Burnt Offerings (film)

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Burnt Offerings
Burnt offerings movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed byDan Curtis
Produced byDan Curtis
Robert Singer
Written byDan Curtis
William F. Nolan
Based onBurnt Offerings
by Robert Marasco
Music byBob Cobert
CinematographyJacques R. Marquette
Edited byDennis Virkler
Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA)
Dan Curtis Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 18, 1976 (1976-10-18)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.56 million[1]

Burnt Offerings is a 1976 American mystery horror film co-written and directed by Dan Curtis and starring Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Bette Davis, and Lee H. Montgomery, with Eileen Heckart, Burgess Meredith and Anthony James in smaller roles. It is based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Robert Marasco.[2] The story concerns a family who moves into an old house with a strange history.

While the film received mixed reviews from critics, it won several awards in 1977. Originally set on Long Island, New York, the movie moves the action to California and was the first movie to be filmed at Dunsmuir House in Oakland, California.


The Rolf (spelled "Rolfe" in the novel) family, who live in a cramped apartment in Queens, New York, takes a bargain-priced summer-long vacation at a large, shabby, remote neo-classical 19th-century mansion at the far eastern end of the North Fork of Suffolk County, Long Island. The address is 17 Shore Road. The family consists of housewife Marian (Karen Black), her teacher husband Ben (Oliver Reed), and their 12-year-old son Davey (Lee H. Montgomery). Ben's elderly Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), who enjoys painting, joins them. The owners of the house are the Allardyce siblings, Arnold and Roz (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart); there is also Walker (Dub Taylor), a caretaker.

The Allardyces inform the Rolfs of a particularly odd requirement for their rental: Their elderly mother, who they claim is 85 but could pass for 60, 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. Marian eagerly accepts this task, having begun to succumb to the allure of the ornate house and its period decor. She becomes obsessed with caring for the home, begins to wear the Victorian era garb she finds in Mrs. Allardyce's suite, and increasingly distances herself from her family. Of particular interest to her is a room near the bedroom of Mrs. Allardyce, which contains collections of framed portraits of people from different eras, presumably former occupants of the house, and a music box. Mrs. Allardyce's meals go uneaten or "barely" eaten, according to Marian, who expresses concern. Various unusual circumstances occur during the summer: After Ben cuts his hand on a champagne bottle, a dead light bulb in the kitchen storeroom mysteriously is revived; while playing in the pool, Ben almost drowns Davey; a gas heater in Davey's bedroom turns itself on and the windows lock shut; Ben is haunted by a dream and a waking vision of an eerie, malevolently grinning hearse driver (Anthony James) whom Ben first saw or thought he saw at his mother's funeral many years earlier. With each "accident", the house renews itself.

Initially unknown to her family, 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. Ben and Davey return to the house after the funeral. Ben confronts Marian, who retreats to the room outside Mrs. Allardyce's bedroom. Ben angrily confronts her about what her obsession with the house is doing to their family. When she denies it, he reveals 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 Davey is swimming and a still catatonic Ben is watching him, the placid pool turns into angry, vicious waves, pulling the boy under as Ben is unable to move. Only Marian has the power to save her son. She dives in and rescues him, and the incident awakens Ben out of his catatonic state. Marian agrees that it's time to leave.

As Ben readies his family to leave, Marian insists on going back inside to tell Mrs. Allardyce they are leaving and give her their phone number. When Marian 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, Davey 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 restored beauty of their home and rejoicing over the return of their "mother". The photo collection now includes photos of Ben, Davey and Aunt Elizabeth, the latest victims.



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 shoot "motes."[4]

Bette Davis reportedly had conflicts with Karen Black, feeling that Black did not extend to her an appropriate degree of respect and that her behavior on the film set was unprofessional.[5] Davis also disliked Oliver Reed's noisy drunken escapades, frequently waking her up in the middle of the night when he returned from his carousing to the hotel where the actors all stayed during filming.[citation needed]

Prior to Curtis's taking the role of director, the producers of the film offered Bob Fosse, who fresh off directing his recent film at the time, Sweet Charity to direct the film next. Fosse was intrigued with the project and saw it as a challenge to direct a non-musical and a dark horror story, which wasn't his milieu. Fosse was especially interested in the story's central question; How much of a beating can a happy family withstand? Fosse and the producers settled on a summer 1970 shoot date, Fosse took a trip to California to look for his haunted mansion. Eventually, Fosse's involvement with the project never materialized and he went on to direct Cabaret, instead.[citation needed]

Critical reception[edit]

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."[6] 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]

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."[7] 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..."[8]


Award Subject Nominee Result
Saturn Awards Best Horror Film Won
Best Director Dan Curtis
Best Supporting Actress Bette Davis
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 Curtis, Karen Black and William F. Nolan. The DVD was poorly received. Reviewers criticized the video quality, which appeared to have been shot with soft focus,[9] and the Dolby Digital Mono audio that made the voices muddy and indistinct.

A Blu-ray of the film was released on October 6, 2015 by Kino Lorber.


Burnt Offerings
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJune 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 3,000 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.[10] 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 tracks written by Robert Cobert.

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


  1. ^ Richard Nowell, Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle, Continuum, 2011, pg. 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 [1976].
  5. ^ Spada, James (1993). More Than a Woman. Little, Brown and Company; ISBN 0-316-90880-0, page 414; accessed July 31, 2013.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 23, 2004). "Burnt Offerings: Movie Review". rogerebert.com. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
  7. ^ Wright, Chris (February 24, 2011). "Burnt Offerings (1976): Movie Review". MoreHorror.com. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  8. ^ Donald Guarisco, Rovi. "Burnt Offerings: movie review". Movie Guide. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  9. ^ Jawetz, Gil (August 26, 2003). "Burnt Offerings: DVD Review". DVD Talk. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
  10. ^ Garbarini, Todd (June 29, 2011). "SOUNDTRACK REVIEW: "Burnt Offerings - a Hell of a Great Score"". Cinema Retro. Retrieved December 14, 2011.

External links[edit]