Reviewed by Ned Daigle
Rating: 4 Beans
ow, I'm a big fan of haunted house and ghost stories, sadly though, most films of this genre are not very good. Despite the opinion of most people I really do like "The Amityville Horror", those that do not complain that it is boring and nothing happens. Well people, I'm here to say that you should view "Burnt Offerings", and then tell me about boring voids of nothingness.
"Burnt Offerings", or what I like to call "B.O", tells the tale of the Rolf family who rent a large house in the middle of nowhere and are immediately beseiged by the usual strange goings-on. At the start of this flick, the elderly brother and sister who own the house (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart) rent out the house to the Rolfs (Oliver Reed and Karen Black). The conditions for rent include general upkeep and the caring for their own mother, Mrs. Alladyce, who lives upstairs. Meredith and Heckart act so odd, the rental price is surprisingly cheap, and they demand that the Rolfs "love the house as much as we do", that any sane person would have warning lights going off in their head. But not Ben and Marian Rolf, they cheerfully accept, and proceed to move in with their 12-year old son David (Lee Montgomery) and Ben's Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis).
I would love to say that lots of scary and creepy things start happening; however, such is not the case. "Burnt Offerings" gives new meaning to the word "subtle". It takes over an hour before things really get going, Ben begins to act a little strange, Marian also seems obsessed by a music-box and caring for Mrs. Alladyce whom we never see, David almost dies from a gas leak and Aunt Elizabeth becomes sick. Oooooh, scary.
The performances, on the other hand, are scary. Karen Black (a far cry from her great work in "Five Easy Pieces" and "The Day of the Locust") is bland and shows little to no personality. Oliver Reed (a far cry from his nude wrestling match in "Women in Love" which doesn't say much about his acting ability) shows an emotional range from A (flat and dull) to B (shaking hysteria and screen chewing). Only Bette Davis gives a performance and it is actually a very good one, too bad she's knocked off early by the ghost of Ben's dead mother's hearse driver hurling a coffin at her (don't ask, I really can't explain it better than that).
So much of nothing happens in this horror opus, that everything is saved for the grand finale, where Black seems possessed by the ghost of Mrs. Alladyce, Reed is hurled through a window and lands on the car, and young David is crushed by a collapsing chimney. Yawn. All of this may have worked if it weren't so confused and would at least declare to the audience what exactly is going on. Is the house haunted? Or is the house itself possessed (the house sheds shingles and boards making itself new again)? Or is Mrs.Alladyce haunting the place? The last shots of the film cause even more problems when some whispered conspiracy is heard from Meredith and Heckart and photos of Reed, Davis and Montgomery are shown. What in the hell does it all mean? I haven't a clue.
The mood of "Burnt Offerings" does offer some good creepy atmosphere, but that's about it. It's just too ambiguous for it's own good.
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