70s movies

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)


Horror Express



When you gaze up at the stars, you are looking back in time. So too, apparently, if you gaze into the ocular fluid of a primitive creature unearthed from a Manchurian cave. Science!

Horror Express is an oddball film to say the least, set in the claustrophobic confines of a choo-choo a la Jamie Lee Curtis’ Terror Train, albeit with a conveyance that looks like a wide-body 747.

Train travel for a time was glamorous, then became unglamorous,  and has remained largely that way, at least in North America. Here, the train looks positively fabulous, with nice curtains, loads of amenities in the form of lots of booze, and ways to whittle away the hours chugging through Siberia, with sociable pastimes like chess. Too bad about the killer creature on board.

Christopher Lee is Dr. Saxton, an anthropologist whose giant crate is occupying space that probably should be used for luggage aboard said train. Its contents: along with a bunch of fossils, the head of monster that looks like something Lucio Fulci would puke up. The curiosity of everyone on board is piqued and a rival anthropologist (Peter Cushing as Dr. Wells) pays off a porter to drill a hole and take a peek inside.

Bad move.

Peter_Cushing_Christopher_LeeWith passengers ending up dead, complete with creepy milky opaque eyes, a capable lawman gets involved. Just kidding. It’s Captain Kazan, played by a truly terrible Telly Savalas, chewing the scenery with such gusto, he’d need a breath mint thereafter.

He declares that the “devil fears an honest Cossack,” before declaring everyone on board under arrest. Is that the way habeus corpus works on the Russian steppes?

Horror Express is absolutely hilarious, complete with ludicrous science, mumbo jumbo about yogic mystical nonsense and some dryly British wit courtesy of the two giants of Brit horror, Cushing and Lee.

And it turns out that the killer missing link has within its eyes, at a molecular level, imprinted memories of its journey from outer space. We shit you not. There’s even a mad Rasputin monk to add to the proceedings, which makes this can’t miss Amicus.

***1/2 (out of 5)