Burnt Offerings (1976)

directed by dan curtis
p.e.a. films/dan curtis productions

Now, this is more like it! A tremendously realized mid-’70s fright flick that succeeds without any of the earmarks that would soon begin to plague the genre (slashing, masks, teenagers, etc.), this mainly psychological horror picture draws one in the old-fashioned way. Something’s obviously wrong, seemingly minor issues continuously get more worrisome, the situation keeps deteriorating … but nothing too specific can be identified. (You’ll probably get an inkling, of course.) Tiny hints here and there tiptoe toward the devastating conclusion, and it’s all handled impeccably. Well, truth be told, things get a little out of hand as that ending nears, including some of the performances, but that neither lessens the impact nor diminishes the achievement. The film does almost overstay its welcome; it’s a minor flaw, though exacerbated a bit as the climax nears, as it feels as though substantial cuts must have been made. Oliver Reed is his usual intense self throughout, so that’s a hoot, Karen Black handles a complicated role fairly well, and Bette Davis is excellent.

why did i watch this movie?

I have almost watched this one any number of times, so this time I just said all right already … and turns out it’s based on a novel by a fellow alumnus of the college from which I was graduated.

should you watch this movie?

As an exemplar of how to make an effectively frightening picture without a lot of foofaraw, it is commendable, if inexactly titled. It actually plays as though it’s from a few years earlier, even.

highlight and low point

While the stage is being set, so to speak, developments seem a bit dubious and a couple of minor characters chafe. Later, some of what transpires is almost underplayed, and depends on the audience’s perception and attention to do some of the heavy lifting. (Imagine!) During the culminating scene, a legitimately unexpected – nay, SHOCKING – event occurs.

rating from outer space: a–

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