Dan Curtis’ evil house movie seems to have been overlooked in the crowd of Amityvilles and the like (although it’s worth noting that it pre-dates The Amityville Horror), but there’s definitely an over-ripe Gothic charm to this adaptation of Robert Marasco’s novel that’s helped by its cast and production design.
Ben and Marion Rolf (Oliver Reed and Karen Black) get a bargain on a beautiful old house in the countryside, but there is a catch: they need to leave meals out for the elderly mother of the previous occupants, who they’re assured they’ll never see. The Rolfs move in with their son David (Lee Montgomery) and Ben’s aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), and they all seem smitten with the place.
But the house seems to be having a strange effect on them. Ben is driven to acts of violence, while Marion begins dressing and behaving differently. And every time someone gets hurt, the house seems to shine a little brighter.
The opening is so aware of its own creepiness that Burgess Meredith is practically giggling at the audience through the screen, but once the Allardyce siblings are gone, the film settles into a leisurely pace. It’s pretty slow in places, although the presence of screen legends like Reed, Black and Davis means that isn’t too much of an issue.
Although it’s heavily influenced by Robert Wise’s The Haunting, with the revelation of the house as a living thing and plenty of terrifying noises, Dark Shadows veteran Curtis creates a suffocating atmosphere, and it packs a surprisingly nasty sting in its tail.
This Arrow restoration includes a commentary and three great interviews with Anthony James (the creepy driver), writer William F Nolan and Montgomery, the latter of whom remembers having his first taste of alcohol courtesy of Reed, and the confrontation between his movie father and real-life mother that followed.
It’s slow-moving and more than a little hammy, but there really is something quite effective about Burnt Offerings, and fans of the genre should seek it out.