Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Burnt Offerings (1976)

Burnt Offerings

Written by Dan Curtis & William F. Nolan
Directed by Dan Curtis
Based on the novel by Robert Marasco

Marian Rolf...Karen Black
Ben Rolf...Oliver Reed
Davy Rolf...Lee Montgomery
Aunt Elizabeth...Bette Davis

The Rolf family--father Ben, mother Marian, young son Davy, and rascally old aunt Elizabeth--rent an enormous Victorian mansion in the country for the summer.  The owners of the house, odd brother and sister pair the Alyrdyces, give them a hell of a deal on the place: only $900 for the whole season.

There is, however, a catch.  They must care for the aging matriarch who lives upstairs.  She shouldn't prove too much of a problem, though.  She's notoriously reclusive and never lives her room.  All that she requires is 3 solid meals a day, left outside her bedroom door.

All seems fine at first, as the Rolfs get down to the task of maxing and/or relaxing.  But there seems to be a strange energy in this house, one which effects everyone inside it.  The normally reserved Ben begins to lose his cool; Marian becomes obsessed with the house and its myriad treasures; and the lively Elizabeth begins to lose her spunk, becoming more and more like a little old lady each day.  And that is saying nothing of the house itself, which seems to be undergoing mysterious repairs and renovations, returning itself to its previous luster.

Equal parts The Shining, Amityville Horror, House of the Devil, and Rose Red, this sounds like a pretty potent brew.  But director Dan Curtis (who I like to think of as the Dark Aaron Spelling) plays it very low-key, which is both helpful and harmful to the effect.  A quiet and understated horror is great for adding atmosphere, but you still need the occasional solid scare to drive it home.

Sadly, this movie seems to be missing that, and so whatever creepy-crawlies it may give you never solidifies enough to be fully effective.  For the most part, this is perhaps more of a gothic melodrama than a true horror film, which makes sense considering Curtis' involvement with TV's Dark Shadows.  It's not until the (admittedly wicked) finale that this blossoms into the movie I would have preferred it to be.

It's not a bad flick, and there are some great performances here, but Burnt Offerings just doesn't seem quite so fresh when viewed through modern eyes.

View the trailer below!

Rated PG
116 Minutes
United States/Italy

"The house takes care of itself."


  1. I haven't seen this for ages. Must have another look. I do love Oliver Reed, even when he turned into a comedy drunk in the later years he ruled.

  2. I saw this a year or two ago, and honestly, came to the same conclusion you did. I should've expected that, because the Marasco novel, which I read many years ago, had the same problem: too understated for its own good.

  3. I have to admit, I don't really remember this one very well. I do, however, remember one seen where a hearse driver slowly turns his head to stare at the camera. That part used to scare teh sh*t out of my brother when we were kids.


  4. Funny, I'm not the biggest haunted house fan, but I really dug this film. Part of it is that I love the entire cast, but I especially dug Reed as the sympathetic one to Black's weaker mother character. Also, that swimming scene in the beginning was all sorts of disturbing to me.

    I will admit though this is a film that grew on me more when I listened to the commentary by the director and karen Black. They point out some of the little things in how it was this sort of materialism, as opposed to a mere ghost, that really sucked the spirit out of Black's character. That was something different I though-using a gothic setup but really telling a very '70s gimme gimme tale.

  5. Ive always loved haunted house films, even the slow burners like Ghost Story (which I highly recommend!) Ill add this one to my list, because its got Oliver Redd in it, who is superb most of the time on everything he is in.

  6. This one is an extreeeemly slow draw but I enjoy it, not the best out there but a nostalgic piece from the supernatural 70s


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