Burnt Offerings (1976)


Writer Ben Rolfe (Oliver Reed, The Devils), his wife Marian (Karen Black, Five Easy Pieces), their young son Davey (Lee H. Montgomery, Ben) and Ben’s aunt (Bette Davis) rent a Victorian house for the summer at an unbelievably low price. The family soon finds out that “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Reaction & Thoughts:

“This house will be here long, long after you have departed.”

A few years before The Amityville Horror (1979), The Shining (1980) and Poltergeist (1982) appeared in cinemas, the creator of the classic TV soap opera Dark Shadows Dan Curtis, co-wrote, produced and directed this horror cornucopia about a family confronted with strange occurrences in an eerie mansion. Although not as well known as the aforementioned movies, Burnt Offerings is a solid supernatural thriller.

The film’s title, Burnt Offerings (it refers to a sacrifice offered to a superior being), provides a hint of what’s going on without completely giving away the final surprise. Based on horror writer Robert Marasco’s novel of the same name, it should be noted that Burnt Offerings shares many similarities with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (as a matter of fact, both movies have almost identical endings).

Needless to say, Dan Curtis’s Burnt Offerings isn’t as artsy as Kubrick’s controversial adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling book. I thought, however, that despite using more conventional cinematic techniques, Dan Curtis successfully mixed thrills with a host of complex issues — the film explores themes of loss, grief, emotional emptiness in marriage and the repercussions of pent-up anger.

In essence, there are two stories running simultaneously: You have the supernatural stuff on one side, and the deterioration of the family on the other side. As the story progresses, the two lanes become one. Burnt Offerings purposely blurs the line between the otherworldly and the real, thus you are never completely sure how much the family’s odd behavior can be attributed to the house.

Burnt Offerings is as much about an unearthly house as it is about interpersonal family dynamics. What’s interesting is that that house doesn’t change the family as much as it exposes their false sense of contentment. The writer’s traumatic childhood, the wife’s sense of being unfulfilled, the aunt’s age-related insecurities, etc., all these problems are exposed as the family spends more time in the isolated house.

Allegedly, the three main actors — Karen Black (star of Dan Curtis’s classic TV movie Trilogy of Terror), Oliver Reed and Bette Davis — didn’t get along. Can animosity among actors affect the quality of a movie? Maybe. Maybe not. All I can say is that I just saw some of my favorite actors working together in total unison. Reed is deliciously moody and brooding, and Black’s kooky persona works great for the role of the wife/mother. Davis’s role is rather small, but she makes the most of her very last scenes.

Veterans Burgess Meredith (Rocky) and Eileen Heckart (Butterflies are Free) appear in the beginning as the pair of siblings who own the creepy house — Meredith and Heckart give delightfully eccentric performances! Wonderful character actor Dub Taylor (The Wild Bunch) plays a trashy handyman. Another fine character actor, Anthony James (In the Heat of the Night), has a fun cameo as a spooky hearse driver.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

There are haunted house movies, and there are movies about houses that haunt people. That’s a small but important distinction. Burt Offerings belongs to the latter group. Granted, this isn’t the best of its kind, but I ended up liking the movie more than I expected. It’s a slow burner, but I was never bored. Above all, I found very interesting the similarities between Burt Offerings and The Shining. I definitely recommend it to people who enjoy old-fashioned thrills. Color, 116 minutes, Rated PG.

This is my contribution to The Home Sweet Home Blogathon, hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Taking Up Room.


24 responses to “Burnt Offerings (1976)

  1. Great article, Binford, you obviously enjoy this chiller as much as I do! Love watching all these actors work—glad you called out the eccentric performances of Heckart, Meredith and Dub Taylor…too much fun. It really is scary, too, I own the dvd but wont watch it alone late at night! The Chauffeur gives me the creeps! Dan Curtis’s best, even better than his Dark Shadows films (loved the series though). Oliver Reed gives the Shining’s Jack Nicholson a run for his money in the portrayal of a man going mad, Bette Davis and Lee H Montgomery are perfect, and Karen Black is amazingly quirky as always!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The last of the posts for the Home Sweet Home Blogathon – Realweegiemidget Reviews Films TV Books and more·

  3. Pingback: Home Sweet Home: Day Three – Taking Up Room·

  4. As a Dan Curtis and a dark shadows fan, I can’t believe I’ve never seen this movie!
    Thanks to your great review, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ll have to check this out. Contained stories like this are always interesting because there’s lots of room for character to show. And Bette Davis seemed tailor-made for horror movies–the intensity was right up her alley. Thanks for joining the blogathon with this terrific review! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I saw this years ago but don’t remember many of the details. I do recall the house slowly ‘possessing’ the family, in particular Karen Black. Obviously I am in need of a re-watch. Thanks for sparking my memory!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Via Diary of A Movie Maniac -Burnt Offerings (1976) – Fang and Saucer·

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