Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)

An odd little film found its way onto Turner Classic Movies the other night.  TV vet Dan (DARK SHADOWS) Curtis’ much reviled BURNT OFFERINGS (1976), has some effective moments of fright and suspense, but finally chucks it all for a denouement so obvious and cheesy that  everything that comes before it is rendered a waste.  This film about the Roth family who find what they believe will be the ideal Summer home, stars Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Lee H. Montgomery and Bette Davis.  Not surprisingly, the house is haunted, and only Black as Marian Roth makes it out alive.  At least I think she gets out alive.  By the end, virtually nothing is explained-not even the details surrounding the predictable “twist” ending.  None of this is helped by Curtis’ use of distorting wide-angle lenses and fuzzy soft focus photography. 

But there are brilliantly stylized moments of fear along the way: A frightening scene in which Ben Roth (Reed) tries to drown his young son Davey (Montgomery), is well-directed, with water level camera placement in the manner of JAWS.  The cutting, as well as Montgomery’s frantic performance, create a memorable moment.  A creepy looking actor named Anthony James (as Ben’s childhood chauffeur), grins his way into Ben’s nightmares (and ours).  James doesn’t say anything-he doesn’t have to-it’s all in that porcelain smile.  But yet another unanswered question: Why is the chauffeur’s car a 1920s model T, when Ben’s childhood years should have been in the 1950s? 

It is a nice touch by Screenwriters Curtis and William F. Nolan (or was it the idea of the novel’s original author, Robert Morasco?) to have Ben’s Aunt (Bette Davis) refer to him as “Benjy”.  The Roths call their son “Davey”, and the film’s creators suggest both father and son are viewed as helpless children by their elders.  This is especially astute considering the film’s theme of the slow destruction of a family unit. 

A note about Lee H. Montgomery:  The child star of much 1970s television and film work was unfairly maligned in some circles.  Critics Michael and Harry Medved even went so far as to nominate him for the title “most obnoxious child performer of all time” in their 1980 book THE GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS.  In actuality, young Montgomery was a good actor, though he was often saddled with inferior material.  He didn’t deserve the condemnation.

Besides  BURNT OFFERINGS, Dan Curtis produced very few films for theatrical release.  However his TV work was often exceptional.  His 1975 film TRILOGY OF TERROR (also with Karen Black) gave the world one of the most unforgettable sequences in TV history:  Black terrorized by a knife wielding, miniature African fetish doll.  Of course Curtis was working from original material by Richard Matheson-a brilliant suspense novelist/short story author/screenwriter whose work often appeared on THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  The puppetry for TRILOGY (remember, this was years before CGI)was so amazing that the little doll featured in the film is still on display at Universal studios.

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April 10, 2010 - Posted by | Bette Davis, Dan Curtis, Horror, Karen Black, Lee H. Montgomery, Oliver Reed, William F. Nolan | , , , , , , , , , ,

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