Movie Reviews 358 – Burnt Offerings (1976)

Check out this lineup. Karen Black, Oliver Reed, and Bette Davis. Throw in Burgess Meredith for good measure. Now how can anyone pass up a lineup like that and for a horror film no less? Rounding out the talent behind Burnt Offerings, is writer and director Dan Curtis, the man who brought us the original Dark Shadows soap opera and a few other notable horror entries.

When a young family go searching for a house to rent for vacation, wife Marian (Black) can’t believe their luck in finding a slightly rundown 19th-century mansion given the great price offered by the elder brother and sister living in the house. But husband Ben (Reed), already had misgivings even before hearing the slight catch in that they would have to take care of the mother of the old siblings who never leaves her two upper level rooms. When Marian promises that she alone will tend to the old lady, Ben agrees and along with his aunt Elizabeth (Davis) and son Davey (Lee H. Montgomery) move in for the summer.

Even before they move in the sinister house begins it’s work. Slowly taking over Marian who is entranced by the abode, Ben has nearly the opposite experience, becoming irritable and short fused who now suffers dreams about his mother’s funeral. The stakes are raised when Ben nearly takes his own son’s life but when the vibrant and spirited Elizabeth suddenly becomes frail and sickly the family finally faces the house head on.

Lumping this film with the other stock haunted house tales does not do this one justice. If one were to be honest then clearly the main character is the house itself which not only manipulates the family but controlling things like the electricity and other utilities, but it literally transforms itself in front of our eyes.

While the driving force is the residence, the tension is all in the inner conflict it creates among the family members which is why the superlative casting makes all the difference. Davis is not one of the main stars here but not one to ever be outdone she shines here as always. Her career was defined playing strong, commanding stalwart roles which she certainly does here as well – at least at first – but most uncharacteristically her performance is at it’s best when her health starts to fail as a result of mansion interference. It is in those moments of weakness and frailty and during the transition itself that we are subjected to Davis as we’ve never seen before which is a treat in itself.

Take it from me, this is one offering you have to take up.

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