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Burnt Offerings [Oliver Reed, Karen Black]

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Burnt Offerings (1976) starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Burgess Meredith,
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Burnt Offerings (1976) starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Burgess Meredith

Burnt Offerings is a very different, and very effective, haunted house movie. At no time does the audience see any sort of ghost or malevolent entity. Only the effects on the people in the house, making it more frightening.

Burnt Offerings starts with a typical family: Father Ben Rolf (Oliver Reed, The Curse of the Werewolf), mother Marian (Karen Black, Five Easy Pieces), son David (Lee Montgomery), and Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis, All About Eve). They are entering a deal that seems too good to be true. The family rents a beautiful mansion for the entire summer for the insanely low price of nine hundred dollars.

They will be renting from brother Arnold Allardyce (Burgess Meredith, Clash of the Titans) and his sister Roz (Eileen Heckart, Heartbreak Ridge). But there’s one catch. The siblings’ mother, Mrs. Allardyce will be staying in her room all summer. And the Rolf family will have to prepare her meals and leave them outside her door. They’ll never even see her. The only other catch is that no one else is allowed to come to the house to clean it, etc. When Marian objects that it’s too large for one woman to look after, Roz replies with a very telling line:

Roz Allardyce: The house takes care of itself.

Gradual tension

The Rolf’s agree to this too-good-to-be-true bargain and move in. Shortly afterward, things begin to get strange — very gradually. Director Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) does an excellent job of slowly building up tension throughout the film. With numerous scenes that keep building the tension higher:

  • The near-drowning in the pool.
  • David’s near death from a gas leak.
  • The recurring image of the smiling chauffeur from the funeral of Ben’s mother, from when he was a young boy.

I won’t spoil the movie by saying any more, other than to say the collection of photos of previous tenants of the house has more meaning than you would think. Burnt Offerings is a very effective scary movie, with good performances all around, and I rate it four stars out of five.

Editorial review of Burnt Offerings courtesy of

Based on the Robert Marasco novel of the same name, Dan Curtis‘s eerie movie puts a spin on celluloid haunted-house sagas. The well-adjusted Rolf family (father Oliver Reed, mother Karen Black, aunt Bette Davis, and young son Lee H.  Montgomery) rent a huge old summer house only to find that its spirit is in control of the estate. The requisite sinister proceedings appear–including a possessed pool and the vision of a sinister hearse driver following Reed–that disrupt the family’s unity. Black also falls under the spell of an elderly woman whom she is required to take care of, but no one ever sees. While it may not be as overtly shocking as other ghost tales, Burnt Offerings has a creepiness that gets under your skin thanks to good performances and the dreamy, soft-focus photography. –Bryan Reesman

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