Saturday, June 23, 2012

...speaking of Burnt Offerings (spoilers)

I hate this movie.

So why am I reviewing it? Because other people like it, and this blog is all about spreading the love for all things Gothic. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, so maybe you’re reading this and you decide to watch it tonight (US readers, it’s on Netflix) and find it’s the next best thing since sliced bread. Right on.

But I’ll tell you why I don’t like it. The story is lame and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Yeah, the Chauffeur is scary and all, but other than being a flashback from Ben Rolf’s childhood, what does it have to do with the Allardyce house, and Mother, and all that?

Speaking of Mother, wow she’s pretty scary too. I mean a house that rejuvenates itself on the pain and death of its inhabitants, that’s pretty freaky. Night Gallery freaky, not 115 minutes movie freaky. Which brings me to another gripe. This just isn’t a cinematic film, although it was. It’s a made for TV movie directed by one of the worst TV hacks ever, Dan Curtis. I know, I know. Dark Shadows, blah blah blah. Dark Shadows was a happy accident for which we’ll be forever grateful. But look at some of his other mid 70s output, The Norliss Tapes, and those dreadfully dry remakes of classics Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray et all. Do you know Dan Curtis actually claimed in a Fangoria interview that he could have made a better movie out of The Exorcist? Somebody pop that man’s bubble of a bloated ego.

Dan Curtis decided to shoot the movie through fog filters and with low camera angles. If any film students know what effect that was supposed to have on the viewer, please let me know. On the commentary track to the DVD, Curtis claims the novel was incomprensible, and that in adapting the book with William F. Nolan, they were able to make the story make more sense. Not much. I get the fact that it’s some sort of variation on the All Devouring Dark Mother Goddess, but couldn’t you have infused the screenplay with a few “real” scary scenes? Daddy trying to drown the kid in the pool just doesn’t make me squirm in my seat. I remember reading the book when I was fourteen (published in 1973) when publishers were still coasting on the diabolic fumes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. This looks like an old ladies’ garden party by comparison.

And speaking of old ladies, even Bette Davis doesn’t have enough to do to liven up the proceedings. She does do a good death scene, though. It goes on for twenty some minutes, which must be some kind of record for eye bulging and bed writhing.

Davis, along with Oliver Reed and Karen Black, were a good draw to bring people out to the cinemas in 1976, but aside from the fact that Reed can do the most terrified looks of any adult male every committed to film (see his camera mugging in 1963’s Paranoiac) neither he nor Black are given anything to sink their teeth into. This sort of subtle Gothic thriller requires characters with deeper psychological scars beyond a recurring nightmare from their childhood. The Rolfs are a normal American family, which I am sure was Curtis’ point… but it’s boring.

So what’s good about this movie? The soundtrack. And for people of a certain age (i.e: younger than me who saw Burnt Offerings on TV at an impressionable age) the Chauffeur. And I have to admit, he has a creepy grin. And creepy is good.

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