Burnt Offerings

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 1, 2007 03:29pm | Post a Comment
When I was a young'un, my parents exposed me to many horrifying films which they correctly reckoned I wouldn't understand but wrongly assumed wouldn't scar me for most of my adult life. I was four or five when my father took my six-year-old sister and I to see Alien. When I saw it again about twenty years later I was surprised at how vivid my memories were, although I could now recognize that the decapitated Ash was an android, and not, as I had previously surmised, someone with milk in his veins.

Another movie that haunted me when I was young that I have spent many years wondering about. I saw it in the late 1978 wood-paneled RCA Selectavision VCR. I didn't have much to go on. I remembered a country house, black & white sequences, an old woman in a chair that gets spun around and, most importantly, a chauffeur with an awful and inappropriate smile that he flashes during a funeral. After that I used to smile creepily at my younger brother whilst my sister relied on draping her long hair over her face like a Yūrei.


Anyway, for years I have repeated those vague details to co-workers and horror aficionados, blogged about it and watched things like The House of Seven Corpses which turned, in every cast, out not to be what I was looking for...

A few years ago a Korean
guy came in and asked about a movie with a creepy chauffeur and a country house. We started talking excitedly, hoping to reach a breakthrough. He too had seen it when very young and been scarred and he thought it was based on an Agatha Christie novel, which seemed likely because my mother loved Agatha Christie and so I set about watching the many Agatha Christie adaptations that take place in country houses, which is pretty much all of them, it turns out... unless it's on a train. Years passed. The Korean guy came back and asked if I'd figured it out. Neither had he.

We have some new guys in the horror section at Amoeba now so I thought I'd ask Rigoberto aka Riggs aka Rigo. Remaining calm, he snapped his fingers and replied, "Burnt Offerings." I looked at the back of the DVD. An old woman in a chair! I googled "Burnt Offerings" and "chauffeur." Lo and behold...

said there was a movie he was trying to figure out from his childhood and it involved a turbulent pool. Same movie. I got goosebumps. Now what am I going to ask God? How did Evan's doll "Becky" disappear from the pond and end up in a tree? Who spilled the jelly on the chair in the living room that I got blamed for? I fear that I have no reason to live now... except to get my three dollars back from preppy scum Jim Garbez, who, owing me money as he does, had the gall to say to write in my yearbook, "Change the hair, lose the jacket."

I watched the movie. It's not terribly scary to me now, although I did get goosebumps and chills now and then and it was fun to dredge up so many memories attached, still, to a toddlers point-of-view. It's pretty brutal for a PG film as well (although it was the 1970s... remember they made Dark Night of the Scarecrow for television!)

  Dark Night of the Scarecrow

I skipped ahead in the commentary to listen to director
Dan Curtis talk about how at his mother's funeral a chauffeur had been laughing and smiling with his friends, which gave him the idea for the iconic image.

When I was four, there was this kid in my preschool who used to frequently don a Superman Underoos shirt as outerwear and I had a dream about him getting sucked into this supernatural pool and disappearing whilst the adults stood frozen at the water's edge. I woke up crying and ran to the living room where my mom was working on a quilt. I told her about it and she explained that it was just baby's first nightmare and I wondered what brought it on...


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