The Rolf family rents a summer mansion from two elderly siblings, Roz and Arnold Allardyce, for a mere $900. But, there’s a “catch”: the renters must not only be caretakers to the decaying home but also caretakers to Mrs. Allardyce, their 85-year-old mother, who lives as a recluse in the attic. The “house,” as Roz asserts, essentially “takes care of itself”; unfortunately, to the detriment to the Rolf family. The house is evil, and with each tragedy it inflicts, the house gradually restores itself back to its original glory.

Bloody Rundown

br12Renowned for his creepy creations of the series Dark Shadows (1966 – 1971), Dan Curtis directed this atmospheric, haunted-house horror based on Robert Marasco’s novel of the same name. Years prior to making the film adaptation, Curtis read the book and “distinctly” remembered saying, “Someday some idiot will try to make this movie.” He enjoyed the book, but not the “non-ending ending.” When Curtis was recruited to direct the film, he agreed under the stipulation that he could rewrite the ending, which he conceived in just 15 minutes.

brnt2Filmed in 30 days, Curtis shot in low-level angles that “visually” produced “more depth” and involved the audience on a personal level. His longtime collaborator, Bob Cobert, created the ominous musical score. The low-tone music is threatening, full of malevolence, and entirely brilliant.

br4The film features a legitimately all-star cast. The captivating Karen Black, who portrayed Marian Rolf, also starred in Curtis’ Trilogy of Terror (1975), a made-for-TV movie. Her compelling performance is remarkable as Black was five months pregnant during the filming. (The costume designers astutely dressed Black to conceal her growing girth.) Gifted rogue Oliver Reed, the world-class agitator, portrayed Ben “Benjie” Rolf.

br14The incomparable Bette Davis, certifiably the greatest actress of the 20th century, portrayed Benjie’s Aunt Elizabeth. Karen Black regarded Bette Davis’ presence “so magnetic” that at one time she had difficulty remaining in character as she was so transfixed by Davis’ acting. As an aging movie star, substantial roles offered to Bette Davis were unjustly minimal. According to Dan Curtis, Bette Davis was so thrilled she was offered a part with more than one scene that she immediately accepted.

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Curtis deemed Lee H. Montgomery as a natural in his role as 12-year-old Davey. Burgeous Meredith gave a heavy-weight performance in the minor role as Arnold Allardyce. His sister, Roz Allardyce, was portrayed by the sinfully underrated talent Eileen Heckart. Film veteran Dub Taylor played a small yet memorable role as Walker the handyman.

br17The Chauffeur, the terrifying ghostly villain with the sinister smile, was played by Anthony James. The idea of this menacing figure derived from the devastation Dan Curtis endured as a 13-year old when his mother passed away. While at the funeral home, the “completely destroyed” Curtis saw three men, one of whom was the Hearst chauffeur, sneering and laughing in the corner. This horrible memory served as perhaps the film’s creepiest scenes.   

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Of course, the most prominent character of the film is the evil house. Though Burnt Offerings takes place in New York, it was filmed entirely at the Dunsmuir House in Oakland, California. The antiquated mansion was also the setting for the funeral parlor in Phantasm (1979).

br15Both Dan Curtis and Karen Black revealed that many fans consider Burnt Offerings as the most terrifying horror. Even the film’s creator admitted that the “Last fifteen minutes are the scariest” he’d “ever seen.”  The unnerving dread of this Gothic unravels in the opening scene, in due part to the score, and carries on throughout, culminating into a shockingly tragic ending that is pure horror. They truly do not make spooky horrors like they used to!

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Die-Anne’s Diatribe

br11Any horror starring Karen Black is a gem. And, of course any horror in which Betty Davis breaths a word is also a gem. But, a horror starring both Karen Black and Betty Davis is beyond momentous!

This nostalgic haunted-house horror terrified me as a child, and that menacing chauffeur gave me horrifying “memories of a lifetime.” I highly recommend Burnt Offerings, which, evidently, is also one of Stephen King’s favorite films.

Plot Mutilator

In Progress…br6

Deadly Details

Director ∞ Dan Curtis
Producers ∞ Dan Curtis and Robert Singer
Screenwriters ∞ Dan Curtis and William F. Nolan
Based on the novel ∞ Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
Music ∞ Bob Cobert
Cinematographer ∞ Jacques R. Marquette
Editor ∞ Dennis Virkler
Costume Designers ∞ Lucia De Martino and Agnes G. Henry
Production Companies ∞ Produzioni Europee Associati and Dan Curtis Productions
Distributor ∞ United Artists (1976) and MGM Studios (presently)
Release Date ∞ October 1976
Running time ∞ 116 Minutes
Country ∞ United States
Language ∞ English
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Cast ∞
Karen Black as Marian Rolf
Oliver Reed as Ben Rolf
Bette Davis as Aunt Elizabeth
Burgess Meredith as Arnold Allardyce
Eileen Heckart as Roz Allardyce
Lee H. Montgomery as David ‘Davey’ Rolf
Dub Taylor as Walker
Joseph Riley as Ben’s Father
Todd Turquand as Young Ben
Orin Cannon as Minister
Jim Myers as Dr. Ross
Anthony James as The Chauffeur
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