Saturday, April 14, 2012

Movie Review: Burnt Offerings (1976)

Well, hey! I kinda dug this one! Good choice, y'all. Burnt Offerings always looked to me like it was going to be some mediocre 70s attempt at a haunted house story that wasn't scary at all. And while that last part is true - there are no scares in the movie at all - its simple and kinda-sorta original plot mixed with some cool characters played by cool actors make me want to give Burnt Offerings a thumbs up.

The Rolf family (which includes Marian, Ben, their son David, and Ben's aunt Elizabeth) rent a lovely Victorian house for their summer vacation from the quirky Allardyce siblings. The house soon begins to change the members of the family, especially Marian, who becomes increasingly obsessed with the house and with caring for the elderly Mrs. Allardyce whom no one but Marian has ever seen.

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

Sidenote: What kind of summer vacation is it to stay in a house where you spend a good portion of your time cleaning and working on the place? Not to mention having to deal with the fact that there's a strange old lady upstairs who "supposedly" never leaves her room. Not exactly my idea of a relaxing 2 months away from home.

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 two leads, Karen Black and Oliver Reed (whom I had only seen in 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.


  1. I had much the same reaction that you did - it seems on paper to be some disparate elements - but the cool cast and direction (by Dan Curtis - of Dark Shadows and Kolchak TV fame) bring it off and it ends up an entertaining movie. Great review!

  2. And also - it's award time.

  3. Love this movie a lot and glad to see it get a good review.

  4. Great review, Michele. I will have to check this out.

  5. Horror fans can never go wrong with Karen Black. One of my fave flicks is her fighting a possessed doll in her apartment. She sure had HUGE and SHARP teeth at the end of that movie! LOL