Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My thoughts on Burnt Offerings

I just finished reading the book Burnt Offerings today and am up for discussing it! I know I said in the last blog post that this one would be about Cedarburg, but I'm doing some research about the town and its buildings first. This time I will be adding a little history to my photos.

So, onto Burnt Offerings. How about that cover? It's intriguing, right?

My Burnt Offerings adventure began when I watched the movie version of it a month or so ago. I saw it being advertised on the Comet channel as a movie coming up. Do you guys get Comet? It's a channel that plays old B-movies and Sci-Fi stuff mostly. It's good for a laugh and the occasional scare. If you'd like to get a glimpse into the kind of channel I'm talking about here:

Comet TV schedule 

So, Comet did a somewhat funny ad for the movie version of Burnt Offerings and I was intrigued. I always like a good haunted house story. But Comet being Comet, they only said the movie would be playing some time that month without giving an exact date and time. So I ended up renting it from the library.

The first thing I noticed before watching Burnt Offerings was that an older Burgess Meredith and Bette Davis were in it! I went in to the movie expecting to enjoy watching them and they did not disappoint. They were both perfect in their roles. But beyond that, I had some issues with the stiff acting in this movie. Actually, I had issues with the movie in general. I don't want to give too much away, but I don't think I will by saying that Burnt Offerings was disjointed in parts and not believable to me. I don't expect to believe in every event in a supernatural thriller, but I need to believe in the characters. If I don't think a person would act like what I'm watching, or if I can't connect with the characters,  it's hard for me to get into the movie as it goes along. I cared about Bette Davis' character (Aunt Elizabeth) but that's about it.

Watch out Bette!

OK, really quickly and with no spoilers... A couple (Marian and Ben) their son David and Ben's Aunt Elizabeth are staying for a few months of the summer in what is basically a run down mansion. They were looking for a place to get away, so when they read an ad for this place, which is of course way, way, way out in the middle of nowhere, their interest was piqued.

When they go to check out this big house, they meet an eccentric couple of siblings, who they'll be renting it from. One of these siblings is played by Burgess Meredith, who is hamming up his four minutes in this film big time. It was a highlight.

These two siblings offer Marian and Ben the house for the summer at an unbelievable rate. However, Ben assumes there must be a catch! The catch is, Marian and Ben must look after Mrs. Allardyce, the siblings' mother.

They are told that they must bring Mrs. Allardyce meals of food on a tray and leave it outside her bedroom door three times per day, every day they are there. The siblings tell the couple that they probably won't see Mrs. Allardyce. They say she is a frail 85 year old and just keeps to herself. OK, here is my major complaint (of many) with this movie. Why, oh why, would this couple not ask to meet Mrs. Allardyce before accepting this offer? They're willing to sign on to spend a summer taking care of a giant house and an old lady they haven't met?

Yeah, that's the house.

Well, Marian and Ben take the offer and move in for the summer. Keeping this spoiler free, let's just say things do not go well. There is a supernatural bent to this, and taking care of "Mrs. Allardyce" is the bad idea it sounds like. I'll also say that I'm 50/50 on the end of the movie. There is one moment at the end that is super for a ghost story and gives me the creeps as I think of it now. But then there is a lot of gratuitous gore, that just leaves you asking "Why?"

I listened to the commentary on this DVD, mainly to give someone a chance to explain why they went the way they did with that ending. The commentary was done by the director, the producer, and Karen Black who played Marian. Karen Black was a nice sounding woman with some stories she remembered from filming this. Here's one that stood out: there's a moment when Oliver Reed, the man who plays her husband Ben in this, keeps turning her away from the camera. It happened again and again, so only the back of her head showed, while he faced the camera. She decided that he wanted to be the only one getting camera time! So, eventually Karen Black asked him to stop so the audience could see her as well and his response was to say nothing and angrily stomp off for some time. And here, I thought their fighting in this movie was an act!

Are we having fun yet?

One thing made clear over and over on the commentary was how the director, Dan Curtis and Karen Black thought the Burnt Offerings book was the most boring thing ever and that this movie was a vast improvement on it. They said they couldn't remember a bit of the book, except for the ending which leaves you wondering what even happened. Well, considering how much I disliked a good part of the end of their movie, I decided to give the book a go. I figured "It can't be worse!" Well, guess what? The book was a ton better! I actually found myself being angry at those on the DVD commentary because of the wrong idea they gave. We're all free to have a different opinion on a book, but why would Dan Curtis want to produce and direct a movie based on a book that he found so forgettable? And why would some dialogue in the book and movie match word for word, if he spaced the whole thing? I actually felt lied to by a DVD commentary, which is pretty strange.

Burnt Offerings the book, by Robert Marasco, was so much more detailed and sensical. I understood the characters and their motives. Events were explained and wrapped up in ways that weren't even attempted in the movie. I liked the characters more and cared about what would happen to them. And far from boring, it was the kind of book that kept me up late at night, quickly turning the pages. Oh, and the end was completely clear! Much more clear than the end of the movie! You even get an explanation for the title in the book. I can only think the people on that DVD commentary were on some kind of ego trip, saying their movie was so superior. After finishing the book today, I wanted to get a time machine so I could go back and somehow get involved with the movie production and make the movie more true to form!

