I always want to like Burnt Offerings (1976) more than I actually do. Or maybe I think I should enjoy it more than I do, or that it's better than I think it is and I just don't get it. I mean, I dig it in its own way- that way being a campy one. But wahhh, I want to like it in a scary The Haunting kind of way and I never really do. Life, she is so very hard sometimes.
City folk Ben and Marian Rolf rent a sprawling, sorta-dilapidated manse for the summer from a very odd duo, the Allardyce siblings. The property comes super cheap, but with a caveat: they must care for the Mother Allardyce, who is safely tucked away in a room upstairs and won't be any sort of a bother, honest. Now if it it were me, I'd go running at that little addendum to the lease terms, but not the Rolfs! Instead, they pack up their young son, Ben's Aunt Elizabeth, and their stuff and they move in.
Before long, things get a bit hinky at stately Allardyce Manor. Marian enjoys cleaning and leaving trays of food out for Mrs. Allardyce a little too much; when he's not trying to drown his son in the pool, Ben has recurring dreams of a smiling hearse chauffeur; Aunt Elizabeth begins to lose her life sparkle. And speaking of Mrs. Allardyce, no one has actually seen her at all...
Aside: I now want to start some sort of company called Life Sparkle, obviously to be geared toward women. I'm a little fuzzy on specifics, but it will involve life-coaching, sweatsuits, and diet tips.
Now reading all that, you'd think that Burnt Offerings would rock- nay, it would blast my face off with the scariness. I loves me a good haunted house, and I loves loves me movies featuring unseen relatives tucked away somewhere. I loves me a nicely-paced 70s horror flick, and those from director Dan Curtis in particular never fail to bring me joy. Unfortunately, watching Burnt Offerings is usually like this for me:
"... ... ... okay ... ... ... wow, what a fucking great last ten minutes!"
By the way, "..." isn't Braille. They're meant to indicate long periods where I just sort of sit there.
So is it me? Is it the movie? Both? Neither? I can never figure out the issue. The chauffeur is meant to be creepy, I know, but I actually find him rather goofy. I think Karen Black and Oliver Reed are fine and treat the material with more gravitas than it probably deserves. Reed, in particular, is fantastic at just plain playing scared. Burgess Meredith chews the eff out of his one scene as an Allardyce sib, and as dotty old Aunt Elizabeth, Bette Davis is...well. Somehow in the post Baby Jane years, she became a sort of Scooby-Doo version of herself, didn't she? In movies like Burnt Offerings and Scream, Pretty Peggy, you can tell she just sort of didn't give a fuck anymore. She didn't care about whatever makeup they'd put her in (or not put her in), or what the script was. Her very presence is enough to satisfy, and she smokes for a while and calls it a day. Mind you, these are not complaints- quite the opposite, in fact. She's great in that Bette Davis: The Later Years kind of way she had. You know what I'm talkin' 'bout, Willis.
I still can't figure it out, Burnt Offerings: is it you, or is it me? Maybe it's you...but I know I'll always blame me. I'll trot you out every so often for another go, thinking "I didn't fall in love last time, but oh, this time! This time will be the time!" We have a weird relationship, don't we Burnt Offerings? It's like I married someone I don't find physically attractive, or someone I don't love. If I just hold out long enough and try super hard, my feelings will change! Won't they? If only Life Sparkle already existed...surely the advice columnist there could help me out!