Dan Curtis is an unsung television legend. He cut his teeth as the creator of the beloved spooky soap opera Dark Shadows that ran from 1966-1971. He also wrote and directed it. Then he produced the two classic TV movies The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler (directing the second) which eventually evolved into the cult series Kolchack: The Night Stalker. He went on to direct more '70s horror films for the small screen that today are looked back on as seminal and groundbreaking, including The Norliss Tapes, Trilogy of Terror, Dead of Night and Dracula (with Jack Palance). By the '80s he would also make his mark producing the enormous WWII miniseries The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. But surprisingly, other than a pair of quickie Dark Shadows spin-off movies made to cash in on the success of the show, he only directed one theatrical film, his own adaptation of Robert Marasco’s 1973 best-selling horror novel Burnt Offerings. Seeing it today, it is hard to believe it was a theatrical film, with its washed out colors and fade-outs after each act as if commercials are about to come on. It looks just like one of Curtis’ '70s TV movies -- and that’s just one of the reasons I love it.
Marasco’s novel and Curtis’ film predate two massive books and movies with similar threads, The Shining and The Amityville Horror, by a few years. In fact, along with titles like Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, The Legend of Hell House, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The Sentinel and (from Japan) Nobuhiko Obayashi‘s House, as well as countless TV movies, they help make the '70s the golden age of haunted house flicks. One of the many points that gives Burnt Offerings the edge over its competition is its cast made up of all-time scenery chewers; as the nice family in peril you have Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Bette Davis. Yes, Bette Davis! And she’s fairly contained compared to the other two. As the kid you have perennial '70s TV kid Lee Montgomery. (At this point, the fifteen-year-old was already an on-set veteran and probably ready for Reed’s mugging, having acted alongside George C. Scott in his self-directed vanity ham-off The Savage is Loose).Continue Reading
Philosophy, justice, and Catholic theology are blended to a pulp in this breathtaking example of 1970s horror. By the time the '80s rolled around, cinematic exploration with special effects was at its peak in terms of prosthetics and make-up. Several masters - mainly in Italy, America, and Japan - had reached new heights and dug up several techniques from the past that were introduced as early as the silent era. The Sentinel impressed me with both its story and its remarkable efforts to pull off a complicated film. It is an adaptation of Jeffrey Konvitz's novel, and during a Q&A he expressed some issues with it, as I'm sure is natural for a writer in his position. He did have a lot to do with the production and even co-wrote the script. Aside from certain things being changed for the film, it's safe to say that the other large issue he had was with the film's production, claiming that he would have wanted a different director and a slightly different cast. I'll get to why I disagree shortly.
I'm going to attempt to play down all the action in the plot because there is so much of it and to explain it all would be to give away the best parts. In the film we find Alison (Cristina Raines), a model who wants some space from her boyfriend Michael (Chris Sarandon) and seeks an apartment of her own. She finds a number of places and eventually settles on a well-furnished and roomy place in an old building. The landlady (Ava Gardner) seems more than eager to get her to move in, dropping the price from $600 to $400 in order to seal the deal. On top of the fact that she is not willing to settle, she has other troubles on her mind when she hears the news of her father's death. Her feelings for him are cold due to a shocking revelation about his character that caused her to practically denounce her Catholic faith as a teenager and led to her first attempt to commit suicide. In her building she finds two people who sort of symbolize other father figures. Seen facing from the highest window of the complex is Father Halliran (John Carradine), a blind, reclusive priest. The other is Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith), an overbearing old man who invites himself in on occasion and talks to his animals as if they were people.Continue Reading