So, meh on the movie, but I recommend reading the book! But just so you know, this isn't a cheer-fest. This story is dark, but it makes you think. It makes you think about materialism and the priority money/things are for some people. In that way, it was a good follow-up to reading Jaws for me. Another book from the 70s that is about materialism and money being some people's main goal, even above their family and friends. Come to think of it, in both stories, some people die because of one person's greed.

An interesting piece of trivia is that Stephen King loves this book. Burnt Offerings was published in 1973 and The Shining was published in 1977. That's something to keep in mind when you notice how much these two stories have in common! (I'm talking about the book version of the Shining more than the movie.) I think Stephen King was pretty heavily inspired! Actually, I just looked that up and read that he was admittedly inspired. The Shining is much scarier to me, though.

So, have any of you read or watched Burnt Offerings? Or maybe both? I'd like to discuss the differences between the two with you guys. Some people say Burnt Offerings was the scariest movie they'd ever seen. I was only scared by that one moment I liked at the end, but the book had me on the edge of my seat. I'd call it a supernatural thriller more than a horror novel, though.

Speaking of the book, I took a few photos inside of it, to take you guys on a trip down memory lane. Well, this first one will probably take you down memory lane. Looks like after 1990, the librarian was scanning the books instead of stamping them. Either that, or no one has checked this out since 1990! I'm trying to remember when they stopped stamping them. You know, I kind of miss the date stamp. It seemed official somehow. 😉

This second photo goes with an older set of memories. Look at all these suggestions for what you could find at the library!

Phonograph Records! I wonder what kind of Government Documents they're talking about. And Sheet Music! I think you can still order that through the library, actually.

As I said before, I'll be working on that Cedarburg post. I picked up a few books about that town and have been enjoying looking at pics of it from the Civil War times! It's mind-blowing to look at photos of buildings from the 1800s that look the same today. To think, I've stood where a horse and buggy can be seen in some of these photos. So, I'll be researching and writing and hope to be sharing that one soon!


  1. I have the hard-cover of this one ... even the dust-jacket is in good shape....
    ... the House used in the film was the same one in Phantasm (Morningside Mortuary) ... wishing you and yours well, good Lady Justine... and Hello from Marshville...

    1. Dr. Theda ~ That's cool! Is the cover on your book similar to this one? I saw online that there are at least two different cover designs for this book. I like this one with the face in the doorknob. It kind of says it all.

      Yeah, that house is something! I heard on the DVD commentary that Burnt Offerings was the first movie to use it. I haven't seen Phantasm yet, but I probably should. It would be interesting to see the house again, anyway!

  2. The book was so much better. I read it as a tween before I saw the movie and can say that I was so disappointed in the movie. It did not have any of the ambiance of the book. I hated Oliver Reed in the role of Ben. The movie was just cheesy with low production value and not scary, suprising or interesting. So I agree with you. Another great read made into a not so good movie - The Stepford Wives.

    1. Lady M ~ It sure was! Isn't it insane how the people on the commentary claimed their movie was so much better than the book? I'm glad I read it after watching the movie. I can imagine what a disappointment it was to watch the movie after reading the book!

      Yeah... Oliver Reed. He managed to come across as snooty and a bully all at once. I read one guy's review of the movie, probably on IMDb. He said he had a problem watching Oliver Reed because he was the kind of guy who always looked like he wanted to punch someone in the face! I don't know if that was true all the time, but that's sure how he came across in this movie. I found the Ben character likable enough in the book, when he's in control of his own actions anyway.

      I agree that the movie seemed pretty low budget. The camera tricks I heard about on the commentary amounted to things like leaving the camera to film in a hole the director dug in the yard or covering the lens with vaseline. So yeah, nearly free camera tricks. :)

      Yeah, the book version of The Stepford Wives is superior to the movie. I assume the newer movie too. I haven't brought myself to watching that yet. I was thinking of The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby recently. I'm not sure how good the movie version of Rosemary's Baby is, because I haven't seen it, but the book was sure good! Although, is there ever a time when the movie is better than the book it was based on?

  3. Wow, the book sounds great! It even explains the title, you say? It never occurred to me before but the movie never did explain that, did it? It seems weird of these producers/directors to adapt something they didn't like, and they sound a bit arrogant! That cockeyed doorhandle has the perfect reaction to them. Haha.

    1. Chris ~ It is! Yeah, even the title is explained. It's downright spelled out in the last several pages. Right, the movie leaves you guessing where in the world they came up with that title. I ended up googling "Burnt Offerings" after seeing the movie in an attempt to figure that out. All I found were some Biblical guesses by people who I guess hadn't read the book. Even if I hadn't gotten so into the book, it would have been worth reading just for the title explanation!

      I agree. It makes no sense to want to make a movie based on a book you didn't like, or claim not to remember. What else doesn't make sense is that the director said he had the book in a drawer for a decade, waiting to make it into a movie. And then once he finally gets a chance to film it, he claims the book is no good? Huh?

      Hehe, yeah. Even the door handle is saying "Huh?"