Burnt Offerings (film)
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
|Directed by||Dan Curtis|
|Produced by||Dan Curtis
|Written by||Dan Curtis
William F. Nolan
|Based on||Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco|
|Music by||Bob Cobert|
|Cinematography||Jacques R. Marquette|
|Edited by||Dennis Virkler|
|Produzioni Europee Associati
Dan Curtis Productions
|Distributed by||United Artists (1976), MGM Studios (current distributor)|
|Running time||116 min|
|Box office||$1.56 million|
Burnt Offerings is a 1976 mystery horror film based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Robert Marasco. Directed by Dan Curtis, the film stars Burgess Meredith, Karen Black, Oliver Reed, and Bette Davis. The story concerns a family who moves into an old house that rejuvenates itself by means of feeding off the life force of whichever occupant is most in sync with the house's energy. Other family members are all killed off, with the survivor awaiting a new family. While the film was negatively reviewed by critics, it won several awards in 1977. Originally set on Long Island, the movie moves the action to California and was the first movie to be filmed at Dunsmuir House, Oakland, California.
The Rolf family takes a vacation at a large, shabby neo-classical 1890s mansion in the California countryside. The family consists of Marian (Karen Black), her husband Ben (Oliver Reed), their young son David (Lee Montgomery), and Ben's elderly aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis). The owners of the house are the Allardyce siblings, Arnold and Roz (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart); there is also an apparent caretaker called Walker. The Allardyces inform the Rolfs of a particularly odd requirement for their rental: their mother will continue to live in her upstairs room and the Rolfs are to provide her with meals during their stay. The siblings explain that the old woman is obsessed with privacy and will not interact with them, so meals are to be left outside her door. As it turns out, this task falls to Marian, who gradually succumbs to the allure of the ornate house and its period decor. She becomes obsessed with caring for the home, begins to dress as if she is from the Victorian age and distances herself from her family. Of particular concern to her is a room near the bedroom of "Mrs. Allardyce", which contains collections of framed pictures of former residents and a music box.
Various "accidents" occur during the summer. While playing in the pool Ben almost drowns their son, a gas heater in David's bedroom is mysteriously turned on and the windows closed. Ben is haunted by a dream and a waking vision of an eerie, grinning, malevolent chauffeur whom he first saw at his mother's funeral many years earlier. With each "accident", the house regenerates itself. It gradually becomes clear that Marian is becoming possessed by the spirit of the house. When Aunt Elizabeth suddenly takes ill and dies, Marian does not attend the funeral. She steps into a previously barren room with half-dead flowers only to discover a beautiful, ornate garden. Upon returning home from the funeral, Ben confronts Marian, who retreats to the room outside the bedroom of "Mrs. Allardyce". Ben angrily confronts her about her obsession with the home and what the home is doing to their family. When she denies it he reveals to her his intentions of leaving the next day, "with or without you". Ben sleeps in an armchair in his son's room but awakens to the sound of old shingles falling off the house. Looking out the window he sees that the house is rejuvenating itself. He attempts to escape with his son but a tree blocks the road. When Marian drives them back to the house Ben accuses her of being a part of what is going on, and then sees her as the chauffeur, and becomes catatonic. The next day, while David is swimming and Ben is watching him, the placid pool turns into angry, vicious waves, pulling the boy under as Ben is unable to move. Marian frantically saves her son and agrees that it's time to leave.
As Ben readies his family to leave, Marian decides to go back inside to tell "Mrs. Allardyce" they are leaving. When she fails to return to the car Ben goes inside to get her, but cannot find her. Ben decides to confront "Mrs. Allardyce", whom he has never seen face to face. Ben is horrified when he finds that his wife is now the old woman in the attic. Ben is thrown from an attic window, landing on the windshield of his car. In shock, David runs toward the house and is killed when one of the chimneys falls on him. With the house now fully rejuvenated and glistening like new, the Allardyce siblings and Walker magically reappear and are heard marveling at the house's beauty and rejoicing over the return of their "mother". The photo collection now includes photos of Ben, David and Aunt Elizabeth, the latest of the house's many victims.
- Karen Black - Marian Rolf
- Oliver Reed - Ben Rolf
- Lee Montgomery - David Rolf
- Bette Davis - Elizabeth Rolf
- Burgess Meredith - Arnold Allardyce
- Eileen Heckart - Roz Allardyce
- Dub Taylor - Walker
- Anthony James - Chauffeur
Filming took place in August 1975 at the Dunsmuir House located in Oakland, California. Burnt Offerings was the first movie to be filmed at the Dunsmuir House. According to a commentary with Dan Curtis, William F. Nolan, and Karen Black, Curtis reveals that his rationale for the fog machine was to be able to shoot "motes."
Movie critic Roger Ebert called the film "a mystery, all right", concluding "Burnt Offerings just persists, until it occurs to us that the characters are the only ones in the theater who don't know what's going to happen next." Variety stated "The horror is expressed through sudden murderous impulses felt by Black and Reed, a premise which might have been interesting if director Dan Curtis hadn't relied strictly on formula treatment."
