I remember seeing Burnt Offerings on television when I was about ten years old. Certain images from the movie stayed with me all these years. One such image is the movie’s prominent haunting figure – a creepy looking hearse driver. His clothes, cap and even his glasses, are black; the appropriate color for a funeral. However, he dons an inappropriate smile, as if death is something delightful. Was he a ghost? Was he death itself? I couldn’t remember. Then there is the long row of photographs in the attic. Some sepia toned, some in modern color. Who were these people in the photos?
There are also certain scenes that replayed in mind from time to time. Our old friend the hearse driver bangs at the chamber door, frightening a dying old lady. He barges through the door with a coffin and his signature creepy smile.
I also remembered layers of bricks breaking away from the house; the house shedding them the way a snake sheds its skin.
Yes sir, I thought it was quite the movie back in 1981. But would I feel the same way about this film as an adult? I wanted to find out. So I watched this on amazon.com last Sunday night. I was not disappointed. It was a good film when I was ten years old and it remains a good film at the ripe, young age of forty-four!
What I like most about the film is the overall theme. My favorite type of haunted house movie involves a house with a mind of its own; a house that acts independently of or in equal collusion with any spirits that may haunt it. Burnt Offerings “offers” viewers such a house. In return it asks for only one simple thing – the life force of the current occupants. Of course, we who sit safely in our homes cry out “it’s a deal!” Because we love such things! And the house benefits as well – it rejuvenates.
Oh don’t get all sour cause I’m treading into spoiler land! Any astute viewer should figure this out within the first thirty minutes of the film.
Ben and Marian Rolf (Oliver Reed and Karen Black), along with their twelve year old son David (Lee Montgomery – hey, did you know this kid played in a movie about a boy who befriends a pack of killer rats? Well now you do – The movie is Ben) and Ben’s elderly aunt (Bette Davis!) lease a house for the duration of the summer. The rent was just too cheap to pass up. But on the first day, the elderly brother and sister that own the house (played by Eileen Heckart and Burgess Meredith) explain the main catch – they will have to care for their elderly mother that lives in the attic. Oh but she’s not a bother, they say. She never comes out of her room and all that she would need is tray with a meal placed beside her door at the appropriate meal times.
This is one of those films that have many moments that are subject to interpretation. I still don’t know the identity or composition of that scary hearse driver dude. And there is something about that brother and sister, The Allardyces, that will have viewers wondering. Oh and the ending, what did it mean when he opened #$% $*$* and saw &*^^ as the *^ !@#$% and then ended up being &*&*# & out the *#%$@# ?? (Yeah, I’m not going to totally spoil this film for ya, so ya have to bear with the font symbols.)
Speaking of the Allardyces, Burgess Meredith has a brief but commanding role. He is awesome!
This film is based on the 1973 novel of the same name, written by Robert Morasco. I haven’t read it, but I’m betting the book is mighty darn good as well. I will read it, but for now, I will just live with the experience of this movie. It’s a pretty good experience after all!