that, but that the house is also purposely doing things to put the family in danger. And what about that creepy old women upstairs that we never see? Mmmmmmm!
Okay basic plot aside let's us get to what makes the film scary. It's the fact that the family is up against an evil force they don't understand, and it doesn't stop until everything around it is harmed. That means them. Now the acting. Black is quite good as the wife who becomes infatuated with just who the old woman is (Black begins to look lovingly at a table filled with pictures of the woman's loved ones outside her bedroom even though she knows none of the people in the photos) and starts taking on the mannerisms of the lady. Reed (an actor who I never really liked because to me he always looked more like he wanted to beat you up than entertain you) is also good as the father who becomes more confused, nervous, and outright scared as things get stranger. Davis is sympathetic as the aunt who realizes that something is wrong with the house when her health starts to go bad with quick alarm and mentions that they need to get the hell outta there. But the best acting goes to Anthony James as The Chauffeur. Kind of like a featured player in the house's show of evil, this guy will give you the willies with his downright satanic smile and menacing demeanor. He's the kind of stuff that nightmares are made of and I assure you he WILL make you cringe with horror.
Now the ending with the last scene of the movie, showing the pictures on the table, being the one of most chilling in the film. Some people just didn't get it so I will explain. The house destroyed the family - or more to the point - devoured them, much to the delight and pleasure of the siblings/owners. Their pain was it's nourishment (in the audio commentary director Dan Curtis says the best horror movies are the ones where everybody's doomed and nobody makes it out of their dreaded situation alive). After the old woman possessed Black, and the father, the aunt, and the son have all met nightmarish ends, the house springs back to life from it's former run-down look - as seen in pictures hanging in the hallway all showing that this has happen a number of times before and will happen again. And, for you see, all those many pictures on the table outside of the old woman's bedroom weren't pictures of friends, sweethearts, family, and other loved ones. They were pictures (with our doomed family being the latest addition)... of victims. The End.
Isn't fun to be frightened sh*tless? Because you will be after watching Burnt Offerings!
This review was written on 10-31-2007...Happy Halloween and Pleasant Nightmares!
I loved how Karen Black's character became slowly obsessed and consumed by the old Victorian home. Her descent into obsession was so subtle and only really became obvious when she started dressing like a Victorian woman and flipped out about the idea of someone being in Mrs. Allardyce's sitting room. I rather guessed her eventual fate. The scene that tipped me off was when she was seen eating the food she had brought up for the old woman that was in the bedroom.
Oliver Reed's character was very interesting. He was the reasonable one who instinctively knew something was "off" about the house. His scene with his son Danny in the pool was very scary. At first I was confused why Bette Davis seemed so upset with his horseplay with Danny until he started holding his head down under the water. I didn't really get what was up with the car and the creepy chauffeur, only that it seemed to be some traumatic childhood memory Reed's character had. That chauffeur would give anyone nightmares though. Then poor Reed's fate at the end of the film... Wow! How gruesome. I did not expect it at all. And his poor son.
I loved Bette Davis' character. Even though she was a minor character, she imbued her part with such panache. She would be a fun aunt to have. Then my god, what the makeup department did to her when she was having the life sucked from her body.
This was a great film with a very surprising and gruesome ending. I can't help but feel that this film would make a great double feature with the 1975 version of The Stepford Wives. If you think that this film has much in common with "The Shining", be aware that Stephen King was inspired by the original novel before he wrote his own.
Not perfect, and a little too long, but the payoff is worth it.
Not sure exactly why there is such a hate-on for this movie. It has its share of melodramatic acting (particularly Oliver Reed, whose British soap opera-inspired turn elicited more than a few guffaws on my part), but it had a genuinely creepy vibe that I think outweighed its flaws. People often compare it to The Shining, released four years later, and while I'm not so bold as to say that Burnt Offerings is a better film than that Stanley Kubrick classic, some of the comparable elements are actually scarier at some points. At any rate, it's a little more subtle than Jack Nicholson's somewhat over-the-top performance.
