Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Film #52: Burnt Offerings (1976)

Some summer vacations just never go right.
First your Great Aunt dies in the car seat next to you somewhere outside Mesa, and you're forced to strap her to your roof.
Then your Dad launches your car 50 yards off an out of order road.
And then, when you finally get to your destination, the house you’ve rented uses demonic spirits to force Dad to nearly drown his wussy son and sexually assault his frigid wife.

Wait, are we getting two movies confused here? That's right, the latter of the aforementioned plots takes place in this week’s scare-spectacle, Burnt Offerings.

The Rolf family thought they had the summer made. The city-slickers stumble upon a summer long vacation package at a historic, sprawling mansion in the countryside that only costs $900.

The place has it all, Olympic size swimming pool, historic gardens, refrigerator filled with meat, and enough dusty rooms to keep any 1970s woman busy cleaning her vacation away. My, they could even bring up their snappy Aunt Elizabeth (played by an ancient Bette Davis) for the adventure.

“I’m waiting for the catch,” says skeptical Rolf patriarch Ben to the mansion-owners (one of which is legend Burgess Meredith).
There is no catch, they claim, unless they are afraid of some housework (they’re charged with fixing up the dump) or mind caring for their shut-in mother who lives in the secluded third floor loft.
But she isn’t a bother at all; the Rolf’s probably won’t even see her once during their four month stay.

They’ll take it, Ben claims! And take it they do, right up the YingYang. It’s not long before their peaceful paradise, charming though completely run down, starts to show it’s a lot dirtier than it seems.

At first, they love cleaning and repairing the old place, stopping to enjoy a cold Coors on the lawn or admire the old-timey photo collections. But then they start to flip their shit, psychologically speaking.

Some pool roughhousing between Ben and his 12-year-old son Davey devolves into Ben uncontrollably trying to drown his spawn.
The next night, while getting frisky near the pool, Ben’s wife Marian changes her mind inexplicitly and screams rape.

But that’s nothing compared to what happens to poor Aunt Elizabeth. The weirdest thing, any time a horrific episode occurs, the family’s suffering seems to cause the house to magically regenerate its rotting shell and grounds!

Could the Rolf’s pain lead to house paint? Will they escape this mysterious, soul-sucking dome? Just what the hell is wrong with Marian's (plastic-surgeryed out Karen Black) face?

Find out, in the 1976’s haunted house horror, “Burnt Offerings.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 3.8
Chris Dimick offers:
“There is always a catch. Always.
Life won’t ever do you any favor’s, kids. If something seems too good to be true – like a beautiful mansion for rent at $900’s 1976-money – then it probably is.

I’d be nice if life was simple. How great'd it be if you could draw out your course, plot A and B, and drive straight through marveling at the passing scenery.
But where would be the fun in that? Trials, detours, heartbreak… that’s what one gets when embarking on life’s road.

The optimists say we should be thankful for such catches. They build character, put things in perspective, and make your desired outcome that much sweeter when preceded by a mouthful of shit.

Burnt Offerings teaches a the true, valuable, unavoidable life lesson of "catch" in pure form. The Rolfs worked hard, earned a wonderful vacation in a country mansion with their young son and spry Aunt. They had it all planned out, and it was going to be flippin’ wonderful. And then life happened.

Though this flick could have been a good 45 minutes shorter and still delivered its message (runtime 1h55min), it did take a tired haunted house format and turn it on its ear a bit. Just enough, actually, to build tension and keep the viewer watching.

You’ll come for the acting legends like Burgess Meredith, Karen Black (above), Oliver Reed and Bette Davis, but you’ll stay for the tone-perfect soundtrack (nearly non-existent, in a good way), well timed scares, and the fun ending.

What’s the catch in watching Burnt Offerings? When you are done, you’ll be 1h55min closer to death. Such is the fact with anything in life. Was it really worth it. Is ANYTHING really worth it?

Embrace it, optimists say. I guess what is the alternative?”

N-Rating: 3.6
Nick Rich offers:
“For my money, there are two things that scare the holly jolly right out of my Christmas stockings:

1. Unexplained children singing in dark, remote woods:

2. Horribly awkward scenes between husbands and wives showing love lost.

Mercifully there were no category 1 type situations in this weeks offering, but to the chagrin of my squeaky seat, there was a decent amount squirming to be had due to category 2 content in Burnt Offerings.

