Burnt Offerings (1976)
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It may not be action packed (although the scene with Reed trying to kill his soon in the pool was terrifying--and ultra-realistic), but it certainly gets under your skin. This film is about mood, and it is both beautifully entrancing and ominously mesmerizing. I actually found the acting quite good. Reed was wonderful. I loved the two weird siblings, Roz and Brother (Burgess Meredith, wonderful actor). Their adoration of the house sends chills up my spine.
The true stars of the movie are the music (Bob Cobert's amazing Music Box Theme) and the house (Dunsmuir House & Gardens, in Oakland, California). For true horror buffs out there, this movie inspired the creators of PHANTASM to drive up to Oakland and use this same mansion as the infamous Morningside Mortuary. Which is probably, when the opening moments of PHANTASM rolled in 1979, I already had such fear upon seeing the mansion again on screen!
I have to wonder if other elements of BURNT OFFERINGS inspired PHANTASM as well. Note the creepy old lady upstairs at the end. Reminds one of PHANTASM's eerie fortuneteller. How about B.O.'s terrifying hearse chauffeur? He's kind of like a forerunner of the Tall Man!
BURNT OFFERINGS is well worth the viewing. Don't expect any real jolts or screams. But turn off the lights and let it really sink in. It's well worth a viewing. There are many moments (such as the house renewing itself during the rainstorm) that are bizarre and horribly fascinating. I haven't seen this good a haunted house movie in years.
And definitely visit Dunsmuir in real life. This place is spectacular. You'll fall in love with it, just like Karen Black! I certainly did. I spent awhile helping out as tour guide and volunteer at the estate while attending college in the Bay Area.
I have not read the novel, and have only seen the 'edited for T.V. version (about four times). But from reading other posters' comments and reviews, it seems that many people are baffled by what the title 'burnt offerings' means and what the heck is going on in the movie. From what little I have seen on television, the theme seems to be that the house injures and even kills its resident occupants in order to renew itself. Sort of a fertility rite, where death was enacted to bring about the Springtime, or renewal. Whenever someone gets hurt, or killed, the house renews a part of itself. Minor injuries may only repair a simple light bulb, or bring a few dead potted plants back to life or restore a cracked mirror. But look what happens at the end !!
The old lady upstairs, Mrs. Allardyce (?sp) is supposedly an eighty-five year old woman'. Isn't that the approx. age of the house (in 1976? Wouldn't you say the Dunsmuir house looks about that old, built in 1891, perhaps?) When the professor / renter asks the owners of the house what 'the catch' is (why it's so inexpensive to rent), the response from one of the owners (who are insulted at the idea that it's a 'catch' -- their response is, 'it's our mother.' -- is that intended as the 'catch? that the house is their mother? (then the conversation shifts to that she is an eighty five year old woman, and that she stays in the upstairs room). I think there may be some symbolism here of the death-and-renewal, earth-goddess sort.
And, by the way, this is NOT a 'haunted house' but what might be described as a slightly different genre' -- a 'living house.' Not haunted, as on the changeling or The Haunting, nor 'demon possessed' as on the Amityville Horror, but a 'living house' -- this one with an appetite and a penchant to renew itself. Lots of old houses, to me, seem to have a soul and thoughts and demeanor of their own. Enjoy the renewal rites.
It is no coincidence that this movie is from the mastermind behind Dark Shadows. Dan Curtis masters suspense and terror in a way very few can. The musical score by Robert Cobert contributes to the unsettling mood of the film perfectly. It is one of my favorite scores of all time. The acting is incredible. Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Bette Davis, and Lee Montgomery all have great chemistry as a family and are all wonderful in their respective performances. The characters are all likable. I don't usually like happy endings in horror movies, but this is a case where I wanted the characters to live because I liked them so much. But sadly, that was not meant to happen. Overall, this film has everything I could want in a horror film and I am glad to be a fan of it.