Burnt Offerings (film)

Burnt Offerings

Theatrical release poster by Tom Jung
Directed by Dan Curtis
Produced by Dan Curtis
Robert Singer
Written by Dan Curtis
William F. Nolan
Based on Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
Starring Karen Black
Oliver Reed
Bette Davis
Lee H. Montgomery
Eileen Heckart
Anthony James
Burgess Meredith
Music by Bob Cobert
Cinematography Jacques R. Marquette
Edited by Dennis Virkler
Distributed by United Artists (1976), MGM Studios (current distributor)
Release dates
  • October 18, 1976 (1976-10-18)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.56 million[1]

Burnt Offerings is a 1976 American mystery horror film co-written and directed by Dan Curtis and starring Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Bette Davis, Lee H. Montgomery, Eileen Heckart and Burgess Meredith. It is based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Robert Marasco.[2] The story concerns a family who moves into an old house that regenerates itself by means of feeding off the life force of any occupant that is injured or in pain. Other family members are all killed off, with the survivor awaiting a new family.

While the film received mixed reviews from critics, it won several awards in 1977. Originally set on Long Island, the movie moves the action to California and was the first movie to be filmed at Dunsmuir House, Oakland, California.


The Rolf family takes a summer-long vacation at a large, shabby neo-classical 19th-century mansion in the California countryside. The family consists of Marian (Karen Black), her husband Ben (Oliver Reed), their twelve-year-old son Davey (Lee H. Montgomery), and Ben's elderly Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis). The owners of the house are the Allardyce siblings, Arnold and Roz (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart); there is also a caretaker called Walker. The Allardyces inform the Rolfs of a particularly odd requirement for their rental: their mother will continue to live in her upstairs room, and the Rolfs are to provide her with meals during their stay. The siblings explain that the old woman is obsessed with privacy and will not interact with them, so meals are to be left outside her door. Marian eagerly accepts this task, having already succumbed to the allure of the ornate house and its period decor. She becomes obsessed with caring for the home, begins to dress as if she is from the Victorian age, and distances herself from her family. Of particular interest to her is a room near the bedroom of Mrs. Allardyce, which contains collections of framed portraits of people from different eras and a music box.

Various unusual circumstances occur during the summer: While playing in the pool, Ben almost drowns Davey; a gas heater in Davey's bedroom is mysteriously turned on itself and the windows closed on their own accord; Ben is haunted by a dream and a waking vision of an eerie, grinning, malevolent chauffeur whom he first saw at his mother's funeral many years earlier. With each "accident", the house regenerates itself. Initially unknown to her family, Marian is becoming possessed by the spirit of the house. When Aunt Elizabeth suddenly takes ill and dies, Marian does not attend the funeral. She steps into a previously barren room with half-dead flowers only to discover a beautiful, ornate garden. Upon returning home from the funeral, Ben confronts Marian, who retreats to the room outside the bedroom of Mrs. Allardyce. Ben angrily confronts her about her obsession with the home and what the home is doing to their family. When she denies it, he reveals to her his intentions of leaving the next day, "with or without you".

Ben sleeps in an armchair in his son's room but awakens to the sound of old shingles falling off the house. Looking out the window he sees that the house is rejuvenating itself. He attempts to escape with his son but a tree blocks the road. When Marian drives them back to the house Ben accuses her of being a part of what is going on, and then sees her as the chauffeur, and becomes catatonic. The next day, while Davey is swimming and a still catatonic Ben is watching him, the placid pool turns into angry, vicious waves, pulling the boy under as Ben is unable to move. Marian frantically saves her son, and the incident awakens Ben out of his catatonic state although he was unable to move to save Davey. Marian agrees that it's time to leave.

As Ben readies his family to leave, Marian decides to go back inside to tell Mrs. Allardyce they are leaving. When she fails to return to the car Ben goes inside to get her, but cannot find her. Ben decides to confront Mrs. Allardyce, whom he has never seen face to face. Ben is horrified when he finds that his wife is now the old woman in the attic. Ben is thrown from an attic window, landing on the windshield of his car. In shock, Davey runs toward the house and is killed when one of the chimneys falls on him. With the house now fully rejuvenated and glistening like new, the Allardyce siblings and Walker magically reappear and are heard marveling at the house's beauty and rejoicing over the return of their "mother". The photo collection now includes photos of Ben, Davey and Aunt Elizabeth, the latest of the house's many victims.



