Trivia If there WAS any trivia it would no doubt be more interesting than the film itself.
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Burnt Offerings (1976)
9th Apr 05
A family move into a mansion for the summer period. Turns out the house is haunted. Or something.
Why anyone likes this film is beyond me. Perhaps, if it was a childhood late night experience on TV, then I could maybe understand someone having a soft spot for it. With an excellent cast that includes the great Oliver Reed, Bette Davis and Burgess Meredith, how could it be anything other than top-notch?! Perhaps it was the fault of director Dan Curtis, because according to the imdB he’s done little else apart from television. I’ll wager that his television shows were an experiment for an insomnia cure, because this “amazingly gripping horror film” certainly appears to be.
Haunted House movies are an odd one. To be good, they really have to work, to surprise. It’s such a well-worn genre that cliché is commonplace and shock value can be thin on the ground. While some are great, others like this are truly deplorable exercises in banality. In short, very little happens. The plot goes like this: Reed, his wife, son and Aunt rent a huge holiday mansion from wheelchair-bound oddball Burgess Meredith and his sister for the entire summer for the bargain price of $900. The only condition is that they must leave meals for Meredith’s ultra-old mother who lives in the spooky-looking top room (most haunted house movies have spooky top rooms). Once there, Reed tries to drown his son in the pool and his wife starts acting very strangely. This is Karen Black folks, so lets face it, she looks like a weirdo anyway. Is she pretty or a complete mongrel? You decide, because I couldn’t. She basically becomes VERY attached to the house, at one with it. Reed, however, loses the plot. Black spends a lot of time with the old woman (who we never see until the “shock ending”), while Aunt Bette Davis gets very ill and just seems to disappear from the film altogether.
Events that unfold in Burnt Offerings either don’t unfold at all, or unfold the wrong way. The characters’ reactions to any events do not seem real or believable in the least, and if you’re going to make a haunted house film, then let us get to know and care about the characters before shit kicks off. There’s plenty of room to move in this sub genre (more than most) and Curtis, instead of setting up the character dynamics, just plods along in no fucking direction whatsoever. And EVERYTHING is shot in very annoying soft-focus.
I watched this with my girlfriend last night. At 30 minutes in she said ”Nothing’s really happening is it?” to which I replied, “Yeah, its setting everything up – just you wait, this film is gonna have some really creepy moments I reckon”, or something like that. Forty-five minutes pass…one hour...ok, we’ve seen Ollie trying to kill his son. It’s not a nice scene. In fact, its very unpleasant but before you know it they’ve made up and we’re on to the next scene. The film has no FLOW and it’s very hard to buy into. Where's the son most of the time? What's he doing? What is all this business about Reed’s childhood nightmares?! He has nightmares / waking nightmares (or hallucinations – whatever) of his mum’s funeral where he keeps seeing a weird looking hearse driver with sunglasses who likes to smile at him, bearing many fine teeth. This makes Ollie, like, really scared. The filmmaker’s intention is that it makes us scared too. Well fuck that. I’ve been more scared watching an episode of Coronation Street. As if their not being scary wasn’t bad enough, these nightmares / hallucinations of Reed’s have NO significance to the rest of the story whatsoever. No point at all. A bit like this film.
No logic, no decent character development, no narrative cohesion, not enough unpleasantness (that includes scares, gore, etc), no laughs (intentional or otherwise), NOTHING. It is also FAR too long. As mentioned, there is a twist ending, but in order for twist endings to work, you shoudn't be easily able to guess what it is beforehand.
If you want a good haunted house flick then see The Changeling, The Legend of Hell House, or The Amityville Horror (sequel isn’t too bad either). Avoid this at all costs, even if you’re an Ollie Reed fan, which I am. Even he couldn’t save this mess.
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