FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE...beware yon spoilers!

Jan 13, 2011

Burnt Offeringzzzzzzzzzzz

I always want to like Burnt Offerings (1976) more than I actually do. Or maybe I think I should enjoy it more than I do, or that it's better than I think it is and I just don't get it. I mean, I dig it in its own way- that way being a campy one. But wahhh, I want to like it in a scary The Haunting kind of way and I never really do. Life, she is so very hard sometimes.

City folk Ben and Marian Rolf rent a sprawling, sorta-dilapidated manse for the summer from a very odd duo, the Allardyce siblings. The property comes super cheap, but with a caveat: they must care for the Mother Allardyce, who is safely tucked away in a room upstairs and won't be any sort of a bother, honest. Now if it it were me, I'd go running at that little addendum to the lease terms, but not the Rolfs! Instead, they pack up their young son, Ben's Aunt Elizabeth, and their stuff and they move in.

Before long, things get a bit hinky at stately Allardyce Manor. Marian enjoys cleaning and leaving trays of food out for Mrs. Allardyce a little too much; when he's not trying to drown his son in the pool, Ben has recurring dreams of a smiling hearse chauffeur; Aunt Elizabeth begins to lose her life sparkle. And speaking of Mrs. Allardyce, no one has actually seen her at all...

Aside: I now want to start some sort of company called Life Sparkle, obviously to be geared toward women. I'm a little fuzzy on specifics, but it will involve life-coaching, sweatsuits, and diet tips.

Marian, fantasizing about Antiques Roadshow

Now reading all that, you'd think that Burnt Offerings would rock- nay, it would blast my face off with the scariness. I loves me a good haunted house, and I loves loves me movies featuring unseen relatives tucked away somewhere. I loves me a nicely-paced 70s horror flick, and those from director Dan Curtis in particular never fail to bring me joy. Unfortunately, watching Burnt Offerings is usually like this for me:

"... ... ... okay ... ... ... wow, what a fucking great last ten minutes!"

By the way, "..." isn't Braille. They're meant to indicate long periods where I just sort of sit there.

So is it me? Is it the movie? Both? Neither? I can never figure out the issue. The chauffeur is meant to be creepy, I know, but I actually find him rather goofy. I think Karen Black and Oliver Reed are fine and treat the material with more gravitas than it probably deserves. Reed, in particular, is fantastic at just plain playing scared. Burgess Meredith chews the eff out of his one scene as an Allardyce sib, and as dotty old Aunt Elizabeth, Bette Davis is...well. Somehow in the post Baby Jane years, she became a sort of Scooby-Doo version of herself, didn't she? In movies like Burnt Offerings and Scream, Pretty Peggy, you can tell she just sort of didn't give a fuck anymore. She didn't care about whatever makeup they'd put her in (or not put her in), or what the script was. Her very presence is enough to satisfy, and she smokes for a while and calls it a day. Mind you, these are not complaints- quite the opposite, in fact. She's great in that Bette Davis: The Later Years kind of way she had. You know what I'm talkin' 'bout, Willis.


I still can't figure it out, Burnt Offerings: is it you, or is it me? Maybe it's you...but I know I'll always blame me. I'll trot you out every so often for another go, thinking "I didn't fall in love last time, but oh, this time! This time will be the time!" We have a weird relationship, don't we Burnt Offerings? It's like I married someone I don't find physically attractive, or someone I don't love. If I just hold out long enough and try super hard, my feelings will change! Won't they? If only Life Sparkle already existed...surely the advice columnist there could help me out!

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can really relate to what you're saying. I love burnt offerings. It's one of those movies though that i never bust out the dvd - but if its on tv i HAVE to watch it. Like i signed a 70s horror contract - or maybe its a Karen Black contract. Its never as truly awesome as I tell myself it is - but theres that thing it has, I cant quite put it into words, that makes me watch it again and again.
deb

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

I have always passionately loved Burnt Offerings. It could be that I first saw it hosted by drag queen Hedda Lettuce. Or it could be that Eileen Heckart (that is drunk Mrs. Daigle from The Bad Seed, if you're wondering) was so weird and smokery in that early scene. Or it could be Karen Black's eye. What can I say?

However, then something really horrible happened while I was watching it, and now I can't bear to se it.

Whatever will I do.

Michael Williams said...

The commercials for Burnt Offerings used to terrify my eleven year-year-old behind; that chauffeur with the casket was majorly creepy cool. Of course my parents wouldn't take me to see it, so now it languishes on my Netflix queue.

BTW, put me down for one of those Life Sparkle parties.

Andrew Green said...

Meh, I never liked this one, either....
I don't blame you.

Anonymous said...

Glad someone mentioned Eileen Heckart (I drove all the way to Niagara Falls years ago to meet her at a film festival, my love for her based solely on this film, and THE BAD SEED). She really gets this thing rolling, then takes her leave before the ship sinks with the rest of the crew on board ("smokes for a while and calls it a day" as you so aptly put it). I do like this movie, though, but it does have faults that can't be denied. I even read the book, only to discover it was more ambiguous than the movie in not just situations, but in over-all genre. At least Curtis made it into something we can identify as a "horror" movie. The novel is strangly lacking a catagory to be shelved in.
Craig

Robert H. said...

With the recent housing crisis, you could watch it as a black comedy, rather than as a horror movie...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review as usual Stacie. Last night's episode of The Scare-ening was great, I'm so glad you ladies are back! And thank you for the Bad Girls Club reference!

Kirk H said...

