Release Date(s)1976 (October 6, 2015)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM/20th Century Fox (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
Burnt Offerings was released in 1976 by United Artists and was directed by genre veteran Dan Curtis, who was mostly known for his Dark Shadows films at that time. Based upon the novel of the same name by Robert Marasco from 1973, it starred Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis as a family that moves into a nineteenth century mansion in the countryside. Once settled, strange things begin to happen around the house as each one of them is affected mentally and emotionally. Little do they know that the house harbors a dark secret that can only be learned of the hard way.
Now you can make comparisons to The Shining all day long, but what it boils down to is that Burnt Offerings just simply isn’t a very strong film. It has sparks of interesting moments, but it’s missing characters with authenticity. I use that word specifically because this movie is meant to feel real. There isn’t a drop of irony to be found anywhere in it, although it does have some unintentional humor to it. The characters just seem to be going through the motions without any specific destination. Perhaps it’s just the material itself because we’ve seen this type of story one too many times before and after this one. What we’re left with is a ploddingly-paced film without interesting characters or any strong desire to see the eventual outcome, of which is just about the blandest thing possible.
And I don’t meant to be hard on the actors. I think it should be clear that I’ve never cared for Karen Black much as an actress. I’ve never understood her appeal, nor have I really liked any character I’ve seen her portray. That’s just a personal feeling though, so I won’t hold the film responsible for it. Oliver Reed, on the other hand, is giving it his all, as is Bette Davis. David Rolf, who plays the kid in the family, is (at least for me) given the simple task of not being annoying, as most kids in these kinds of movies usually are. Thankfully, manages not to be and actually seems more like an actual character than anyone else in the film.
For its time, I suppose Burnt Offerings had something more to offer, but in the end, I felt burned by it (and yes, that pun was intentional). It strives for some sort of atmosphere and it has the makings of at least a watchable film, but without the proper ingredients or originality, it felt more like a chore to watch than anything. Others will get more out of it I’m sure, but this viewer found a mostly bland and uninteresting take on a very worn-through subgenre of horror.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray transfer of the film sports a sharp transfer, but not without its drawbacks. The film has a diffused, soft focus look built into many of it scenes, and trying to get fine detail out of them can be a little tricky. All in all, grain levels are handled well and appear quite natural, but detail is lacking a bit. It looked a little flat, honestly. The color palette is also a little questionable too. It’s never even from scene to scene, sometimes appearing vibrant, and other times lackluster. Skin tones are very warm, as well. Black levels are merely ok with some decent detail, but not quite as inky deep as one would hope for. Contrast and brightness levels appeared satisfactory and there were no signs of digital augmentation on display. Only minor film artifacts were left behind, which included some black speckling. So overall, it’s not a very depthful transfer, but still quite watchable. The lone soundtrack option, which is an English 2.0 DTS-HD track, supports the film well enough. Dialogue is mostly clear, although I found it mixed a bit too low at times, but never struggled tremendously to hear it. Sound effects and score benefit the most from the lossless quality, and have some decent heft to them. There isn’t much in the way of dynamic range or speaker-to-speaker activity either. It’s a mostly mono track in nature. Overall, it’s a good presentation, but could use a bit more sweetening to make it both look and sound better. There are no subtitle options to choose from either.
For the extras, there’s a very nice selection to check out, and is actually the best thing about this release. There are two audio commentaries, one with director/co-writer/producer Dan Curtis, actress Karen Black, and co-screenwriter William F. Nolan, and the other with film historian Richard Harland Smith. There are also three interviews: Anthony James: Acting His Face, Blood Ties: Lee Montgomery on Burnt Offerings, and From the Ashes: William F. Nolan on Burnt Offerings. There’s also the Trailers From Hell version of the theatrical trailer with commentary by Steve Senski, the Portraits of Fear: Burnt Offerings’ Family Album set of still images, and the theatrical trailer itself.
Overall, I found Burnt Offerings to be very middle of the road. The most interesting moments in the film happen within the film’s final minutes, which is just not a good reflection of the overall piece. Kino Lorber’s presentation of it leaves a little bit more to be desired outside of the supplements, but genre fans may find something worth their time if they can overlook its flaws.
- Tim Salmons