MARCH 19, 2008
What was with audiences in the 70s? Were they just too stoned to pay attention to anything? Let’s Scare Jessica To Death hinged on us not noticing that someone in a picture from 100 years ago was clearly the same person who had latched onto our heroine, and now Burnt Offerings expects us to be surprised that a mysterious old woman who no one ever sees doesn’t actually exist. Wow, really? A REAL twist would have the woman turn out to be real, since anyone with half a brain would know right from the start that the lass simply wasn’t there.
At least Jessica had the good sense to be nice and short (82 minutes vs Offerings’ 115), so the fact that not a lot was happening wasn’t too big of a problem. That’s not the case here, as until the batshit (and admittedly awesome) finale, the grand total of “things happening” in the first 100 minutes is 3: Oliver Reed smacks his kid around for no reason, an old woman dies, and some clocks speed ahead 25 minutes. The rest of the time, the movie just sort of hangs out in itself; we watch Reed and Karen Black do chores, look at photos, do other chores, and talk about doing chores. Black even spurns Reed’s advances at one point, despite telling him that he is “incredibly sexy” (drunk is the new hot, I guess), because making love would probably be considered too much action for this movie.
And it’s a bummer, because the first ten minutes had me believing I was in for some Manitou style hilarity (the trailer for the film certainly suggests a much more exciting ride, as it consists entirely of the 2-3 minutes’ worth of horror/action the film has). Burgess Meredith’s cameo (and it IS a cameo, despite his 3rd billing, since he never appears in the film again) is delightful, as he rolls around in his wheelchair, laughing at just about everything and watching the movie’s resident kid get seriously injured without telling his parents. But after he leaves, other than the occasional odd delivery that you come to expect from Reed, the movie becomes almost painfully dull. And the fact that it’s shot like a porno doesn’t help; when I see a soft focus bedroom, I certainly expect a scene that contains more than some minor disagreement over when one should wake up in the morning.
It’s also pretty repetitious. After the scene where Reed throttles the kid around, he talks to Black about how he’s afraid of “it happening again.” They proceed to have this EXACT SAME CONVERSATION in the next two scenes. Three times in a row we hear this, but then they make it even more annoying by never even explaining what the fuck they are referring to (unless they did so in the 30 seconds or so that it took me to go into the kitchen to grab a box of Peeps). But even if that is the case – the whole incident is never brought up again. From that point on, Reed seems to be relatively safe from the evil house’s influence, which I must admit was a relief; far too many haunted house movies have the father go nuts. No one really goes insane in this movie, but Black is certainly more “taken” by the house’s evil ways than anyone else. Women be crazy too!
Like I said a while before (hey, long movie = long review), the finale is what saves this movie. We get the traditional attempt to escape/”the house won’t let us leave” sequence, only with a nice twist (though this movie precedes many of the other haunted house movies I’ve seen, so I guess it’s not really a twist, just a forgotten “thing filmmakers should do”). Reed is driving away, and then the usual roadblock (a tree, in this case) appears. But rather than turn around or whatever, Reed just starts ramming the tree with his car. Finally! A proactive action against easily circumvented barriers! As a lifelong player of video games, where you are often kept from exploring by a box on the ground or a knee high fence, it’s nice to see a scene in any medium where the characters aren’t so easily foiled by these types of things.
The very end is also amazing. After 114 minutes, we deserve something, and Dan Curtis delivers – a near decapitation (and complete death) of one major character, and then another is crushed to death by a falling chimney. Yeah! Hilariously, on the commentary track, Curtis comments “Without that ending, the film wouldn’t have worked.” What a pointless thing to say. No movie works without its ending! And especially THIS movie, since the final 60 seconds contains the film’s only saving grace. Just as hilarious, he reveals that he chopped out the film’s original 15 minute opening because it was “too slow and boring.” Yeah, unlike the rollercoaster ride that is the rest of the movie. Nothing says excitement like Oliver Reed fixing a water pump!
The rest of the track is like the movie itself – just when you’re about to shut it off out of boredom, something interesting occurs, providing just enough good will to get you to the next instance (never courtesy of Karen Black, who comes off as someone pretty full of herself and constantly interrupts Curtis to point out something like her gray hair or visible pregnancy bump). Even shaving a half hour out of the film would barely help – they really needed to rethink the whole “woman in the room” angle and maybe add a gardener or someone who could be dispatched early on so that you wouldn’t forget you were watching a horror movie (instead, they just play creepy music over non-creepy imagery).
What say you?