Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Burnt Offerings (1976)

I think the seventies was the best decennium for ghost stories, at least in movies. The colourful sixties was left behind and instead we had new filmmakers, a grittier style and there wasn't a demand for happy endings. Movies like The Sentinel, Legend of Hell House, The Changeling - yeah, I would even count Rosemary's Baby to this trend. All brilliant pieces of art and totally lacking respect for the "moral majority". Robert Marasco had a hit with his thin novel BurntOfferings in 1973 and a couple of years later TV-director Dan Curtis used it to make his maybe (correct me if I'm wrong) only movie made for cinema. Armed with an impressive cast and a spooky house he delivered one of the finest in it's genre...

Super-happy family Marian (Karen Black), Ben (Oliver Reed) and Davey (Montgomery Lee) finds a fantastic house on the countryside, for a shockingly cheap price over the summer. It's two old siblings, Roz (Eileen Heckart) and Arnold (Burgess Meredith) who wants to rent it to a family that really gonna LOVE the house. There's just one minor catch, they need to take care of the elderly mother who lives upstairs. She only stays in her room, never goes out - "Just put a tray of food outside her door". Ben is sceptical, but Marian thinks it's a great idea! So they bring their Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis) for a summer of fun and relaxation... but soon something starts to change, something wants to destroy the family. Not from the outside, but through their minds...

It might not be clear in my text above, but Burnt Offerings is oddly similar to Stephen King's The Shining - actually to that degree that I had to pause the movie to do an internet search to see if there's something else thinking the same thing. And yes, even Stephen King admits Burnt Offerings, the original book, was a big inspiration to him! The Shining was released in 1977, the year after this movie came out - so I'm sure he both got inspiration from the book and the movie! No surprise maybe, I am Ninja Dixon after all, but I think Burnt Offerings is a much better movie than The Shining. First of all, the transformation of the father from a nice dad to a raving psychopath is much more convincing in Oliver Reeds version. It's even stronger because he comes out from this psychosis from time to time and remembers how he behaves. This time the rest of the family gets affected by the house also, and Karen Black's characters gets more and more disturbing - spending most of her time in one single room, polishing some old photographs.

The most heartbreaking part of the movie is how the aunt gets sicker and sicker, older and more tired, until she hardly can take care of herself. It's a very strong and emotional performance from Davis. In the middle of it all we have Montgomery Lee, the boy, who without a chance to do anything witnesses his families descent into madness. Strong stuff. All actors are doing magnificent jobs, but the creepiest of them all is probably Burgess Meredith is Arnold, the wheelchair-bound paedophile (I guess he is, because that's how Meredith plays it). A character that sets the tone for the whole movie.

Burnt Offerings is a bit too long for it's own good, and there's too many endings - including one with killer-tree's attacking - but when the final-final ending comes it's shocking and powerful and actually damn scary.

Close to a masterpiece, but not all the way. Recommended to everyone here, yes - even you...


forestofthedead said...

Great cast, love the story and how it develops as things get darker and darker.
And this movie frightens me every time I watch it.

Love the review, thanks for spreading the word about this film.

Anonymous said...

"I am Ninja Dixon after all, but I think Burnt Offerings is a much better movie than The Shining."

Big words Ninja....well...I have to check this one out.

"including one with killer-tree's attacking"

Just like Poltergeist (1982)..?

Hollie said...

This is my favorite haunted-house movie!!!

Ninja Dixon said...

Thanks Patrick! I'm happy I finally got a chance to see it after all these years!

The trees feels more like Evil Dead, more roots and branches :)

Hollie, but I know that - you always have good taste!