Burnt Offerings 1976 ***


Dan Curtis’s horror film has become something of a seminal work, influencing Stephen King’s various descriptions of houses as killers, or as King deems it in his excellent book Dance Macabre, ‘the bad place’. Adapted from Robert Masasco’s novel, Burnt Offerings sees couple Marian and Ben (Karen Black and Oliver Reed) moving into a remote summer-house which seems to have a mind of its own. Bette Davis is on hand as Aunt Elizabeth to add warnings about the crushing weight of the past, with Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart on hand. Not a haunted house movie, Burnt Offerings offers something fresh in a direct physical conflict between an inanimate object and humans. Much like Black’s battle with the Zuni doll in Trilogy of Terror, these practical threats have more impact than any amount of spiritual mumbo-jumbo.


Trilogy of Terror 1975 ***


Dan Curtis contributed a notable entry to the TV movie stakes with Trilogy of Terror, a straightforward portmanteau film that rises to a memorable climax that’s taken a place in pop culture history. Karen Black excels as a series of women in jeopardy in tales written by William F Nolan and Richard Matheson; the first, Amelia, sees her play a self-conscious teacher who is taken advantage of by an unscrupulous student, and plots her revenge. The second raises the stakes with Black portraying both Millicent and Therese, sisters with very different personalities who hide a dark secret. Both stories are well paced and performed, but it’s the final story, in which Julie (Black) engages in a battle of wits against an African tribal doll, that steals the show. Black’s opening monologue on the phone to her mother sets a creeping unease, and some clever creative decisions make the doll’s threat surprisingly tangible; the final shot is the stuff of nightmares and still casts a genuine chill in this accomplished and influential horror film.