Burnt Offerings (1976)

Article 3739 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-28-2011
Posting Date: 11-9-2011
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith
Country: USA / Italy
What it is: Evil house movie

A family is offered a good deal on a house for the summer, provided they care for the owners’ mother who lives on the top floor. The family soon discovers that the house has a baleful influence on those who live in it… and that influence begins working on them.

I found this to be a very interesting but flawed movie. First of all, I love the central concept; the house has the ability to regenerate itself from the suffering and death of its residents, and this gives the house more of a reason for its being evil than many other residences in similar movies. There’s also some creepy scenes with a chauffeur in a dream sequence, and some of the acting is really good; in particular, I like the intensity Oliver Reed brings to his role as the father. Unfortunately, I did feel the movie was flawed, with part of the reason being the script and the other being some of the other performances, which were problematic. First of all, I think Bette Davis is miscast; she plays what amounts to a rather ordinary elderly character, but Bette Davis is such a bigger-than-life actress that she comes across too strongly in the role, and I think a lesser-known and more ordinary actress would have worked better. There’s been some sniping at Lee Harcourt Montgomery’s performance here, and though it’s true that he becomes a fairly annoying character by the end of the movie, at least part of the problem is a script that gives him awkward moments. The biggest problem I have is with Karen Black’s performance, and for an odd reason. The movie works itself up to a final twist which I found was anything but surprising, and part of the reason I wasn’t surprised is that Black’s performance is so sharply realized that I knew exactly what was happening to her character, and this gives away the final twist; had her performance been less clear and more ambiguous, it would have worked better. All in all, this one was a mixed bag, but I think the good parts of it outweigh the bad parts, and so I like the movie all right.


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