Wednesday 27 March 2024

Burnt Offerings - 1976 film review

This is a blog about crime writing and crime fiction in its various forms, but of course the boundaries between crime and other genres, such as the ghost story and the horror story, both of which I'm keen on, are blurred. As a teenager I used to read the short horror story anthologies published by Faber, Fontana, and Pan, and I still think that (with various exceptions) the short form is the best medium for horror fiction - but of course there are many good horror films too.

A fairly good example is the 1976 film Burnt Offerings. I watched it a day after watching the very recent Brandon Cronenberg film Infinity Pool, which I felt began well but deteriorated badly. Burnt Offerings is subtler and, I think, much more effective, even if though it has some flaws. Interestingly, the screenplay was co-written by William F. Nolan, who also wrote a great deal of crime fiction and was once nominated for an Edgar award. He was a very capable storyteller, and this is evident in the film.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Burnt Offerings is that Oliver Reed is cast as a normal family man. Not a drunk, for once, nor a sexually depraved monster. He and his wife (Karen Black) and their son are offered the chance to rent an atmospheric but dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere for a pittance by the creepy owners who - even more creepily - say that the old lady who lives at the top of the house will continue to live there. The warning klaxon really should be sounding at this point, but of course our protagonists find this an offer that is too good to refuse. Big mistake.

There are a lot of haunted house movies, but this is above average fare and in recent years, critics have seen it as offering sly comment on modern day materialism. I'm not sure how far I go along with that, but given a choice between Burnt Offerings and Infinity Pool, I know which film I'd rather watch. Incidentally, Bette Davis features in the cast, but really, the old house is the star. 

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