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.
"The house takes care of itself."