Filming took place in August 1975 at the Dunsmuir House located in Oakland, California.[3] Burnt Offerings was the first movie to be filmed at the Dunsmuir House. According to a commentary with Dan Curtis, William F. Nolan, and Karen Black, Curtis reveals that his rationale for the fog machine was to be able to shoot "motes."[4]

Bette Davis reportedly had conflicts with Karen Black, feeling Black did not extend her an appropriate degree of respect, and that her behavior on the film set was unprofessional.[5]

Critical reception

Movie critic Roger Ebert called the film "a mystery, all right", concluding "Burnt Offerings just persists, until it occurs to us that the characters are the only ones in the theater who don't know what's going to happen next."[6] Variety stated "The horror is expressed through sudden murderous impulses felt by Black and Reed, a premise which might have been interesting if director Dan Curtis hadn't relied strictly on formula treatment."[2]

In contrast, Chris Wright of MoreHorror.com praised the film's plot, stating "A simple yet original plot for a movie that is done so well. The acting is superb from all the actors. The low tone music adds a strikingly eerie presence to the movie."[7] Rovi Donald Guarisco of Movie Guide called the film "worthy of rediscovery by the horror fans who missed it the first time", concluding "In the end, Burnt Offerings is probably a bit too methodical in its pacing for viewers accustomed to slam-bang approach of post-'70s horror fare but seasoned horror fans will find plenty to enjoy in this film's subtle charms."[8]


Award Subject Nominee Result
Saturn Awards Best Horror Film Won
Best Director Dan Curtis
Best Supporting Actress Bette Davis
Sitges Film Festival Best Director Dan Curtis
Best Actor Burgess Meredith
Best Actress Karen Black

Home media

In 2003, MGM released a region 1 DVD of Burnt Offerings. The original video shape is in wide screen (16:9) and also features an audio commentary with Dan Curits, Karen Black and William F. Nolan. The DVD was also poorly received. Reviewers criticized the video quality, which appeared to have been shot with soft focus,[9] and the Dolby Digital Mono audio that made the voices muddy and indistinct.

A Blu-ray of the film was released on October 6, 2015 by Kino Lorber.


Burnt Offerings
Soundtrack album by Robert Cobert
Released June 28, 2011
Genre Score
Length 01:05:22
Label Counterpoint

Like most other Dan Curtis works, the music for Burnt Offerings was composed and conducted by Robert Cobert. In 2011, years after the film's release, the original full soundtrack album was released by Counterpoint and was limited to only 1,000 copies. The album features all of Cobert's original score, plus alternate tracks not used in the film including two alternate Music Box Themes. The CD booklet is 20 pages long and illustrated with photos taken on the set of the film during production.[10] An original suite of the film's soundtrack can be found on the 2000 Robert Cobert collection album The Night Stalker and Other Classic Thrillers.

Track listing

All tracks written by Robert Cobert. 

No. Title Length
1. "Foreboding Evil"   1:32
2. "Memories of a Lifetime"   2:06
3. "17 Shore Road"   2:08
4. "Mrs. Allardyce's Room"   0:53
5. "Music Box Theme"   2:50
6. "Danger at the Pool"   2:53
7. "Funeral Dream"   1:28
8. "The Pool After Dark"   0:32
9. "Rendezvous Gone Wrong"   2:10
10. "Aunt Elizabeth Investigates"   2:06
11. "The Chauffeur"   1:04
12. "The Clocks Restart/The Gas Leaks"   0:50
13. "Marian & Aunt Elizabeth's Quarrel"   2:06
14. "Aunt Elizabeth Falls Ill"   4:42
15. "Music Box Theme"   1:29
16. "Terror Up the Stairs"   2:19
17. "The Greenhouse"   0:26
18. "Rejuvenation and Attempted Escape"   2:44
19. "The Ride Back"   1:32
20. "Swimming Pool"   4:52
21. "Ben Confronts Terror"   1:43
22. "The Final Horror"   1:29
23. "A House Reborn/End Title"   3:08
24. "Marian Rolfe"   0:32
25. "House Eternal"   1:42
26. "Family in Danger"   1:35
27. "Main Title (Outtake)"   3:18
28. "Music Box Theme (Piano Version 1)"   2:51
29. "Alternate Music Box Theme #1 (Celesta Version)"   1:06
30. "Alternate Music Box Theme #2 (Piano Version 2)"   2:21
31. "Music Box Theme (shorter version)"   2:37
32. "Main Title (Reprise-Outtake)"   0:45
Total length:


  1. Richard Nowell, Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle Continuum, 2011 p 256
  2. 1 2 Variety film review; August 25, 1976, page 20.
  3. Thompson, Jeff (2009). The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis: Dark Shadows, the Night Stalker and Other Productions, 1966-2006. McFarland. p. 154. ISBN 0786453370.
  4. Burnt Offerings: Commentary (Media notes). Dan Curtis. MGM/DVD. 2003 [1976].
  5. Spada, James (1993). More Than a Woman. Little, Brown and Company; ISBN 0-316-90880-0, page 414; accessed July 31, 2013.
  6. Ebert, Roger (October 23, 2004). "Burnt Offerings: Movie Review". rogerebert.com. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
  7. Wright, Chris (February 24, 2011). "Burnt Offerings (1976): Movie Review". MoreHorror.com. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  8. Donald Guarisco, Rovi. "Burnt Offerings: movie review". Movie Guide. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
  9. Jawetz, Gil (August 26, 2003). "Burnt Offerings: DVD Review". DVD Talk. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
  10. Garbarini, Todd (June 29, 2011). "SOUNDTRACK REVIEW: "Burnt Offerings - a Hell of a Great Score"". Cinema Retro. Retrieved December 14, 2011.

External links

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