- Oliver Reed as Ben Rolf
- Karen Black as Marian Rolf
- Bette Davis as Aunt Elizabeth
- Lee H. Montgomery as Davey Rolf
- Burgess Meredith as Arnold Allardyce
- Eileen Heckart as Roz Allardyce
A haunted house horror/mystery that uses suggestion and enigmas to raise tension and atmosphere, Burnt Offerings is a seriously underrated chiller. Unease and the raising of hairs on the back of the neck are guaranteed in this effective movie.
The Rolf family; husband and wife Ben and Marian, their 12-year-old son Davey and elderly but sprightly Aunt Elizabeth, decide to take a summer vacation. They find a large house that is asking for tenants in California’s countryside. The house is marvellous, big in size and area, but a little dilapidated. Still, the reasonably cheap price to stay for the summer is very tempting. After meeting the slightly unusual brother and sister Arnold and Roz Allardyce, who own the house, Marian becomes insistent on staying there. Ben is not so sure, especially as they ask them to take care of their elderly mother. She never comes out of her living quarters, so they are just required to bring meals to her door. Ben eventually agrees after seeing how much Marian would love it. Upon arrival, have left for some vague reason. Making the place their own for the time that they have, the family settle in nicely . But the house soon reveals that it’s not the most hospitable place for guests and seems to have something evil inside it. Marian is the main person who is influenced in a malevolent manner by the old house, becoming obsessed with it, rejuvenating the old place and behaving alarmingly alienated towards her family. Other strange events unfold like a seemingly possessed Ben nearly drowning Davey in the pool, the greenhouse of dead flowers slowly coming back to life and Marian’s insistence that the house needs her. Everything seems to link to the very house itself, which appears to wield a strange power over all that enter. But just what can it want with the family and in particular Will any of the family truly discover the sinister secrets and shocks of the house? Or will the house itself get them before it is too late?
The creeping thrills and strange mystery are kept to a good level of skill by director Dan Curtis. The set up boats all the usual hallmarks of a haunted house movie, bit the mysterious approach and the fact that we aren’t hit over the head with overt explanations, makes Burnt Offerings a good and under appreciated entry into the genre. Just how and why the house is tormenting them is the main mysterious crux of Burnt Offerings. It is only gradually that the real intentions of the house come into the light. The photography is one if the highlights of Burnt Offerings; enveloping events in a dream like haze that starts out quite nicely and joyfully, then little by little gets to an ominous level of chilling intensity. I also liked how it was different from some haunting movies. In a lot of them, the haunting is designed to scare the people out, the malevolence actually wants to trap them for its own insidious purpose. To spoil the intention and designs of the house would be a major disservice to the creepy tone and uncomfortable events of Burnt Offerings. I will say that it is something very alarming and disturbing, yet done with degrees of exceptional subtlety and bubbling menace that make it pretty satisfying. The house is pretty much a character itself, though one that you really are t sure of. You know it’s evil because we’re in a horror movie, but the ways that it influences all, particularly Marian, is still pretty unsettling and spooky stuff. The slow burning pace is largely excellent in developing the evil of the house and building up numerous enigmatic angles. One little problem I had was that Burnt Offerings gets a bit leisurely in the middle half of the picture, when it should have some oomph in its engine. Saying that, it is redeemed quickly by what follows and the sensational climax of what is a really compelling horror mystery. Up and down strings and the old classic music box sound are in abundance, making Burnt Offerings suspenseful even when nothing unusual is happening. It’s that hint that something sinister will transpire that the score really works on.
Oliver Reed is his usual intense self as the husband under siege from the house, his dramatic approach lending itself well to the character’s eventual descent into tormented horror. Karen Black makes for a marvellously and genuinely creepy leading lady. Playing Marian, who becomes almost immediately entranced with the house, her unusual tics and mannerisms slowly emerge into something very alarming. It’s a credit to Black’s talent that you buy into how unusually obsessed and spine chilling Marian becomes, as her once genial persona starts to get more peculiar, mercurial and generally unstable as time passes. The great Bette Davis brings her professionalism and grand standing to the part of energetic Aunt Elizabeth, who is really the first to suspect something amiss in the house. It’s a supporting role, but when you have Davis, even in smaller roles she displays her immense talent and steals the scenes she is in. Lee H. Montgomery does the frightened child act well, while the brief but very memorable appearances of Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart as the unusual siblings who own the house, makes a deep impression and spooky one at that.
Spooky entertainment and creepy thrills abound in this slow-burning but extremely eerie horror film. If you like some haunted house horror, with mysterious overtones and good cast, Burnt Offerings is probably the flick for you.