What was it about the 70s that bred films which showcased the horrible, horrible state of affairs a marriage can degrade into? I mean, it's not like there was anything bad happening at that time in history (I mean, when is there ever?). I'm sure my university film prof would wet his pants with excitement at the chance to explain why 70s cinema was so doggone depressing (yeah, I'm talking to you RDHP film #7 Let's Scare Jessica To Death), or as he would probably refer to it as: real.

Bah. Real isn't why people go to the movies, they go to the movies to escape. While a sense of reality can definitely be an asset to any film, as it grounds the characters and makes the film more believable, too much of a good thing (as they say) can be flat out depressing.
Take Synecdoche, New York for example - while not a horror movie per (or any other) se, I propose that it should be classified as such due to the singularly soul-crushingly depressing experience it is to watch the film. Bah! I'm getting depressed just remembering what it was like to watch it!
Maybe in my more emo days that's an experience I would have coveted, but alas, no more.

While Burnt Offerings touched upon the darker side of marriage, it did so merely as an accent to the larger story - akin to a sole violin playing a haunting, recurring theme in a concerto... it doesn't overpower the whole piece, but floats to the top of your consciousness just enough to cause chills. This dash of depression flavored the rest of the film quite nicely as we see a normal family descend into the madness of a subtly desperate situation.

I don't comment on it often, but the acting (save for the 12 year old boy) was quite good and spot on for film such as this. There's something about Oliver Reed that I find incredibly enjoyable to watch, I mean, he's just so British. So British in fact, that it made me overlook the fact that a) he lived in the U.S. (after all he could be a transplant) and b) his 'Auntie' (whom he had presumably grown up with) had an American accent (what the what?!?).

All in all I rather enjoyed this film. It meandered along and doused you with some 70s goodness along the way with surprisingly compelling characters that kept you guessing as to what ghastly fate awaited them at the end of their enchanted vacation. If you're in the mood for a slow boil of 70s horror with a dash of realistic depression, don't hesitate to spend an evening with Burnt Offerings... just be sure not to stay too long.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you want to learn how to be a creepier B&B owner or if you want to feel better after coming off of a lackluster family vacation."

Things We Learned From Burnt Offerings:
-High-wasted mom jeans are not sexy.
-The underprivileged have never been to the country.
-Never say “Wash off his little hurt cuts” to a boy. It’s pedophile level creepy.
-The British are impossibly rude.
-Auntie just needs to relax at the wheel.
-In the movies, writers have lucrative, glamorous lives.
-Swimming trunks in the 70s were too short.
-Bette Davis looked like a walking corpse near the end.
-1970s women were really trying hard to hold onto the 1950s.
-“Hey Slave!” is not a good thing to say to your vacuuming wife.
-Finding Ding Dongs is a reason to squeal.
-Don’t cry over spilled, or shattered, punch bowls.
-Never use a machete angry:

Quote of the Viewing:
[The opening credits reveal Burnt Offerings was produced by P.E.A. Films. Chris and Nick snicker]

Nick: “P.E.A. Films. Well, this is gonna be a good one.”
Chris: "At least it is not S.H.I.T. Films.”

RDHP Present:
Things that Suck the Life Out of You
Burnt Offerings had a house that sucked the life out of its occupants. Below we examine other things that turn a Suck-and-Cut on your soul.

There is a reason some call them Cubic-hells. Because hell takes place within them.

Don’t let a cat crawl up on your face while sleeping. You won’t wake up. Seriously, cat’s suck out human souls! Why do you think Garfield’s John is so dead-inside?

Small Talk
How many countless hours are spent in a lifetime listening to information you don't care about, will never use and hope to forget... so, how about this weather we're having?

Ever watch someone while they watch TV. They look like a zombie, sitting motionless for hours, barely blinking while the electronic scream-box drains ones time and life-force. TV’s great and all, but so is Four Loko. Use both moderately, and with caution.

The Morning Commute
We imagine it is what it would be like to wait in line for the executioner in olden times.

Is it ironic that life sucks the life out of you? Maybe, probably not. More than likely that is just stupid. But is it true, yes. There is nothing that makes a person more tired than life.

One minute you are a 20-something who closes the bar every Friday, talks to four friends a day, and has enough energy left to catch a midnight movie at the local cinema. Then you have kids, and the only energy you have left after working and caring for them every second of your life is reserved for crying yourself to sleep each night. Or so we hear.

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