Directed by Dan Curtis [Other horror films: House of Dark Shadows (1970), Night of Dark Shadows (1971), The Night Strangler (1973), The Norliss Tapes (1973), The Invasion of Carol Enders (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), Dracula (1974), The Turn of the Screw (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Dead of Night (1977), Curse of the Black Widow (1977), Intruders (1992), Trilogy of Terror II (1996)]
Ah, good ole’ Burnt Offerings.
I can imagine that to a modern-day audience, Burnt Offerings can come across as overly drawn out and unnecessarily lengthy. At almost two hours long, one could almost see their point, were it not for the fact that Burnt Offerings is fantastic from beginning to end.
Ever since I first saw this one, it stuck with me long after I saw it. To be sure, a large part of this was due almost singularly to the character of The Chauffeur (Anthony James), who has been my Twitter banner, and occasionally my avatar on various sites, since seeing this, but even ignoring what a great character James was, the story’s slow pacing and steadily increasing unease is some of the best slow-burn I’ve seen in a long time.
Another thing that can’t go unmentioned is the stellar cast. Karen Black and Oliver Reed (Paranoiac) do phenomenally, Reed in particular during the pool sequences. Of course, Burgess Meredith was nice to see in his brief scenes, and I’ll talk more about Anthony James’ performance shortly, but I think the real star here, once you get past Black and Reed, would be Bette Davis.
Though close to 70 at the time this movie came out, Davis was just fantastic as a strong, older woman full of energy only to find that, the longer she stayed at the house, the more she felt drained. She became forgetful and fearful, and her youthful exuberance dissipated almost entirely. The argument she had with Black’s character about whether or not she turned the heat on in the room of Black’s son was a tense one, and really showed the strength of both actresses present. Davis, of course, also starred in both What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, both of which are very much classics themselves.
Anthony James’ The Chauffeur didn’t pop up that often, but pretty much every time he did, talk about tense scenes. It’s amazing that a character with no dialogue and so few on-screen sequences can make such an impression, but James managed it, and managed it beautifully. His scenes are great, and whenever he pops up, you’re in for a heart-racing time.
Are there some unexplained questions? Sure, and even the ending, while pretty solid, probably could have been cleaned up a little, but at the same time, I thought it gave a fantastic element of suspense, and though I didn’t end up loving the conclusion, I definitely felt that it was still worth the wait.
All-in-all, Burnt Offerings is probably one of my favorite of the more traditional haunted house films, beating out great films (The Innocents, though to be fair, this is more of a tie) and others (The Legend of Hell House, 1963’s The Haunting) to really stand out solidly for both the decade of the 1970’s and the genre overall.
This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I review Burnt Offerings.