Burnt Offerings

burnt_offerings“Noah built an altar to the Lord, and taking some of the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it…” (Genesis 8:20-1)

In 1976’s Burnt Offerings, the Rolf family is sacrificed. No ROFL-ing matter. Their spirits are consumed by a real fixer-upper they agree to be custodians of over the summer (a house that was actually used in the exemplary Don Coscarelli film, Phantasm, as well).

Now we cannot stress this enough, people in horror movies: If it’s too good to be true, it usually is! Case in point, being offered what appears to be a relative steal, $900, to take up accommodations in a sprawling neo-Colonial mansion for the summer. The only catch? Having to look after a seemingly self-sufficient octogenarian in the attic.

There’s always a catch.

Unfortunately, the Rolfs don’t smell a rat, and sign on, giving the abode a good once-over cleaning, and fishing out debris from the unused pool. Ben Rolf even mulls over being able to finally make a dent in that doctorate.

Burnt Offerings is a rare breed indeed, a ceaselessly compelling and tightly-wound supernatural horror. A lot of supernatural horrors sacrifice (speaking of sacrifice), deep psychological fears to capture a youth demographic. And PG-13 stuff usually reeks like boiled cabbage. Sorry, but it’s true.

Household head Ben (Oliver Reed), is driven to madness during his duties overseeing the upkeep of this mansion, yes, the comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining are darn-near inevitable. And when carnal relations with his missus go south, and he tries to coerce her, that’s exactly the point where the film departs/diverges from the path usually trod upon by its brethren.

Oliver Reed is amazing. Unlike Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance, whose madness is tipped off from the very first frame, Reed’s performance as a doting dad really rings true. Also, Karen Black is the very picture of stability, if a bit Stepford.

Ben is trying desperately to keep his mental faculties together, as whatever spirits lurk inside the mansion, compels him to try to drown his son.

Bonus: Bette Davis.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR BURNT OFFERINGS PODCAST, FEATURING SCOTT DREBIT OF DAILY DEAD]

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