Burnt Offerings (1976)

MARCH 19, 2008

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

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?

13 comments:

  1. It is funny to read a review talking about how boring a movie is that scared the utter crap out of me as a kid - even funnier cause you made no mention of the part that scarred me for years!! That creepy ass chaufer messed me up, I was afraid he would just pop up like he did in the car with Oliver Reed well into my teens (and thought he would just show up in my back seat) once I started driving! He still creeps me out actually, and I am in my forties now! I guess it is all in the timing of when you see a movie, even if it is total crap!!

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    Replies
    1. I just read this response to your reply regarding Burnt Offerings. I realize it's now 2013! ;) Anyways, the reason I was looking at this review was because I was just defending this movie to my husband. We own the movie, he actually got it for me as a gift, romantic, huh?! I told him this movie scared me to death as a kid, and he had never seen it, so he surprised me with it. I am 39, and he is 34. So now that we own it, and we have for awhile now, he always makes fun of me for watching it. He doesn't get it. He says "it's not scary", "it's slow"... So this is why I appreciated your reply so much....you nailed it, and I did read it outloud to him!
      So if this email finds it way to you, thank you, fellow child of the 70's! :)

      Stephanie
      P.S. I still close my eyes when the chauffeur parts come up...chills!!

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    2. Ditto to both posts! Scared the living daylights right out of me.....cindy

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  2. From what I hear of Karen Black, she always comes off as full of herself, probably because in fact she IS. She's also famous for opening disparaging her horror film appearances, as if they are somehow beneath her amazing talents--never mind the fact that they're the only thing anybody remembers her for. (Well, that and maybe Airport 1975, as "the stewardess [who is] flying the plane!") I see on imdb she was in Easy Rider too, but despite my having seen that I don't remember her.

    But regardless, it all comes off as very condescending and ungrateful to her fans, imo.

    As for this movie, I hear it praised to hell and back, but like you I found it very boring. The finale is awesome, but would have been even more so had the movie been more tightly paced.

    Oh, and Oliver Reed gets more irresistible the drunker he gets. This is a scientific fact.

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  3. Ann-Marie,

    Chauffeur guy is definitely one of the film's few highlights... as for the timing, I've mentioned in a couple other reviews: I really hate that I've seen these movies out of "order", because while I didn't care much for Offerings, I probably liked a few films that came along after that were probably inspired by this film. So it's not "fair" in a way. :( And I know exactly how you feel; I hear kids today talk about how Rob Zombie's Halloween is scary while the original is "boring", and its all I can do to not throttle them!

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  4. I read the Robert Marasco novel, and it is exactly as boring and tepid as the movie, save the Reed decap at the climax. This is what mainstream '70s horror was until Stephen King, I suppose. Another similar slow-but-sorta-creepy-at-times movie from the same era is THE OTHER.

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  5. This movie scared me for years from the time I was 8 years old till almost 13 (At least it felt that long). I must have set a record for the most repetitive nightmare. For years I was chased around by Karen Black's ghastly white face from the end of the movie.
    I just watched it again tonight (6/29/08). She still creeps me out!
    My 6 year old almost came downstairs in the middle of it. I told him maybe in a couple years he can see it. Or do I want him too?

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  6. I saw this movie when it came out back in 1976 and the movie really scared me. I was an adult then . I saw the movie again a few days ago and it still creeps me out. The chauffeur guy is what really freaked me out and still does. That limo coming up the driveway--- really scares me. It might have been a little boring but in all, I thought it delivered on the horror, especially the ending.

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  7. This movie definitely had some chilling moments. I read a lot of comments on how scary the chauffeur was and I even saw a picture of him smiling, which I didn't think looked that scary. When I finally saw the movie, the chauffeur freakin creeped me out. It's so strange how something that isn't very supernatural or bloody can be so scary.

    Yeah, much of the movie can be considered slow, but I found myself liking it a lot more than The Changeling, which is considered by many to be a classic.

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  8. The one scene that stands out from when I first saw the movie when I was a kid on TV was the chauffeur coming up the driveway and Ben sitting drinking a beer. You could just feel him crapping his pants at that moment when the chauffeur looks and smiles at him. Freaky.

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  9. Obviously, you're not a big fan of subtle horror... it's blood n' guts = excitement, eh?

    Fucking moron...

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  10. Just watched this last night on Netflix and while I can certainly see where you're coming from, you seem to be predicated on your expectations as a modern horror movie watcher. To appreciate this I think you need to consider the time it was made. Now, I won't claim this is a great film, and much of your criticism holds, but I don't think it is as generally terrible as you seem to be writing it off as.

    Keep in mind this is two years before the first Halloween forever changed the landscape of popular horror movies. Stuff like Chainsaw and Last House was to the general population of kids and teens mostly the stuff of legend, truly underground. And the notion of 'twists' was not the convention that it is in our post-Sixth Sense world.

    This has more in common with The Haunting or The Innocents, slow burning dread, the question as to whether there is really something terrible happening or whether the leads are just going mad. In these terms I think the movie more succeeded than not.

    So, yeah, a lot of not-much-happening. And some weirdness that doesn't make much sense. But Black, Reed, Davis and Meredith competing to see who can eat more scenery is campy fun. There is a lot of genuine creepiness, and it doesn't mitigate the darkness in the name of good taste, i.e. bad shit happens to everyone including the kid. Sure I saw where it was going pretty quickly but was still fairly impressed with how they pulled it off.

    I wouldn't say this is a classic of the genre but it definitely deserves not to be forgotten.

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  11. @ Anon

    Name calling is dumb just because someone don't agree with you. This movie IS slow and boring.

    I know of other horror movies that have little to no gore that is scarier that this movie.

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