Burnt Offerings (film)

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Burnt Offerings
Burnt offerings movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed by Dan Curtis
Produced by Dan Curtis
Robert Singer
Written by Dan Curtis
William F. Nolan
Based on Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
Starring Karen Black
Oliver Reed
Bette Davis
Lee Montgomery
Anthony James
Burgess Meredith
Music by Bob Cobert
Cinematography Jacques R. Marquette
Editing by Dennis Virkler
Studio Produzioni Europee Associati
Dan Curtis Productions
Distributed by United Artists (1976), MGM Studios (current distributor)
Release dates
  • October 18, 1976 (1976-10-18)
Running time 116 min
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.56 million[1]

Burnt Offerings is a 1976 mystery horror film based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Robert Marasco.[2] 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 its occupants.

While the film was negatively reviewed by critics, it won several awards in 1977. It is the first movie to be filmed at the historic Dunsmuir House in Oakland, California.

Plot[edit]

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 their elderly aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis). The owners of the house are the Allardyce siblings, brother Arnold and sister Roz (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart respectively). The Allardyces inform their new tenants of a particularly odd requirement for their rental: the Allardyces' elderly 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 the mother, who gradually succumbs to the allure of the ornate house and its period decor. She becomes obsessed with caring for the home and begins to dress as if she is from the Victorian age. Of particular concern to her is the room outside Mrs. Allardyce's room with its huge collections of framed pictures 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 looking chauffeur whom he saw at his mother's funeral decades prior. With each "accident," the house regenerates itself. It gradually becomes clear that Marian is somehow being possessed or controlled by the house and that a malevolent force is slowly consuming the family. When Aunt Elizabeth suddenly takes ill and dies, Marian does not attend the funeral. She steps into a room that had previously contained barren and 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 Mrs. Allardyce's bedroom. 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, then awakens to the sound of old shingles falling off the home. Looking out the window he sees that the house is rejuvenating itself. He attempts to escape with David but a tree blocks the road. When Marian drives them back to the house Ben accuses her of being part of it. He 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 him, and agrees it is time to leave.

As Ben readies his family to leave the house, Marian decides to go back inside to tell Mrs. Allardyce that they are leaving. After she fails to return to the car Ben goes inside to get her, but cannot find her. Ben decides to confront the elderly Mrs. Allardyce, whom he has never seen face to face. Ben is horrified when he finds that his wife has somehow become the old woman in the attic, or perhaps always has been. 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 voices of the Allardyce siblings are heard marveling at the house's beauty and rejoicing over the return of their mother. Mrs. Allardyce's picture collection, is now shown to include photos of Ben, David and Aunt Elizabeth, the latest of the house's many victims.

Cast[edit]

Karen Black and Oliver Reed as Marian and Ben Rolf respectively.

Production[edit]

Filming took place in August 1975 at the Dunsmuir House located in Oakland, California.[3] 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."[4]

Bette Davis had conflicts as a supporting actress with Karen Black, because she felt that Black did not extend her an appropriate degree of respect, and that her behavior on the film set was unprofessional.[5]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Burnt Offerings received poor reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently holds a "Rotten" aggregate score of 38% based on 12 reviews.[6]

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."[7] 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."[2]

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."[8]

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."[9] 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."[10]

Awards[edit]

Award Subject Nominee Result
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

Home media[edit]

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,[11] and the Dolby Digital Mono audio that made the voices muddy and indistinct.

Soundtrack[edit]

Burnt Offerings
Soundtrack album by Robert Cobert
Released June 28, 2011
Genre Score
Length 01:05:22
Label Counterpoint

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.[12]

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.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Robert Cobert

No. Title Length
1. "Foreboding Evil"   1:32
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
7. "Funeral Dream"   1:28
8. "The Pool After Dark"   0:32
9. "Rendezvous Gone Wrong"   2:10
10. "Aunt Elizabeth Investigates"   2:06
11. "The Chauffeur"   1:04
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
17. "The Greenhouse"   0:26
18. "Rejuvenation and Attempted Escape"   2:44
19. "The Ride Back"   1:32
20. "Swimming Pool"   4:52
21. "Ben Confronts Terror"   1:43
22. "The Final Horror"   1:29
23. "A House Reborn/End Title"   3:08
24. "Marian Rolfe"   0:32
25. "House Eternal"   1:42
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
Total length:
01:05:22

References[edit]

  1. ^ Richard Nowell, Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle Continuum, 2011 p 256
  2. ^ a b Variety film review; August 25, 1976, page 20.
  3. ^ Thompson, Jeff (2009). The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis: Dark Shadows, the Night Stalker and Other Productions, 1966-2006. McFarland. p. 154. ISBN 0786453370. 
  4. ^ Burnt Offerings: Commentary (Media notes). Dan Curtis. MGM DVD. 2003. 
  5. ^ Spada, James (1993). More Than a Woman. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-90880-0. p 414. Accessed on July 31, 2013.
  6. ^ "Burnt Offerings". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 23, 2004). "Burnt Offerings: Movie Review". rogerebert.com. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  8. ^ Maçek III, J.C. "Burnt Offerings". WorldsGreatestCritic.com. 
  9. ^ Wright, Chris (February 24, 2011). "Burnt Offerings (1976): Movie Review". MoreHorror.com. Retrieved December 13, 2011. 
  10. ^ Donald Guarisco, Rovi. "Burnt Offerings: movie review". Movie Guide. Retrieved December 13, 2011. 
  11. ^ Jawetz, Gil (August 26, 2003). "Burnt Offerings: DVD Review". DVD Talk. Retrieved December 12, 2011. 
  12. ^ Garbarini, Todd (June 29, 2011). "SOUNDTRACK REVIEW: "BURNT OFFERINGS" - A HELL OF A GREAT SCORE". Cinema Retro. Retrieved December 14, 2011. 

External links[edit]