I've always thought of it as THE SHINING-lite. Reed and Black are great (and Karen is truly creepy at the end), the boy is good and kudos for the unmerciful, violent, crushing end he doesn't deserve, but gets anyway. Dan Curtis's direction is...meh. Some nice low angles and elegant camera moves here and there, but the overall visual tone is marred by that hedious fucking "gauzey/frosted-filter" effect that some films of the era had- that look is just NOT scary and more apt for a period romance than anything. And Dan Curtis was kind of a Jerk-A-Saurus Rex; he's had that rep for decades and even those that support him will acknowledge that. Listen to the DVD commentary with Curtis, Karen Black and the writer...I don't know how they put up with his cranky ass brow-beating them on the shoot or at the commentary session. I wanted Karen to throw a hard elbow into him and hear an audible thump on the track.

Stacie Ponder said...

I really liked the kid- he wasn't at all annoying, which was a bit of a shock. And the poor guy had the worst summer EVER. :D

Within 3 seconds of Eileen Heckart opening her mouth, I mentioned how I hope I sound just like her in 30 years. I'd better start smoking and get some nodes going!

dfordoom said...

I'm not really a Dan Curtis fan, but I like Burnt Offerings quite a bit. Of course it would be impossible for me not to like any movie with Ollie Reed, Karen Black and Bette Davis.

Rob said...

Wow, for the first time in ever, I have to disagree with you, Ms. Ponder-Burnt Offerings really creeps me out.Always has, since I was a kid. For one thing, moms don't start being cold and mean to their children all of a sudden. And for another, dads don't just SIT THERE when their kids are (almost) drowning in the pool. (I mean, come ON, wouldn't any sane parent pack up the tots and hit the road for Camp Crystal Lake after some of these events?). Very funny review ("Bette Davis is...well. Somehow in the post Baby Jane years, she became a sort of Scooby-Doo version of herself, didn't she? In movies like Burnt Offerings and Scream, Pretty Peggy, you can tell she just sort of didn't give a fuck anymore."
Too funny, but seriously, you weren't freaked out at just the SOUND of the casket bumping up the stairs?
Er, guess it's just me then. And I'm REALLY not happy that the kid died at the end-he shoulda high-tailed it outta there and left his miserable parents to their fates. So much for my happy ending.

Stacie Ponder said...

There's definitely some good stuff in there, don't get me wrong. I think the idea, like I sais, is that "I think I should enjoy it more than I do". I just don't love it, is all...but I do love the idea of it, of the house sucking the life out of its inhabitants to feed itself, basically. And how there always has to be a "mother".

Overall, it's enjoyable but I'm not in love with it.

Anonymous said...

Also, forgot to mention, how can you not just LOVE Oliver Reed? The Brood is one of the greatest movies of all time!
deb

Emily said...

I watched it for the first time last year and loved it, which says something since I'm normally not a big slow burn or haunted house fan. Then again, that might be why. This isn't REALLY a haunted house film, it's more about characters (well, Karen Black) being taken over by this force. The commentary helps a lot, since the director and Black discuss this sense of being possessed by THINGS, the idea of antiques and music boxes and velvet robes. I don’t know, I found that fascinating.

Plus, Oliver Reed plays the sane responsible one! THAT’s impressive!

goblin said...

I caught the last ten minutes of 'Burnt Offerings' on TV a couple of years ago, and even without knowing the rest of the film, the ending scared the ever living crap out of me. Then, about two years ago, I watched the whole thing and while it wasn't as good as I had expected it to be, I still liked the movie quite a lot. You're right, 'Burnt Offerings' is somewhat long-drawn-out. Nothing much ever really happens during the middle part. But I love this film anyway. So much so, in fact, that I included it in my Shocktober Top 20 list. The ending is just so utterly terrifying that it makes up for its shortcomings. Also, like you, Stacie, I really dig the whole "house feeding off of its inhabitants" thing. There should be more haunted house movies like this.

Anonymous said...

I really think this is what King had in mind when writing THE SHINING - and inadvertantly, there it is reappearing, in Kubrik's take on it, in the final frames of his telling of The Shining - I doubt King wanted us to look here - the trees are alive, the building has been waiting and needs the central character, etc - he wanted us to look at The Haunting of Hill House... but everytime I watch BUrnt Offerings I keep wanting to re-read the King book - and I wish Kubrik was alive so I could ask him if he cribbed the end of his film from here... Chris

John Seal said...

I'm with you on Burnt Offerings. I've watched it at least four times (mostly because some exteriors were filmed locally), and always come away disappointed (except for Bette Davis, who is awesome).

G.A. Redman said...

The only suspense this movie generates is whether or not Oliver Reed will sweat himself to death.

Anonymous said...

I always confuse this with 'Midnight Offerings' - the teen witch/bitch movie with Melissa Sue Anderson. Which oddly, I like a lot better than 'Burnt Offerings'.

I am The Son of Madblood said...

...and, when I got to that last photo - I briefly thought I was looking at Rodney Dangerfield.. "Hey, everybody - we're all gonna get laid!"

dementia13 said...

I saw this when it came out, and again a few years ago. I liked it better the second time, but it's still missing something. I love that Bette Davis is in it. That grinning chauffeur is the best thing about it. It's a shame nobody else I know has seen this, because it would be fun to creep them out by driving past them grinning like that.

Eddie the Head said...

I just saw this tonight and thought that it was good, but definetly slow, it might have worked better as a t.v. movie. If you take notice, the family's problems were beginning to bubble up and the house took advantage of it.