Burnt Offerings instead creates an atmosphere. It creates it masterfully through character decisions and great use of music. There was a stage early on when I realized nothing eventful had even happened as yet and despite this my heart was pounding. Sure enough a moment later some frightening action took place and I realized for the first time in a long time a horror movie had alerted my sub-conscience and not my mind. These days in horror movies it's far too easy to predict when the event is coming (it's generally when the filmmaker is trying to make you think NOTHING is coming).
Burnt Offerings is more than watchable in this day and age. The lines are nowhere near as cheesy sounding as a lot of other pre-1980 films make them sound today and the acting, whilst not perfect, is anything but bad. The suspense will have your heart pounding and it's all building up to something so terrifying it deserves far more recognition among horror buffs. Not to be missed.
It's always remained a favorite, mostly because of it's excellent, quirky cast & creepy details. As one viewer noted, the original novel was a direct influence on The Shinning. The cast includes, Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Betty Davis, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart, Dub Taylor & the unforgettable, Anthony James. It's weaknesses lie mainly in the script & editing. I'm being picky, but if there's one weak link in the cast, it's Oliver Reed. In terms of a remake, in the right hands, Burnt Offerings could be an absolute classic!
Dan Curtis directs...Known for TV's Dark Shadows & two, made for TV flicks, starring the excellent, Darren McGavin, as news reporter, Kolchak, in both 1973's, The Night Stalker & The Night Strangler. He also directed a couple of my personal favorite, made for TV, horror movies, starring the great, Jack Palance; 1968's, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde & 1974's, Dracula.
The film is a lot like the movie "The Sentinel" that came out a year later which in fact also stared Burgess Meredith in a role very similar to the one he played in "Burnt Offerings" as the creepy Arnold Allardyce. The Rolf family are invited to stay for the summer at the old Allardyce House to look after the old and frail 85 year old Mrs. Allardyce.
At first Ben or Benji Rolf, Oliver Reed, his sexy wife Marian, Karen Black, and twelve year old son David, Lee Montgomery, are tickled pink at staying at the place but later things start to go sour shortly after they all move in. Told by Arnold and his equally creepy sister Roz Allardyce, Eileen Hackett, to look after their mother who's a shut-in the Rolf's soon find that the old lady has practically barricaded herself in her room letting no one in.
It's when Benji's Aunt Elizabeth, Bette Davis, shows up at the Allardyce Home that things really start to go haywire. The highly educated Benji, who's working on his PHD, starts to slowly lose his mind turning into a brutal and mindless Neanderthal type person. Grabbing little David in the swimming pool Benji tries to drown the frightened boy as if he's possessed by the Devil himself!
It's later that Benji starts to have nightmares of his own mother's funeral with this ghost-like hearse driver, Anthony James, constituently popping up in them. James in fact played the same kind of role two years earlier in his portrayal of a hopped up, on adrenaline, and sex crazed lunatic in the film "The Teacher".
Slowly but surly the Allardyce House somehow starts to come alive taking control of first Benji then Marian who becomes even more weirder, if that's at all possible, then her already totally whacked out husband. After suffering a total mental and psychical breakdown Benji, with what seems like superhuman strength, pulls himself together and comes to his senses. A now back to normal and with all his marbles Benji tells Marian to please together with him and David, Aunt Elizabeth had since passed away, leave the premises as soon as possible. That's before the what seems like possessed house sucks, like a vampire sucking out his victims blood, the life out of all of them!
**SPOILER ALERT*** Even though the ending of the movie takes a while, more the ten minutes, to really get started it will blow you mind completely out of it's skull. Benji in trying to get his stubborn wife Marian to leave finds out the truth not just about her but whom she's been looking after all these weeks the mysterious Mrs. Allardyce! That set off a number of shocking events that, like a major +8 point on the Richter Scale earthquake, shakes the cursed and evil Allardyce House to its very foundations!