Burnt Offerings is a horror movie from 1976 which formed a central part of my childhood, as it was one of those classics shown in the early ’80s which we recorded on VHS and I played endlessly. I loved it, but does it still stand up today?
With Oliver Reed and Karen Black as Ben and Marian Rolf, wanting to rent a house for the summer, the weirdness begins early and builds up nicely, not least because the the film begins with huge opening credits, giving the cast names while the opening scene plays out, since these days you barely get any at the start. Burgess Meredith is great as the batshit mental brother of owner Roz (Eileen Heckart), and just what’s the deal with the old lady in the attic who is hardly ever seen?
And… oh, Christ, that music box!!! This film was originally awarded an ‘AA’ certificate by the BBFC (only those of 14 or older can see it), which was later revised to ’15’, and the chills it instills really do grab you by the neck and refuse to let go. Note that at the same time the certificates changes, ‘X’ became ’18’, and ‘A’ became ‘PG’. From memory, this was around late 1982/early 1983, as my sister was just approaching 14, and was mightily unimpressed that the films she thought she could go and see… were now out of her reach for another year! Then again, I can remember going to see a 15-cert film when I was 12 (Adrian Edmondson in The Supergrass, at the Davenport Cinema).
Little by little all the family start going mad, such as with the tension in the swimming pool scene – with the camera at water level, and Ben having dreams about his mother’s funeral. It’s a horror masterclass where the suspense is spot-on throughout, and such a shame that almost everyone involved onscreen, and in the production, have all since passed away.
Both Reed and Ms Black were right at the top of their game, and it makes their loss all the more tragic. Ms Black was just 74 when she succumbed to cancer, and while we all know Mr Reed’s demons, for him to leave us at just 61, great films like this and his final appearance, Gladiator, showed us he had a lot more to give.
If you’ve never seen Burnt Offerings, but love The Shining, then you’ll love this, too. Both the novel and the movie of each pre-date the Stephen King story by three years, but it feels like this one never got the same love and longevity in the hearts of movie-goers.
– someone else was having car problems thanks to a tree…
The film is presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition, and the picture is crazy-hazy at the start during the opening credits (as well as the final ten minutes), but once the opener is done, it settles down to a beautiful, sharp-looking print. I’ve seen this happen on a number of films from the ’70s and ’80s. It’s like the studios didn’t take enough care of the prints back in the day, and so the begnining of the first reel was allowed to get a bit dog-eared. But then, they never could know that DVD and Blu-rays would allow movies to live on like they have.
The audio is in DTS HD 1.0 (Mono), with no issues at all. Dialogue sound effects are all clear as a bell.
There are some great interviews in these extras:
- Anthony James: Acting His Face (17:32): The man behind the chauffeur outfit talks about his acting career, including mentioning how most directors wanted him more for how he looked than what else he could bring to a part, as well as great memories with Bette Davis.
- Blood Ties (16:28): Lee Montgomery was just 15 when this film was released in the cinema, and now he’s just slightly older, he discusses working on the movie, looking incredibly different (but age comes to us all).
- From The Ashes (13:20): Screenwriter William F. Nolan talks about working with director/co-writer Dan Curtis, and bringing Robert Marasco’s novel to the big screen, drawing comparisons between that and his own novel, Logan’s Run, which also saw a cinema release at the same time, and how “to heck with the critics” because they slated Burnt Offerings for not getting it, and that they didn’t like Logan, either.
- Portraits of Fear (3:20): Promo material and behind-the-scenes pictures, all set to eerie music from the film.
- Theatrical trailer (2:28): In the original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, and complete with a deep voice. In typical Hollywood style, it gives away one or two key aspects.
- Audio commentaries: One featuring Dan Curtis, Karen Black and William F. Nolan, and the other with film historian Richard Harland Smith.
- Reversible sleeve: featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love.
- Collector’s booklet: featuring new writing on the film by critic Kat Ellinger.
The main menu features a short piece of the theme set to clips from the film. There are a bog-standard 12 chapters to the film, and subtitles are in English.
Burnt Offerings is out today on Blu-ray/DVD boxset, and check out the full-size cover by clicking on the packshot.
Running time: 116 minutes
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: October 17th 2016
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio (Mono)
Widescreen: 1.85:1 (35mm)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Dan Curtis
Producer: Dan Curtis
Screenplay: William F Nolan and Dan Curtis (based on the novel by Robert Marasco)
Music: Bob Cobert
Marian Rolf: Karen Black
Ben Rolf: Oliver Reed
David Rolf: Lee Montgomery
Arnold Allardyce: Burgess Meredith
Roz Allardyce: Eileen Heckart
Walker: Dub Taylor
Aunt Elizabeth: Bette Davis
Ben’s Father: Todd Turquand
Minister: Orin Cannon
Dr. Ross: Jim Myers
The Chauffeur: Anthony James
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.