Burnt Offerings

Burnt Offerings (that stellar title deserves a much better film) doesn’t do much as far as innovation goes in the haunted house genre but it’s serviceable enough as an atmospheric diversion and benefits from a very strong and frequently cuckoo bananas performance from the great Oliver Reed as a family man and writer who moves his wife (Karen Black) and son (Lee Montgomery) into a suspiciously creepy manor in the English countryside in a sort of caretakers capacity. Now we all know from collective cinema experience how ill advised it is for writers to move their families into empty large buildings with threatening auras, but hey that’s half the fun. They should have especially known better here though because they’re hired to house sit the place by the weirdest people imaginable, two creepy old goats played by a half mad Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart, and let me tell you if these two tried to hire me to look after their weird empty English house I’d run the other way, but then we wouldn’t have a story I suppose. The film hinges on a dynamic that consists of Reed trying to be steadfast and responsible but slowly succumbing to some Jack Torrence level madness while Black’s ineffectual wife blathers on in ditzy mania and the poor kid is stuck between them. There’s a highly effective sequence in the manor’s pool where playful, benign roughhousing between father and son turns unexpectedly violent and grim very fast and is a nice example of tension building and infused menace on Reed’s part. Bette Davis shows up in a rather forgettable role and there’s a spooky grinning valet driver who may or may not be a ghost that sows seeds of narrative and tonal unrest too. It’s nothing fancy, nothing new or noteworthy but as far as routine, atmospheric haunted house flicks with esteemed actors go, you could do worse. Streaming now on Shudder.

-Nate Hill