Burnt Offerings is a different look at the typical haunted house movie. Like most of them, it takes place in a very stately manor (gosh, just once I want to see a one-story ranch house like the one I live in be haunted) with a lot of history and is isolated from any surrounding neighbors. The house is a bit rundown when the Rolfs first arrive, but as their stay progresses, and as Marian and Ben do some basic upkeep on the place, it slowly starts to change seemingly on its own. The house becomes brighter and fresher, the plants come back to life, the flowers bloom, and the house becomes almost magically restored to its original state. But how? That is the question, indeed... There are no ghosts in the Allardyce home (which made me a little sad) but there is something freaky and supernatural going on and though it is never fully explained just what is happening, I liked this different take
I loved all the actors in Burnt Offerings and the characters they created. Since the story is more about what happens to the family on the inside, rather than anything external, this is an important element for the film. Burgess Meredith gives a very funny performance in the first few scenes as wheelchair-bound "Brother" Allardyce, along with his sister Roz, played by Eileen Heckart. They don't do a very good job at hiding the fact that they are pretty weird and are probably hiding something from the Rolf family. Bette Davis is probably the best out of all the main actors, as she makes Aunt Elizabeth so incredibly charming and the kind of relative anybody would want to have. Ben's colorful relationship with her is very cute and endearing, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when the house's weird mojo makes Elizabeth lose her spunk and vitality.
The Brood), are also pretty good, but they both have little quirks to their characters that make me a little unsure of them. As aforementioned, Marian becomes obsessed with the house and its history, spending much of her time in Mrs. Allardyce's sitting room. She even starts to dress in an old-timey manner, with cameo chokers and flowing robes, and wearing her hair back in a bun. But with this comes one of the movie's problems, which is that it is never explained just what the power of the house is and what it is doing to Marian. Is it stealing the youth of the families that inhabit it to make itself new again? Does it just take one person to become "Mrs. Allardyce" who will always take care of the house? I dunno. But it did make for one freaky ending to the movie.
Ben has a weird thing from his past that is also never explained. He keeps having dreams and flashbacks to his mother's funeral when he was a child and this creepy smiling chauffeur that he sees there. That's it. No elaboration at all. This is just something that I guess scared him as a kid and it has traumatized him, but goodness knows why. I mean, the guy was kind of scary looking, but why would this have such an affect on Ben as an adult?
Anyway, Burnt Offerings was still a cool movie. The conclusion is pretty awesome and gives us some great gore and violence that comes as a total surprise after the rather uneventful rest of the movie. This one is a nice slow, methodical tale with an interesting story and great actors to pull the whole thing along.