Burnt Offerings
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FAQ Contents

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Burnt Offerings can be found here.

When Ben (Oliver Reed) and Marian (Karen Black) Rolf, along with their 11-year old son Davey (Lee Montgomery) and elderly but spunky Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), decide to rent the massive old Allardyce house for the summer, they are amazed at the low rent and wonder about the catch. They are assured by owners Arnold (Burgess Meredith) and Roz (Eileen Heckart) Allardyce that the only catch is that Marian needs to prepare a tray of food every day for their elderly mother who lives on the top floor and never comes out of her quarters. The real catch, however, is that the rather dilapidated house rejuvenates itself by sucking the lifeforce out of its inhabitants, and the Rolfs are about to become the next burnt offering.

The movie is based on the novel of the same name (1973) by American horror writer Robert Marasco [1936-1998]. The novel was adapted for the screen by American film-maker Dan Curtis (director and producer) and author William F Nolan.

There is nothing burning, burnt, or on fire in the movie. 'Burnt offering' is a biblical term referring to the sacrifice of an animal or other offering that is burned on an altar. Such were the sacrifices offered by Abel (Gen. 4:3-4, Noah (Gen. 8:20), Abraham (Gen. 22:2, 7-8, 13), and by the Hebrews in Egypt (Ex. 10:25). The movie and novel are so titled because it is the Rolf family who unknowingly and unwittingly become sacrificed so that the house can renew itself. There is a scene in the book where Marian breaks down outside Mrs. Allardyce's room saying she has nothing left to give and the door opens to reveal the ghost of Mrs Allardyce, who looks at Marian with blazing eyes and possesses her, 'burning everything out of her - grief and affection and memory - burning it out finally, until there was nothing'.

Filming was done at the historic Dunsmuir House in Oakland, California, built in 1899 by Alexander Dunsmuir and designed by San Francisco architect J. Eugene Freeman. A photo of the Dunsmuir House can be seen here. In the novel, however, the story takes place in New York.

They are photos of the other people who have lived in the house over the years. Some are old and sepia-toned; others look fairly recent. Arnold and Roz describe them as 'memories of a lifetime' and note that they number in the thousands.

The origin of the glasses (and how one of the lenses became cracked) is not explained in either the movie or the book, making it as much a mystery to the viewer as it is to Ben. Most viewers conclude that the glasses likely belonged to one of the previous renters and that the crack in the lens suggest the wearer went through some sort of violent situation, but the answer is left to audience's imagination. However, viewers tend to notice that, when Ben looks through the glasses, something takes hold of him, leading to his rough-housing with Davey in the pool. There also is a broken tricycle in the graveyard with no explanation as to whom it belonged nor how it got there. In the book, the bicycle has old, dried-up blood on it, suggesting that a child was somehow violently wounded on it.

The chauffeur (Anthony James) was the driver of the hearse at his mother's funeral when Ben was about 13-years old. In Ben's eyes, he looked like death, and Ben would see his face whenever he was ill or before going to sleep. Ben started to have visions of him again because they were being conjured by Mrs Allardyce as a way of stirring violent emotions, pain, and suffering in him.

That "crack" is one of Aunt Elizabeth's arms breaking as she tries to pull herself up off the bed, balancing her weight on her elbows. It is detailed in the book. She has been "sucked" of life and vitality so much by the house that her bones can no longer support her body weight. She is described at that point as almost not looking human anymore and her physical frame being almost skeletal and translucent.

Although Marian claims that she rewound the clocks and got them started again, it was really the house renewing itself, based on Elizabeth's weakening condition, Ben's fears on seeing the chauffeur and/or Davey being nearly asphyxiated with gas.

In the movie, there is no Mrs Allardyce, and Marian turns into her at the end, leaving the viewer to wonder who is the 'mother' to which Arnold and Roz refer. In the book, however, Mrs Allardyce is a malevolent power source living in the house, but it is never explained whether it is a demon, an alien, a spirit, or something else. Viewers have suggested that she/it came to the house in the 1890s, evidenced by the fact that there are no Allardyce graves newer than the 1890s.

There has been considerable discussion about that question. Some viewers think they are real people, possibly descendents of the original 'mother'. Others think they may be spirits just like Mrs Allardyce. Still others suggest that they may be tools created by the 'mother' whenever it is time to rent the house out to a new family so that the renovations can begin. The book does say that Arnold, Roz, and Walker (Dub Taylor) dematerialize whenever the house needs to absorb a new group of people, then they re-materialize as soon as Marian sits in Mrs Allardyce's chair. Where they go in the interim is not explained.

After Davey almost drowns in the pool, Marian agrees to leave the house. As they are getting into the car, Marian says that she has to leave an address where Mrs Allardyce can reach her and goes back into the house. When Marian doesn't return, Ben tries honking the horn, then finally follows her to the sitting room, but Marian isn't there. He knocks on Mrs Allardyce's bedroom door and opens it to find Marian, now old and gray, seated in Mrs Allardyce's chair. Marian, now totally possessed by 'Mrs Alladyce' says, 'I've been waiting for you, Ben,' and rises from the chair. In the ver next scene, Ben comes flying through the window and lands on top of the car, his head going through the windshield. Davey screams and gets out of the car. Suddenly, a chimney starts to crumble and falls on Davey, hitting him like a ton of bricks. In the final scene, Roz and Arnold return to the house and find it in beautiful condition. They comment, 'Our mother. She's back! Our darling restored to us in all her beauty and glory...with us once again.' The camera pans over the wall of photos of the house and then down the table featuring Mrs Allardyce's collection. Three new photos have been added, one of Davey, one of Ben, and one of Elizabeth.

This is another of those questions which has engendered considerable discussion. Just after Marian/Mrs Allardyce says, 'I've been waiting for you, Ben,' she is shown rising from her chair. In the very next scene, Ben comes flying through the window. Some viewers believe that Ben jumped out the window to get away from the horror that his wife had become. Other viewers believe that he was either pushed or flung by the strong force of the power contained in the house.

Those who have both read the book and seen the movie say that the movie closely follows the book with the exception of the ending. The book ends with the scene in the pool where the water starts churning and Ben is powerless to save Davey from drowning. The movie has that same scene only it is used earlier in the story and a new ending was tacked on. The book also spends more time upfront describing the family's life in Queens and how Ben was near to a nervous breakdown, which is what makes them want to rent a summer home to get out of the city. There are some other interesting details in the book, such as the description of the door into Mrs Allardyce's bedroom. The door is very massive with strange symbols like hieroglyphics carved into the frame. From inside the room, Marian hears a buzzing or vibrating sound that she thinks might be a fan or an air conditioner. The book also mentions that Marian has an obsessive compulsion to clean things, which is what draws her into the charm of the house. The scenes involving the chaffeur are almost identical to the ones in the book. In the book, however, there is no physical description of the chauffeur and no mention of his perpetual grin.

Viewers of Burnt Offerings highly recommend seeing The Haunting (1963) and Salem's Lot (1979), as well as the movie House (1986) all of which revolve around the idea that evil houses attract evil.


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