Burnt Offerings (1976)

“Up the ancient stairs, behind the locked door, something lives, something evil, from which no one has ever returned.” A nice little haunted house thriller, Burnt Offerings is worth at least one viewing just for the offbeat cast alone that includes Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart, Dub Taylor (Bonnie and Clyde) and Lee Montgomery (best known as the rat-befriending kid in Ben, the 1972 sequel to Willard). The eccentric brother-sister owners of a creepy Victorian-era mansion – Arnold Allardyce (Meredith) and Rox Allardyce (Heckart) – rent the house for the summer to Marian (Black) and Ben Rolf (Reed), along with their son David (Montgomery) and Ben’s aunt Elizabeth (Davis). The cheap rent of just $900 for the whole summer comes with a strange request: the Allardyces’ elderly mother, who never leaves her upstairs room, will remain in the house (meals are to be left outside her door three times daily). As soon as the Rolfs move in, strange things begin to happen as Marian becomes more and more obsessed with the house, while Ben sinks into a deep depression punctuated with fits of rage (he starts having visions of an old hearse driven by a sinister chauffeur portrayed by Anthony James). All of the actors ham it up in great fashion, especially Reed and Davis, whose death scene is absolutely disturbing. Although the occasionally disjointed film drags in spots, there are definitely some tense moments and the ending is truly horrifying. Any true fan of the haunted house genre needs to check this one off their list. Directed by Dan Curtis (creator of the Dark Shadows TV series), Burnt Offerings was based on Robert Marasco’s 1973 novel of the same name, which reportedly was one of Stephen King’s influences when he wrote The Shining (1977). The film was shot entirely on location at the 1899 Dunsmuir House (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) in Oakland, California. A legendary boozer, Reed once drank 126 pints of beer in 24 hours, according to Robert Sellers’ fascinating 2009 biography Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed.

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