Burnt Offerings spirals a summer vacation into madness and decay.
Burnt Offerings is a supernatural gothic horror film, about a family celebrating a relaxed summer vacation in the country, but they soon find themselves stuck in a nightmare. It’s a very subtle horror film, that is highly visceral in nature and shows the slowly descend into madness and decay of a perfectly normal and happy family. It’s a haunted house film with a very original premise that is based on the book of the same name written by Robert Marasco.
Burnt Offerings offers an eerie watch that has a very surprising and gruesome ending. With some surreal nightmarish images, a mysterious old woman hidden away in a room and strange behavior that takes over the father, it’s subtle, psychological and very supernatural indeed, that slowly creeps up on you.
The Rolf family, father Ben, mother Marian, son David and auntie Elizabeth want to spent the summer away from the dusty noisy city and rent a mansion in the country. While it looks a little decrepit and the owners, brother and sister Arnold and Roz Allardyce seem a bit odd but very nice, are happy to rent them the house. But there is one small catch, their mother who lives in a room on the first floor has to be cared for and Marian has to bring her three meals a day which she can leave in front of Mother’s bedroom door.
With a larder full of food, that will last all summer, a swimming pool, the sea at the foot of the cliffs and a big house full of peace and quiet all for themselves, they eagerly take it. But besides Mother, the house hides something else. Something dark and sinister and it will turn their happy stay into a nightmare descending into madness and decay.
Why you should watch it
Burnt Offerings is filled with subtle horror that mostly plays out between the characters. Ben’s behavior is getting violent and strange, he seems distracted. Marian becomes more and more occupied with the house, treating it like it’s her own, also behaving very strangely, even dressing differently. While Auntie and David are mostly victims of the circumstances. Every one is slowly getting worse, even Auntie’s health is suddenly deteriorating. While Marian’s behavior is the most subtle, Ben’s odd behavior is the most noticeable. His dreams and hallucinations of the creepy chauffeur of the hearse at his mother’s funeral is disturbing and creates a very unsettling atmosphere.
While each one of them is falling into decay, the house seems to become more and more lush and beautiful. It’s a process that slowly creeps into the narrative, until it’s almost too late when they finally take notice. The house is a character all by itself, growing and slowly taking over sanity.
With subtle music, solid cinematography and surreal images the focus is mainly on the family instead of creating full-on horror. It’s very much a ghost story, albeit with a different take, but with the same sense of dread and the gothic descend into madness. But the last scene definitely makes up for the subtle horror, for it has a great dark ending that is very graphic and full of tangible fear and ‘knowing’. But the very final scene reminds us that in its core it truly is a terrifying ghost story.
My favorite part
The ending was not what you would expect after the subtle structure, but it turned the film into a real relentless horror ghost story. The little tale of Mother who lives in the house is a very creepy idea and it will creep into your head. Not so subtle is the image of the creepy chauffeur with his coffin that scares the hell out of Ben and Auntie. But the whole structure and how the film is told is certainly the best part. It’s very intriguing and reels you in from the start with a mystery and an ominous feeling that something is not right at all.
Scare factor: ★★★☆☆
Surreal factor: ★★★☆☆
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Read more about Burnt Offerings:
Cast and crew
Burnt Offerings is based on the novel Burnt Offerings written by Robert Marasco in 1973. The film is directed and written by Dan Curtis and cowritten by William F. Nolan. It stars Karen Black (Marian Rolf), Oliver Reed (Ben Rolf), Bette Davis (Aunt Elizabeth), Lee H. Montgomery (David Rolf), Eileen Heckart (Roz Allardyce), Burgess Meredith (Arnold Allerdyce), Dub Taylor (Walker) and Anthony James (The Chauffeur).
Duration: 116 minutes. Music: Bob Cobert. Cinematography: Jaques R. Marquette. Edited by: Dennis Virkler. Produced by: Dan Curtis, Robert Singer. Production company: Produzioni Europee Associati, Dan Curtis Productions. Distributed by: United Artists, MGM Studios.