Friday, October 14, 2011

B-Grade Bouillabaisse #1 - Burnt Offerings

I wasn't kidding when I said that I'd be updating awfully frequently, now was I?

I'm sure I'm not the first person to note how difficult it seems to write anything of note, especially when compared to those whose writing I anticipate and enjoy.  Couple that with my lifelong affair with torpor and this is what you get.  However, I have in fact watched a whole lot of movies since January.  I wish I could say that most of them were great.  I suppose I'll settle for each of them having their moments.

I remember watching Burnt Offerings on television as a boy.  There was a languid, hazy quality that I found nightmarish.  Now I'm more inclined to be annoyed by the Cybill-Shepherd-on-Moonlighting levels of vaseline on the lens.  Seriously, it's practically blurry much of the time. I also felt guilty for exhorting my wife to watch the whole thing with me because it overstays its welcome by a good 30 minutes.  I am able at some times to be patient through a more slowly paced or subtly nuanced film.  However, other times I get bored and annoyed with the fact that people in the movie don't seem to catch on to shit and it's taking forever for anything to happen.

This is a movie about an old house that a family rents for a suspiciously low rate as a summer vacation home.  Its decrepit condition can only be remedied by an infusion of fresh blood, provided by each seasons' crop of new tenants.  Running the show is an old woman in the attic, who is not quite as she is first described by the owners of the home when meeting with the prospective renters. It's a really cool premise, and for a while the enormous house and gross conditions and that dreamlike creepy aspect keep it interesting.

Burnt Offerings features the talents of some people who are/were seemingly creepy in real life as well as in front of the camera.  Burgess Meredith gives off a kind of goofy yet sinister vibe, which is fun.  Oliver Reed is greasy and overly dramatic, pompous in his false joviality. Karen Black is so unattractive she's almost good-looking.  I always figured she'd never have become even marginally famous in any decade other than the 70's.  Bette Davis is pretty decent in this, but not for a while as she's given a lame sort of spunky old lady personality for most of the movie. It's when things go south for her that she really shines - and I don't just mean the sheen of perspiration magnified by the fuzzy lens.
"If you hate this movie so fucking much, why bother writing about it at all, especially considering you write about one entry every 9 months anyway?" you may be wondering.  This scene is why I'm bothering to write about it.  And besides, I don't hate this movie.  I was just more freaked out by it when I was a kid.  This scene doesn't mark the first appearance of the scariest thing in this movie, but it's the most effective appearance to me.  Bette Davis could act, dammit, and she gives her character's death some punch, which is no mean feat considering how incredibly old she was at the time.  And when the chauffeur pounds on the door and then the door opens to show THIS-
Even fat, old, boring me still got a touch of the willies.  And that scene gave me nightmares when I was a kid. So, to recap - cool premise.  Weird cast.  Forgettable kid.  Shameless overacting by Reed and Black. Bette Davis has an awesome scene. Crazy ending with a couple of other nice scenes - but the chauffeur?  That's the keeper.
I'm sure this movie has its fans.  It's weird and of its time through and through. Unfortunately, it fails to live up to its potential. I can't say I recommend this movie wholeheartedly, but if you have a fever and it comes on tv while you're under the covers and on the mend, check it out. I think sickness would complement this movie nicely.