Saturday, November 19, 2016

That Time When Karen Black and Oliver Reed Rented an Evil Summer House, or Thoughts on Burnt Offerings

Not exactly a haunted house movie but something in between, Burnt Offerings (1976) is a 70’s mash-up of possession, reincarnation, body-swaps and features a sentient house with personality and malice, almost a living thing that feeds on fear and pain that 70’s superstars Karen Black and Oliver Reed move into.  If that sounds like a win to you, you’re right; it’s a tremendously thrilling movie.
From the 1973 novel of the same name by Robert Marasco, Director Dan Curtis from Trilogy of Terror (1975) cast Karen Black as Marian Rolf, along with Oliver Reed as her husband Ben.  Together with their young son Davey and Bette Davis as their Aunt Elizabeth they rent a creepy mansion full of dusty antiques mysterious framed photos of unexplained strangers.  There’s an empty pool and of course, an overgrown graveyard behind the house, and also a strange old lady living on the top floor that only Karen Black can talk to (and probably see).
Karen Black and Oliver Reed are perfectly matched as a believable couple.  It's interesting that there’s no explanation given for Oliver’s signature British accent; a modern movie would have insisted that he use an American one.  Oliver Reed also has a beefy, physical masculinity that somehow seems more real and authentic than our current crop of chiseled abs and camera-ready faces.  The house is evil, and his transformation from loving father to abusive monster is a testament to his acting skills and consummate professionalism.
Bette Davis is also no stranger to the horror genre with classics like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and the Southern Gothic Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).  She makes the most of a small role, and her natural star-power dominates every scene she’s in.
With Burgess Merideth, the original Penguin from Batman ’66 as their landlord, Burnt Offerings is a thematic inspiration for Skeleton Key (2005) and The Shining (1980), with a dash of The Amityville Horror (1979).  Filmed at the Dunsmuir House in Oakland, CA, the movie has a nice twist that clever viewers may see coming but that doesn't diminish the final effect of dread and what abject horror.  Like all great movies, multiple viewings will be required to fully appreciate the subtle terrors.
Additionally, watching Oliver Reed as the actor and not his character, openly flirt and shamelessly charm a 68-year-old Bette Davis is alternately awkward and endearing, and to give him credit, I don’t think I would have been able to maintain any kind of professionalism if I met Bette Davis at any age.  He even gives her a scandalous swat on her backside that was caught on camera and inexplicably made it into the final cut of the film.  Sexist by contemporary standards, but it was the ‘70s, he was Oliver Reed, and it was actions like these that made him a legend.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).