Burnt Offerings (1976)

burnt offerings poster 1976 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Creepy, '70s feel, great cast

Kind of slow, not enough horror

Movie Info

Movie Name: Burnt Offerings

Studio: United Artists

Genre(s): Horror

Release Date(s): October 18, 1976

MPAA Rating: PG

burnt offerings dunsmuir house mansion oakland

It’s a fixer-upper…with blood!!!

The Rolf family decides a summer getaway would be good for them and cannot pass up an offer for a large Victorian house.  Ben (Oliver Reed), Marian (Karen Black), and their son David (Lee Montgomery) rent the home from a brother a sister (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart) with one catch…Marian is asked to take care of their reclusive mother who lives on the upper floor of the home.  Joined by Ben’s Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), the Rolfs try to have a relaxing summer…but horror continues to strike.  Ben begins to notice changes…the house seems to be repairing itself, is it just his imagination or something worse.

Directed by Dan Curtis, Burnt Offerings is a horror thriller.  The movie is based on the 1973 novel by Robert Marasco.  The movie was met with mixed reviews but gained a cult following.

burnt offerings oliver reed swimming pool scene

I don’t know how many times my dad tried to drown me in the pool…it’s a rite of passage

Burnt Offerings falls into one of those classic ’70s feel movies.  It is kind of slow, not horribly suspenseful, but it does have a sense of dread around it.  I saw this movie pretty early on as a kid and it terrified me…there was nothing really horrific, but there was inescapable evil.  Due to some plot points, a ******Spoiler Alert******* exists for the rest of the review.

The movie has a really odd feel to it.  The story at point feels almost disjointed and the characters stop behaving rationally…but their actions could be just weird scripting or the influence of the house.  It is kind of clever writing to use the phantom home to cover plot points.  It did have some influence on the creepy haunted house movies that came out after it, including The Amityville Horror and The Shining.

burnt offerings anthony james scary hearse driver

Offer you a ride?

The movie’s ending also is classic (and almost nonsensical).  As the family begins to fall more and more apart after the death of Elizabeth, Ben’s questioning of Marian’s ties to the house finally reach that pitch point of having to decide to leave her.  This of course is reconciled but that does not last long.  The bloody ending with him flying through the window when he realizes there is no Mrs. Allerdyce and that his wife has become her  is shocking and add to that when you think the son is going to escape, the chimney comes down on him.  Just like in The Shining, the house uses their blood to repair itself, and like The Shining, they just become more pictures of people it has claimed.

burnt offerings karen black ending mrs. allerdyce

Mrs. Allerdyce….nice to meet you!

The cast of the movie is strong, but the movie had lots of infighting.  Bette Davis (who always has been argumentative) disliked Oliver Reed and Karen Black who also have both been accused of being bad costars by other actors (so it might not have been all Bette Davis though Karen Black has said she enjoyed working with Davis).  Child-star Lee Montgomery is almost the last survivor and tells interesting stories about the filming, and the over-acting and completely odd Eileen Heckart and Burgess Meredith play their roles completely campy which does not always mix well with the other actors in the film.  A special extra credit goes to the completely creepy Anthony James who is a scene-stealer as the chauffeur.

burnt offerings oliver reed dead ending

Hi, Dad…nice of you to drop by!

The movie looks quite strong.  It does have that ’70s soft focus, over exposed look that only works in films from the period.  The house used in the movie is the Dunsmuir House outside of Oakland which was later used for the mortuary in Phantasm and appeared in A View to a Kill and So I Married an Axe Murderer.  The movie is PG and much of the gore and horror is implied (but the movie is also a reminder is also pre-PG-13 PG which was a lot more lenient with visuals and story….especially consider Reed’s bloody ending).

Burnt Offerings is just odd.  There are points where it almost feels like a made-for-TV horror film (Dan Curtis is generally a TV director/creator and used Lee Montgomery in Dead of Night and Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror).  It is the type of movie I love, but I can also see how a person would watch and hate the movie (especially younger jaded viewers).  Despite this, Burnt Offerings should be sought out as a relic of the time and a look at the classic haunted house horror where even making the “right” decisions doesn’t help you survive.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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