BURNT OFFERINGS. (1976) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

BURNT OFFERINGS. (1976) DIRECTED, WRITTEN AND CO-PRODUCED BY DAN CURTIS. BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY ROBERT MARASCO.
STARRING KAREN BLACK, OLIVER REED, BETTE DAVIS, BURGESS MEREDITH, EILEEN HECKART, DUB TAYLOR, ANTHONY JAMES AND LEE MONTGOMERY. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Mrs. Allardyce! Mrs. Allardyce! It’s me, Marian Rolf. I’m really worried about you, Mrs. Allardyce!’

I honestly think that watching this film is the most fun I’ve ever had, cinematically speaking. It’s definitely the best ‘haunted house’ film I’ve ever seen, bar none, and I’ve seen THE HAUNTING (1963), based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, which is bone-rattlingly scary and leaves you wondering exactly whose hand you were holding in the dark…

I’m very susceptible to the whole there’s-a-scary-old-woman-in-the-attic-who-never-goes-out kind of thing in movies, and this vintage horror classic has this in spades. The suspense that is present all the way through the movie continues right to the ending, leaving the viewer both shocked and, ultimately, feeling like they’ve had one hell of a roller-coaster ride.

BURNT OFFERINGS tells the story of a nice normal family, the Rolfs, who rent out a magnificent but somewhat ramshackle nineteenth-century mansion in the California countryside for the summer. Ben the dad is a writer, Marian the mom is a housewife and then there’s twelve-year-old Davey, the tousle-haired All-American kid who loves his sport and his big old rough-housing bear of a Pa.

The owners of the house, the decidedly odd brother-and-sister duo, Roz and Arnold Allardyce, smilingly inform the Rolfs that the only condition attached to their staying at the house is as follows: while Roz and Arnold are away, their elderly mother will continue to live in her suite of rooms at the top of the house for the duration of the Rolfs’ tenancy. She likes her privacy and will require nothing from the Rolfs but three meals a day brought on a tray to her rooms.

The first shiver of the night courses down my spine at this point. An eighty-five-year-old woman they never get to see, living behind closed doors at the top of the house…? Feck that for a game of soldiers. I’d be out of there before you could say ‘breach of tenancy.’

I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night for fear that I’d wake up to see the old lady standing over my bed with a carving knife. I immediately get a sort of PSYCHO vibe from the whole thing here. I’m not the only one…

Ben Rolf, the husband, played by beefy heart-throb Oliver Reed, isn’t too keen on the idea either. He tells his wife Marian- the beautiful Karen Black- that he’s having second thoughts. It’s too late, however.

Marian has already fallen head over heels with the place, which in fairness could be truly beautiful if it were tidied up a bit, so in they all duly move for the summer. Ben, Marian, their son Davey and Ben’s Auntie Elizabeth, played by a wonderfully game old Bette Davis.

Shit gets real serious real fast, if you’ll excuse my French. In an unprecedented break from character, Ben Rolf almost drowns his son in the swimming-pool out back of the house. The previously feisty Auntie Lizzie feels like the energy is being sucked out of her by an unseen force.

Both Lizzie’s hair and Marian’s is turning grey at an astonishing rate, as if something- or someone– is draining the colour out of it. Davey is almost killed by a gas heater in his bedroom that no-one can remember switching on.

Marian has taken to wearing old-fashioned, Victorian-style clothing and spending hours up in Mrs. Allardyce’s ante-chamber, looking at the old lady’s vast collection of framed photographs of generations and generations of men, women and children, who’ve presumably all lived in the house at one time or another, and playing her music-box.

Ben accuses Marian of becoming too obsessed with the house to give a toss about him or Davey. He’s right. Marian has developed a strange relationship with the house that bodes ill for her and Ben’s marriage and for the Rolf family as a whole.

Ben has started, or, more accurately, re-started having horrible visions from which he has suffered since his mother’s funeral years ago. The vision involves a funeral-car driven by a grinning ghoul of a chauffeur. Ben’s relationship with the greatly-changed Marian is at breaking-point and, to top it all, not a single member of the family has seen the elusive Mrs. Allardyce since they moved in.

The door to her bedroom remains resolutely locked. That consistently, uncompromisingly locked door is probably the single most frightening thing about the film for me. Not even once is it ajar a smidge. Not one clue do we get as to what lies beyond the locked door.

Don’t let it be a horrible corpse, I prayed throughout the film, the first time I saw it. My fear of horrible corpses definitely started with PSYCHO, just in case you’re interested. Bloody film. It has a lot to answer for, even if it is one of the best horror films ever made, and one of my all-time personal favourites.

