I spent my early horror fan years watching a lot of 80’s slashers and whatever was in theaters at the time. After a fashion, AMC came out with their list of the 100 scariest movie moments and I decided to branch out and watch every movie on the list. Now, I’m still making my way through it, but in my defense I’ve been distracted by a ton of other movies! I mean, now that streaming services exist…it’s not hard to get off task.
A few years back, this little distraction gem from 1976 called “Burnt Offerings,” popped up in my Amazon recommendations. I knew the acting would be great, considering the late power-houses Bette Davis and Karen Black were the leading ladies, but aside from that I had zero expectations when I popped this in.
While it starts off kind of slow, there’s an underlying frenetic energy that builds your curiosity and keeps you guessing until the final moments. The Rolf family decides to rent a vacation house for the duration of the summer. The Allardyce siblings, owners of the run down manor, are a bit strange, but seem to like the Rolfs and allow them to rent their home with one condition; that they bring 3 meals a day up to their reclusive mother in the attic and leave them in front of her door.
Mrs. Rolf feels a strange urge to take care of the elder Allardyce, so the family moves in. As the summer progresses, the family begins to fall apart. Mrs. Rolf spends more and more time obsessing over the house, it’s “treasures” and Mrs. Allerdyce, who we’ve yet to see. Mr. Rolf finds himself anxious and depressed, while their son David keeps having strange little “accidents.” Aunt Elizabeth, brilliantly played by powerhouse Bette Davis, is the only one who seems to sense that something about the house is dangerous and that after every little “accident” a once irreparable part of the house has been restored. Curious.
The further in you get, the closer to the edge of your seat you’ll be. The last ten minutes I was gripping the arms of my chair, waiting to see if my predictions for the end would play out. I was half right, but nothing could have prepared me for the final moments of “Burnt Offerings.”
Completely unexpected, chilling and surprisingly gory (previously there had been just a nose bleed), I ended up loving every moment of the film. Even upon multiple viewings, you still get that sense of unease and the chills. Aside from stunningily scary scenery, the tone and performances are absolutely amazing. Highly recommended! In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch it again!
-Nowal Zee Massari