Burnt Offerings (1976): Movie Review

Burnt Offerings Movie Review
Review by Chris Wright, MoreHorror.com

When most of us think about a solid golden age haunted house movie, we stream "Amityville Horror". Before that, there was "Burnt Offerings" which was released three years before that in 1976. This movie is largely forgotten by many and overshadows by many others in this genre. Also based on a book by Robert Marasco, "Burnt Offerings" gives us chills, fantastic acting, spooky atmosphere and truly scary moments out of any 70's haunted house movies.

The plot of this movie is simple: The Rolf family are caretakers of a fancy old home in the middle of nowhere as a summer home but the catch is the house takes lives to keep itself alive. A simple yet original plot for a movie that is done so well. The acting is superb from all the actors. The low tone music adds a strikingly eerie presence to the movie.

The movie begins with the Rolf family in their car driving up to their house that they will be overseeing. The parents are Marian Rolf (played by Karen Black), Ben Rolf (played by Oliver Reed), their son Davey Rolf (played by Lee Montgomery) and their flamboyant Aunt Elizabeth (played by Bette Davis). They come to the house to meet the Allardyce siblings (played by Burgess Meredeth and Eileen Heckert). This creepy bunch greet the family and welcome them into the home. They have one simple request. They simply want the Rolf family to feed Mrs. Allardyce upstairs and leave her be. Their subtle overtones in their conversation with Ben and Marian play a larger role as the film progresses.

This movie is essentially gore-less and the movie does not have jump scares but genuine scariness that is lost in most movies today. Marian slowly but surely becomes obsessed with Mrs. Allardyce upstairs looking at all the pictures she has outside of her room and all the old things inside the home. As the movie progresses, she slowly starts to become more concerned with the old woman upstairs rather than her actual family and it becomes apparent when she refuses to leave.

One of the scariest moments in the movie is the large pool scene outside of the house. With Aunt Elizabeth watching Ben and little Davey have fun in the pool, Ben starts to go berserk. At a split second, Ben is just teasing Davey in the water to literally trying to drown his own son and not caring. It was prevented by Davey taking the goggles and punching his father in the face. The blood runs down his face as he swims away with an evil look on his face. This may not sound that scary but it is scarier than I am describing it. It actually made me kinda cringe to have to watch him drown Davey over and over again. Ben is beside himself at how he tried to kill his own son and (unlike his wife) starts to realize its the premises that is doing this to him and the others.

Aunt Elizabeth is a free spirited woman who acts very young for her age. Elizabeth's health declines and she feels winded as the days go by inside the house. The things she use to do she can no longer do at all. Unfortunately, Aunt Elizabeth becomes the first casualty of the family as what would appear to be a heart attack occurs as the house sucks the life out of her.

A recurring theme throughout the movie is the the Chauffeur (played by Anthony James), who terrorizes Ben in his dreams and entering his reality. Ben reveals that this moment was traumatizing for him as a child when he saw this man, who was very tall with a near satanic grin on his face. This guy was at a funeral when he was a little boy. Ben hadn't really thought about it or had problems with it until he moved in to the house. This figure is very similar in presentation as the Tall Man in the Phantasm series. .

Through the latter half of the movie, Marian is very obsessed with the house, Ben is ready to take the family and leave and Davey has suffered two near death experiences (the last being the gas inside his room). Even at that point, Marian was blaming Aunt Elizabeth to try to kill her own son and accuse her of succumbing to old age. Soon, Ben becomes fed up and takes Davey away in terror after he comes to his own realization that Marian is part of the problem of the house. Unfortunately, the trees and winds come down blocking them from leaving the house. They come back and Marian is still insistent that she has to take care of the old woman upstairs and the house despite her families demands. Ben eventually snaps sense in to Marian as she agrees to leave with Davey. Marian forgets something upstairs and goes up to Mrs. Allardyce's room. An impatient Ben goes upstairs and goes inside the room screaming for the old woman to talk to him and let him in. There is no response. He turns her chair around and its wife with the scariest glare and look on her face sitting in the old woman's chair. In this terrifying end scene, Marian assumes the role of the old woman and throw Ben out the top story of the house. Ben comes crashing down through the windshield as blood splatters out of his face. The chimney and bricks start to crumble as they fall on top of Davey crushing him.

The movie ends with Allardyce siblings coming back to the house admiring its beauty. The camera slowly pans inside the house to all the pictures upstairs as we see a picture of Ben, Davey and Aunt Elizabeth sitting upstairs.

This movie is very good and I highly recommend it. I give it a 5 out of 5. It has a terrific musical score and has a 6.0/10 on IMDB. This long lost atmospheric haunted house movie deserves recognition. There is one VHS copy and one DVD of this movie, both of which are hard to come by.

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