Friday, April 23, 2010

BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)

Cinema Wasteland's screening of THE HAUNTING (for my money, the best haunted house film ever made and one of the best films ever) evoked pondering thoughts. Devotees of zombie films are a recognized race. There is a line on the census long form for peeps who dig Universal or Hammer fare or J-horror. But there's not really any space reserved for haunted house aficionados! Horror boards are flush with terabytes of talk about Fulci or Carpenter and podcasts & dissertations dissect every frame of every minor Italian gore epic. But haunted houses stand empty, forlorn, forsaken by genre kids and ignored by goth kids, who work wrought iron into Wednesday 13 logos. And I love haunted house movies, more than I love Jesus or Christmas by far! So this post begins a series of posts on haunted house movies, the good, the bad, and

BURNT OFFERINGS. I have had the worst dates with all-star casts lately. 92 IN THE SHADE boasts Margot Kidder, Warren Oates, Joe Spinell, & Burgess Meredith. No way, I thought, this could go wrong! But it was too disjointed to love, like the Hilton Sisters (JK, I would have loved them and disappointed them in all the ways that man-love can). More a collection of funny scenes than a coherent whole. Hilton Sisters. Wakka wakka.

BURNT OFFERINGS has Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith, and BETTE DAVIS, and disappoints in a wholly different way. The first thirty minutes of this film are going to give you scurvy, if you are like me. The writing is cringe-worthy. Bette Davis is your old-lady comic relief in excruciatingly unfunny set-up scenes, establishing a family dynamic which will assuredly be destroyed later. I poured out a 40 for poor Bette Davis. The longest 30 minutes of your life, but keep your finger off the STOP button. STOP.

Because it gets pretty intense, pretty quickly. Reed and Black play haunted-house corruption to the hilt. And even if some scenes are campily-dated (the recurring hearse chauffeur looks a LOT like K.C.'s brother from TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW), the haunted-house template is sturdy enough to make BURNT OFFERINGS pick up steam in the final lap. Dan (DARK SHADOWS) Curtis shoots this well as well, lots of dreamy soft-focus scenes which are the heartbeat of haunted house America. Said scenes occur surprisingly often in DAYLIGHT, a rare setting for this kind of film.

BURNT OFFERINGS is a seventies film, which does it no favors in terms of competition. The 70s, particularly for genre film, are a chimera of Mecca and orgasms, and something that's perfectly fine but no Google like BURNT OFFERINGS tends to get lost in the shuffle. I would probably recommend this to people who love haunted houses or any of the actors, as they all acquit themselves admirably. Davis stumbles a bit in the beginning, hamstrung by the material, but summons the Bette Davis fire from midpoint to the denouement. Karen Black is a superb actress, (and I had some mean stuff about Scientology here, but have deleted it, based on rumor...YAY, KAREN!!! BUT, oh no, I just read a dissenting Internet report!). And Oliver Reed has no mustache, but still rocks! Everybody's a winner!

In a five-star world, this is a three-star film. As DAWN OF THE DEAD is to ZOMBIE 3, so is THE HAUNTING to BURNT OFFERINGS. I doubt anyone has unwisely and excitedly gone immediately out to get the BURNT OFFERINGS logo tattooed on his or her body, but you could certainly do worse within the genre. Just consider the first thirty mins your walk up the big hill and enjoy the sweet slope downward into madness that follows. And count the number of films that might have plucked elements from this very uninnovative entry.

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