Saturday, July 5, 2008

Burnt Offerings

Even though this movie has a few relatively mainstream actors, such as Karen Black and Oliver Reed, even including the legendary Ms. Bette Davis in one her later roles that actually had some genuine acting on her part and not just some half ass performance just for the paycheck, for which she was so famous for doing in her last years. Burnt Offerings is one of those movies that you have to watch at least twice to fully grasp what's happening. This alone gives it the cult following that grants it permission among my inventory. Anyway, the movie starts out with a young couple that are looking for a house to rent, they happen upon a mansion that is being rented out for the summer at a suspiciously low price. The elderly and eccentric brother and sister that own the house have bestowed upon the couple one inconvenience... Their elderly mother lives in the attic bedroom and doesn't ever leave. This woman is to be left 3 trays of food every day and that's all. Despite this incredibly odd situation, they rent the house anyway because the wife just won't shut up about it. After a while, it seems almost to possess her. She becomes more and more interested in the old lady's hobby of collecting photographs. One odd aspect of the photos displayed is that not one of the people in the photos are smiling, in fact they look pretty miserable. Their young son has also come along for the ride and when he is seen accidentally falling and hurting his knee, moments later a seemingly dead plant has some new live growth on it. Pain seems to heal the old and somewhat decrepit mansion in some way. When the father cuts his finger on a champagne wire, a light bulb that originally did not work before now works fine. The Mrs. embarks on a cleaning frenzy that Joan Crawford would have been proud of, but is growing increasingly worried about the old lady upstairs because she's not eating the food that is being left for her. One day while restoring the old pool out back, the father is overcome with the desire to drown his son and nearly succeeds. The son manages to get away and the next day, the shabby old pool has now become a sparkling oasis with fountains and statues. As the mother grows more and more obsessed with the old lady upstairs, the meals have resumed consumption. The mother also starts to lie in order to keep anyone from being suspicious of the house. She notices the change in the pool and takes credit for cleaning it herself. She also becomes less and less receptive to her husbands advances and ultimately finds him repulsive. To console herself, she constantly returns to the old lady's sitting room. Soon she starts dressing like the "old-timey" women in the old lady's photo collection, even to the point of getting gray hair. Meanwhile, the aunt (Davis) who is usually so vibrant and witty has become a worn out old lady. She seems drained of all her energy, her hair turns gray and she's got enough luggage under her eyes to go to Europe. Soon after that, she becomes deathly ill. The father seems to be slowly losing his grasp on reality and keeps seeing a creepy smiley hearse driver that scared him as a child at his mothers funeral. The boy is almost killed by a mysterious gas leak in his bedroom, with all the windows and doors locked. As mom fakes calling the doctor when it looks like the aunt is gonna die any minute, she immediately withdraws into the old lady's room and starts eating her din-din. In a very simple but effective scene, the smiley hearse driver shows up instead of the doctor and shoves a casket at the aunt, next scene is her funeral. We also start noticing more changes to the house. The greenhouse that was originally full of dead plants is now full of beautiful plants and flowers. The house itself seems to be draining or consuming people and renewing itself with their pain and sorrow. After the aunts death, the mom doesn't even go to the funeral because she has to keep the old lady company. In fact, the mother is now fully gray, her wardrobe and hairdos are strictly 19th century and she has become extremely over protective of the old lady that apparently only she ever sees. When dad actually sees the house changing, the roof shingles, the floorboards, the tile, all falling off and being replaced with new ones, he decides the time has come to leave. Too bad the trees have decided otherwise. They block the road and attempt to drag dad off into the woods. Mom comes to the rescue and brings them back to the house. Some time later, the kid is swimming and the pool attempts to drown him. This even convinces mom that it's time to vacate. As they're leaving, mom decides that she can't leave without telling her favorite old fart that she's going. In a creepy conclusion, the dad gets tired of waiting for mom, so he goes back into the house after her. He goes into the old lady's room looking for mom, sees the old lady sitting by the window and swings her around to face him. When she turns around, it's mom with a possessed looking face, dressed as the old lady. Soon we see dad plummeting to his death from the attic window. He lands on the car containing his kid, the kid freaks and runs. He is then crushed under the rubble of a falling chimney. In the next scene we see the house, restored to it's prime time glory. Upon their return, we also hear the oddball brother and sister bragging about how beautiful it is and how happy they are that their mother has been restored to them. The camera pans through the old lady's photos and there are some new additions... dad, kid and aunt. The mother is missing from the photo. OK, so what the hell does it all mean? I assume that the house is being rented out to unsuspecting families who then become the spiritual battery that recharges the old mansion like sacrifices, hence the title "Burnt Offerings". What's the story with mom and the old lady? I assume that there never was an old lady. I think it was a ploy to get the mom interested in and ultimately possessed by the spirit of the old lady. That's why the food was not at first being eaten, but resumes when the mom becomes obsessed with her. This is confirmed when we see the mom grubbing on the old lady's supper. Since the mother is not among the photo collection at the end, it's my assumption that she was always destined to be part of the house. Great mystery flick that requires some thought to figure it out. Great mysteries are like puzzles without a box top to follow, only through a slow piecing together can we see the full picture.

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