BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)
When I first saw this flick in 1976 as an 11 year old, it creeped me out very much and actually gave me nightmares for a few days after. Upon a recent re-visit though, I actually find it a bit slow moving and dull despite some spooky atmosphere from director Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, Trilogy Of Terror) who is no stranger to horror.
The story has the Rolf family, dad Ben (Oliver Reed), mom Marian (Karen Black), son David (Lee Montgomery) and aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), renting a large old house from the eccentric and strange Allardyce siblings (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart) for the summer. The price is cheap as long as the Rolf’s take care of the 85 year old Matriarch who stays sequestered in her attic room…never a good sign. Things start off wonderfully, but soon the family starts to show signs of odd behavior. Ben becomes tense and aggressive while suffering nightmares of his mother’s funeral. Marian seems to becoming a different person and feisty, lively Aunt Elizabeth starts to quickly deteriorate and become frail. And even more disturbing, the more the family suffers these changes and sets themselves against each other, the newer and more restored the old house appears. Can this family escape from this evil place and whatever fate it has planned for them?
Despite whatever effect this film had on me as a lad, it now seems very tame and slow moving to the point where it’s a good 90 minutes in before it really starts to get creepy. Dan Curtis gives it some nice atmosphere throughout, but the film takes such a long time to really get going. I can appreciate the slow burn and slow character transformations, but it really doesn’t grab you till things really start to get bad and a character death brings dead flowers to bloom and the house literally sheds it’s old shingles for new. At almost two hours in length, it’s a long time to wait and then after an admit-tingly shocking climax, it’s over. The script is written by Curtis and William F. Nolan based on a book by Robert Marasco and is well written enough, though there is some clunky dialog and the somber tone and funeral slow pace really don’t serve it too well. That and Curtis’ experience as a TV director gives the whole film a TV movie look and feel despite being a theatrical release…which is where I saw it at the Park Lane Theater in Palisades Park, N.J. There is a spooky score by Bob Cobert helping things along and it’s overall not a bad film, just really doesn’t start to grab hold of you till it’s last act. Today’s impatient audiences would probably find it very hard to sit through a flick with little happening till then.
The cast are fine though, there is a bit of overacting on the part of all the actors despite the low key tone. After a flat first half hour Black seems to get more into her performances as the more Marian changes and Reed is good, though doesn’t quite seem right as father and husband Ben. Something is just a bit off to his casting in the role. Vets Davis and Meredith seem to enjoy being a bit over-the-top and young Montgomery really doesn’t get to do much but be a typical kid and then cry a lot when things start to get weird. A talented cast, but possibly not used to their fullest potential at least in Reed and Black’s cases.
So, in conclusion, the film is a very slow and kinda dull burn till it’s effective and disturbing last act. I don’t mind a good slow burn, but this was a bit too slow. It has a good cast and is well made by a veteran director, but just takes a little too long to get to the good stuff, which still works and it’s conclusion does stick with you. Not as as scary as I remembered it, but not a total letdown either. Worth a look for horror fans, but just be prepared to wait a bit before the willies really set in.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The house used in the film is the Dunsmuir House also used in the original Phantasm as the mortuary!
Rated 2 and 1/2 creepy old houses…one before tormenting a family, one after. You decide which to cut in half.