Burnt Offerings review by The Grim Ringler

Nobody loves a good spooky haunted house movie than me but it’s rare that there is a truly great one that comes down the pike and the list of these great ones is sadly very short. Unfortunately, Burnt Offerings sh’ant be joining said list. A very interesting movie that never really gets above mediocre, this is sadly yet another haunted house film that showed a lot of potential but that never goes anywhere and ends up just perplexing you more than anything.

Wanting to get away from their city living for a summer a young couple and their son look into renting an old mansion for the summer on a lark, thinking there is no way they could afford it. Afford it they can though and indeed the brother and sister that own the place are very insistent that the family take over the care of the mansion for the summer so they can get away from the place and go on their own vacation. Full of reservations the family moves in soon after, the wife already having fallen in love with the old place and intent on cleaning it up bit by bit. Other than maintaining the place and having fun, the only thing the family must do is to make sure the matriarch of the owners is well cared for and fed. She stays in a small area at the top of the old house and rarely leaves her inner chamber but must be fed and looked after, a duty the wife takes on gladly, though never does she see the woman who is not even eating her meals. Things in the house begin getting weird though as suddenly the work the mother does on it to pretty it up begins transforming what had been a fairly run down southern mansion into a very beautiful monolith. The father is quick to pick up on this but the mother seems oblivious to it all. The only member of the family that seems to truly feel unnerved in this adopted home is the great aunt they have brought with them, a woman spunky beyond her years that seems to be having the life sucked from her in the old place. And slowly the family starts to act as if they are not themselves but are the original owners of the place, the father going so far as to almost drown the boy in what had begun as a simple bit of fun in the mansion’s pool. The family is losing itself to the house but cannot seem to free themselves of it as when the father takes the son in hopes of escape a sudden storm blocks their escape. They are trapped. And as the days pass the house takes more and more of who they are until it has attempted to murder the son with an errant gas leak in his locked room and it has mysteriously crippled the great aunt who has gone from vibrant to invalid. And all the while the mother dotes on the matriarch of the house and her strange family photos, all the while slowly becoming this woman she has never seen herself. When finally the father makes a move to get his family free of this tomb the house has one more surprise in store, one that they may not be able to escape…

In my heart of hearts I really wanted to like Burnt Offerings as it is a very well put together film. It has a great house as the haunted house, and has a very good cast, rounded out wonderfully by the fading Bette Davis as the sassy aunt. But try as I might, I just couldn’t buy into the story. This is the classic idea of a house having a personality all its own and its owners’ personalities almost infecting every inch of the place, yet, we never get an idea who the real owners were and why they might be so weird as to have infect the house so, so as the family is slowly transforming it means nothing to us. Yeah, we see that they are acting weird, and in some cases dangerous and insane, but so what? If we don’t know why or whom they are acting like, what does it all mean? They had a great premise and a great idea for a story here but never really did anything with it so that it ends up feeling far too much like a mediocre tele-film. Director Dan Curtis does a good enough job here but never does he really create a sense of menace for the house itself, nor does he change the look of the film or feel of it so that we get a sense of the madness that lurks just below the surface of the mansion. I will say this though, Curtis definitely pulls out all the stops in order to just screw with your head at the end, turning what had been a pretty tepid affair into a darned gruesome and brutal one in the last five minutes, but sadly, it’s too little too late and if you can’t guess the big shock reveal at the end, well, you need to watch more, better films.

The DVD is bargain priced so that’s a good thing, and if nothing else, I give MGM props for releasing so many of their more obscure films at very inexpensive prices, some even boasting special features. The film looks pretty good, despite its age, though the sound will far from blow out any system you may have. I would love to say that I sat like a good boy and listened to the commentary and all but, umm, I didn’t. There is one that has director Curtis and actress Karen Black (who played the wife) and someone else but I just didn’t care for the movie enough to want to hear what they had to say about it. There is a trailer as well for all you trailer whores. Sadly, there are no animated menus. Damn them!

For a lazy Saturday afternoon horror film, this is fine fare. It’s intriguing and well acted with a couple of chills thrown in, but if you really want a truly scary movie, and a very good haunted house movie, well kid, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Not a bad film at all but merely a well done one with a mediocre story, this is perhaps the worst kind of movie in that you cannot hate it, but you cannot really get passionate about it either. The epitome of ‘ok’.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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