PopMatters and WorldsGreatestCritic.com journalist J.C. Maçek III wrote "Those plans may seem quite familiar to many audiences today, not because Burnt Offerings is derivative in any way, but because Burnt Offerings has been imitated in so very many ways. Yes, small elements may have appeared in superior works like The Shining and lesser experiments such as The Amityville Horror, but other films have borrowed entire plot elements wholesale from this tale to the point that the rich originality Burnt Offerings must have enjoyed in 1976 is somewhat dulled all these decades later."
In contrast, Chris Wright of MoreHorror.com praised the film's plot, stating "A simple yet original plot for a movie that is done so well. The acting is superb from all the actors. The low tone music adds a strikingly eerie presence to the movie." Rovi Donald Guarisco of Movie Guide called the film "worthy of rediscovery by the horror fans who missed it the first time", concluding "In the end, Burnt Offerings is probably a bit too methodical in its pacing for viewers accustomed to slam-bang approach of post-'70s horror fare but seasoned horror fans will find plenty to enjoy in this film's subtle charms."
|Saturn Awards||Best Horror Film||Won|
|Best Director||Dan Curtis|
|Best Supporting Actress||Karen Black|
|Sitges Film Festival||Best Director||Dan Curtis|
|Best Actor||Burgess Meredith|
|Best Actress||Karen Black|
In 2003, MGM released a region 1 DVD of Burnt Offerings. The original video shape is in wide screen (16:9) and also features an audio commentary with Dan Curits, Karen Black and William F. Nolan. The DVD was also poorly received. Reviewers criticized the video quality, which appeared to have been shot with soft focus, and the Dolby Digital Mono audio that made the voices muddy and indistinct.
|Soundtrack album by Robert Cobert|
|Released||June 28, 2011|
Like most other Dan Curtis works, the music for Burnt Offerings was composed and conducted by Robert Cobert. In 2011, years after the film's release, the original full soundtrack album was released by Counterpoint and was limited to only 1,000 copies. The album features all of Cobert's original score, plus alternate tracks not used in the film including two alternate Music Box Themes. The CD booklet is 20 pages long and illustrated with photos taken on the set of the film during production. An original suite of the film's soundtrack can be found on the 2000 Robert Cobert collection album The Night Stalker and Other Classic Thrillers.
All songs written and composed by Robert Cobert.
|2.||"Memories of a Lifetime"||2:06|
|3.||"17 Shore Road"||2:08|
|4.||"Mrs. Allardyce's Room"||0:53|
|5.||"Music Box Theme"||2:50|
|6.||"Danger at the Pool"||2:53|
|8.||"The Pool After Dark"||0:32|
|9.||"Rendezvous Gone Wrong"||2:10|
|10.||"Aunt Elizabeth Investigates"||2:06|
|12.||"The Clocks Restart/The Gas Leaks"||0:50|
|13.||"Marian & Aunt Elizabeth's Quarrel"||2:06|
|14.||"Aunt Elizabeth Falls Ill"||4:42|
|15.||"Music Box Theme"||1:29|
|16.||"Terror Up the Stairs"||2:19|
|18.||"Rejuvenation and Attempted Escape"||2:44|
|19.||"The Ride Back"||1:32|
|21.||"Ben Confronts Terror"||1:43|
|22.||"The Final Horror"||1:29|
|23.||"A House Reborn/End Title"||3:08|
|26.||"Family in Danger"||1:35|
|27.||"Main Title (Outtake)"||3:18|
|28.||"Music Box Theme (Piano Version 1)"||2:51|
|29.||"Alternate Music Box Theme #1 (Celesta Version)"||1:06|
|30.||"Alternate Music Box Theme #2 (Piano Version 2)"||2:21|
|31.||"Music Box Theme (shorter version)"||2:37|
|32.||"Main Title (Reprise-Outtake)"||0:45|
- Richard Nowell, Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle Continuum, 2011 p 256
- Variety film review; August 25, 1976, page 20.
- Thompson, Jeff (2009). The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis: Dark Shadows, the Night Stalker and Other Productions, 1966-2006. McFarland. p. 154. ISBN 0786453370.
- Burnt Offerings: Commentary (Media notes). Dan Curtis. MGM/DVD. 2003.
- Spada, James (1993). More Than a Woman. Little, Brown and Company; ISBN 0-316-90880-0, page 414; accessed July 31, 2013.
- "Burnt Offerings". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Ebert, Roger (October 23, 2004). "Burnt Offerings: Movie Review". rogerebert.com. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Maçek, III, J.C. "Burnt Offerings". WorldsGreatestCritic.com.
- Wright, Chris (February 24, 2011). "Burnt Offerings (1976): Movie Review". MoreHorror.com. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
- Donald Guarisco, Rovi. "Burnt Offerings: movie review". Movie Guide. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
- Jawetz, Gil (August 26, 2003). "Burnt Offerings: DVD Review". DVD Talk. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Garbarini, Todd (June 29, 2011). "SOUNDTRACK REVIEW: "Burnt Offerings - a Hell of a Great Score"". Cinema Retro. Retrieved December 14, 2011.