Today I watched a 1976 horror mystery film, directed by Dan Curtis (“House Of Dark Shadows”, “The Kansas City Massacre”), titled “Burnt Offerings”.
The screenplay for the movie was co-penned by William F. Nolan (“Logan’s Run”, “The Turn Of The Screw” and director Dan Curtis and was adapted from a novel published in 1973. The novel, written by American horror writer Robert Marasco, was also titled “Burnt Offerings”.
Ben Rolf (Oliver Reed – “Castaway”, “Tommy”) and his wife and son go to view a house in California that they’ve heard is available to rent for the summer holidays.
When they arrive they discover that the house is in fact a 19th century mansion. Ben has reservations but his wife Marian (Karen Black – “Capricorn One”, “Airport 1975”) falls immediately in love with the place.
The owners, siblings Arnold and Roz Allardyce (Burgess Meredith – “Rocky”, “Foul Play” and Eileen Heckart – “Bus Stop”, “Butterflies Are Free”), tell the Rolfs that they can have the house for US$900 – for the whole summer.
Ben is sure that there must be a catch, and there is. The Allardyce’s mother is to stay in the house during the rental period, but will not leave her room. All the Rolfs have to do is to prepare and deliver three meals a day to the mother’s room. Marian declares that she will take on this responsibility and so the rental is agreed.
Ben, Marian, their son Davey (Lee Montgomery – “Ben”, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”), and Ben’s Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis – “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”, “The Nanny”) arrive at the start of the holidays to discover a note indicating that the Allardyce’s have already left.
The family soon make themselves comfortable, with Ben and Davey clearing out and filling the swimming pool and Marian taking to her role catering to the elderly Mrs. Allardyce – who she never sees or hears.
However, as Marian becomes ever more obsessed with the old woman and the house itself, strange and sinister events begin to take place which threaten the whole family’s sanity and safety…
A spin on the haunted house tale, “Burnt Offerings” has enough originality and atmosphere to be a quite spooky and compelling film. Although there is clearly a supernatural element to the story there are practically no visual effects used and so the movie is carried almost entirely by the performances of the actors themselves. In this respect Reed and Black particularly do very effective jobs, and Montgomery is impressive too.
This is very much a slow-burn film, nothing happens in a rush, but the near two-hour runtime doesn’t outstay its welcome. Granted the reasons for some things are never clearly explained, but that aside this film really is pretty decent…