WTFW: Burnt Offerings (1976)

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

WTFW: Burnt Offerings (1976)

Robert Marasco (September 22, 1936 – December 6, 1998) was an American horror writer best known for the 1970 Broadway play Child's Play.

Child's Play debuted at the Royale Theater in New York on February 17.  Starring Pat Hingle, the play dealt with demonic doings at a Catholic boys' school.  Marasco drew both on his experience as a teacher of Latin and Greek classics at Regis High School and a newspaper account he had read about a teacher who, after assigning his students some homework, immediately killed himself by jumping out a window.  Child's Play garnered a rave review on opening night from Clive Barnes of the New York Times, followed by a Tony nomination for Best Play of the Year.  The production ran for 342 performances.  Following a less successful London production at the Queen's Theatre in 1971, the play was made into a film in 1972; Sidney Lumet directed, and the cast included James Mason, Robert Preston, and Beau Bridges.

After Child's Play, Marasco published only two novels: Burnt Offerings in 1973, and Parlor Games in 1979.  Burnt Offerings was adapted into a 1976 film directed by Dan Curtis and starring Bette Davis and Oliver Reed.

Published in 1973 by Doubleday.  The Rolfes -- Ben, wife Marian, son David, and Aunt Elizabeth -- are a pleasant family from New York seeking to escape from the doldrums of a summer in their Queens apartment.  They find a beautiful old country mansion on Long Island -- restful, secluded, with pool and private beach -- perfect, for the right people.  But their "perfect" summer home hides terrors beyond their wildest imaginings.  During that long summer the house becomes a nightmare from which there seems to be no escape.

Marasco died of lung cancer in 1998, leaving several unproduced screenplays and the finished play Our Sally.  He was survived by his father, Anthony Marasco, and his sister, Carole Melillo.


Burnt Offerings (1976)

  • Genre: Horror – Mystery
  • Directed: Dan Curtis
  • Produced:
    • Dan Curtis 
    • Robert Singer
  • Written:
    • Robert Marasco (Novel “Burnt Offerings”) 
    • William F. Nolan (Screenplay) 
    • Dan Curtis (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart, Lee Montgomery, Dub Taylor, Bette Davis
  • Music: Bob Cobert
  • Cinematography: Jacques R. Marquette
  • Editing: Dennis Virkler
  • Studio:
    • Produzioni Europee Associati  
    • Dan Curtis Productions
  • Distributed:
    • United Artists  
    • MGM/UA Home Entertainment  
    • National Broadcasting Company
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 18 October 1976
  • Running Time: 116 minutes
  • Country: United States  Italy
  • Language: English

The Rolf family takes a vacation at a large, shabby neo-classical 1890s mansion in the California countryside.  The family consists of Marian, her husband Ben, their young son David, and their elderly aunt Elizabeth.  The owners of the house are the Allardyce siblings, brother Arnold and sister Roz.  The Allardyces inform their new tenants of a particularly odd requirement for their rental: the Allardyces' elderly mother continues to live in her upstairs room and the Rolfs provide her with meals during their stay.  The siblings explain that the old woman is obsessed with privacy and will probably not interact with them, so meals are to be left outside her door.  As it turns out, this task falls to the mother, who gradually succumbs 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 of particular concern to her is the room outside Mrs. Allardyce’s room with its huge collections of framed pictures and a music box.

Various "accidents" occur during the summer.  While playing in the pool the father almost drowns the child, a gas heater in the child's bedroom is mysteriously turned on and the windows closed.  Ben is haunted by a dream and a waking vision of an eerie, grinning, malevolent looking chauffeur whom he saw at his mother's funeral decades prior. With each "accident," the house begins to regenerate itself.  It gradually becomes clear that Marian is somehow being possessed or controlled by the house and that a malevolent force is slowly consuming the family.  Then Aunt Elizabeth suddenly takes ill and dies, and the mother does not attend the funeral.  She steps into a room that had previously contained barren and half dead flowers only to discover a beautiful, ornate garden.  Upon arriving home from the funeral, Ben confronts Marian, who retreats to the room outside the old woman's bedroom.  He angrily confronts her about her obsession with the home and what the home is doing to their family.  She denies it.  He reveals to her his intentions of leaving the next day, "with or without you."

The father sleeps in an armchair in the son's room, then awakens to the sound of old shingles falling off the home. He attempts to escape with the son but, a tree blocks the road.  The mother drives them back to the house; the father accuses her of being part of it.  He then sees the mother as the chauffeur, and becomes catatonic.  The next day, while David is swimming and 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 him, and agrees it is time to leave.  As Ben readies his family to leave the house, Marian decides to go back inside to tell Mrs. Allardyce that they are leaving.  After she fails to return to the car Ben goes inside to get her, but cannot find her.  Ben decides to confront the elderly Mrs. Allardyce, whom he has not seen face to face.  Ben is horrified when he finds that his wife has somehow become the old woman in the attic, or perhaps always has been.  Ben is thrown from an attic window, landing on the windshield of his car.  In shock, David runs toward the house and is killed when one of the chimneys falls on him.  When the house is now fully rejuvenated and glistening like new, the voices of the Allardyce siblings are heard marveling at the house's beauty and rejoicing over the return of their mother.  The house is seen to be filled with pictures of various people, many from years past, and some more recent, including those of Ben, David and Aunt Elizabeth.


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