Anyway, massive spoilers ahoy, poor old Auntie Lizzie falls violently ill and dies. After her funeral, Ben sees the house physically ‘regenerating’ itself in a terrifying scene that involves falling slates and crumbling brickwork, but at whose expense is the house actually regenerating itself? Ben thinks he’s worked it out. He grabs his son and makes a dash for it in the car.

The house prevents their leaving, however, by uprooting a tree and throwing it into their path. Ben hits his head and is driven back to the house by Marian who, somewhere along the line, has turned into the evil death-car driver of Ben’s nightmares…

Things don’t end there, believe it or not. Ahoy, me hearties, there be more massive spoilers ahead, yarr. As big as the white whale itself. Tell me, have ye seen the white whale on yer travels? A fair whopper be he, and this gold doubloon be for the man who sights him first, yarr, and, um, yay…! Ooops, wrong film. Sorry, folks.

Marian finally agrees to leave the house after Davey is almost drowned in the pool again. The pool? Again? Seriously? The three remaining members of the family pack up and are ready to leave when Marian tells Ben that she needs to just run upstairs for a minute to tell Mrs. Allardyce that they are leaving. Ben begs her not to go back in the house but she goes back in anyway. And doesn’t come back out…

Ben goes upstairs after her and finds the door to the old lady’s bedroom unlocked for the first time… That’s it. I’m not telling you a single other thing in case I give away the ending, not even if you tickle my neck. That’s my Achilles heel. I’ll be watching this fantastic horror film again tonight, that much I’ll admit to. I’ll be watching it with the lights on, however. And I won’t be watching it alone.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv

THE DEVILS. (1971) KEN RUSSELL’S MOST CONTROVERSIAL FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

devils 2 leads

THE DEVILS. (1971) PARTLY ADAPTED FROM ALDOUS HUXLEY’S 1952 NON-FICTION BOOK ‘THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN’ AND PARTLY ADAPTED FROM THE 1960 PLAY ‘THE DEVILS’ BY JOHN WHITING.

DIRECTED BY KEN RUSSELL. SETS BY DEREK JARMAN. SCORE BY SIR PETER MAXWELL.

STARRING OLIVER REED, VANESSA REDGRAVE, DUDLEY SUTTON, GEMMA JONES, GEORGINA HALE, MURRAY MELVIN, MICHAEL GOTHARD, CHRISTOPHER LOGUE AND GRAHAM ARMITAGE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such an incredibly intense film that I generally find I’m holding my breath practically the whole way through it, even though such a feat probably isn’t medically possible. It’s like an assault on the senses, with the fantastic period costumes, the disconcerting (excuse the pun) musical score and the way that, just when you think director Ken Russell surely can’t go any further, he then goes and does exactly that.

The story is set in France in the seventeenth century, and it’s based on actual events, which would kind of blow your mind to think about it. It features Oliver Reed in one of his finest roles. He plays Father Urbain Grandier, chief cleric in the heavily walled town of Loudun. He’s a rogue of a priest who unwittingly becomes the centre of one of the biggest witchcraft cases France has ever known.

He’s a womanising lecher of a priest, who has sex with and even impregnates his prettier female parishioners, then he abdicates all responsibility towards them. ‘And so it ends.’ Then he meets the rather plain, ordinary Madeleine, whose mother has just died horribly from the plague that runs rife through France, and he decides he’s in love, real pure love, for the first time in his whole decadent, dissolute life.

If he were just an ordinary womanising priest, I don’t suppose it would have become much of an issue in seventeenth century France. But Grandier was somewhat of a controversial figure politically as well, even though religion and politics supposedly don’t mix very well. Here’s the deal as I’ve interpreted it.

Cardinal Richelieu at the time wanted to knock down the heavy fortifications of Loudun, and thereby put a stop to its system of independent government and the possibility of a Protestant uprising.

He wanted Loudun and other similarly-governed places to stop ruling themselves independently of the monarchy, and he felt that knocking down their fortifications and leaving them defenseless would accomplish this.

Father Grandier, however, refused to allow this to happen by getting the townspeople to stand firm against any such notion. He maintained that, in Loudun, Catholics and Protestants lived harmoniously side by side, without any pesky uprisings at all, and that they needed their fortifications to protect them from marauders. Moreover, the King himself had said that Loudun could keep her walls. So there, lol.

Therefore, Grandier was a big thorn in the side both of Cardinal Richelieu, and also of Baron de Laubardemont, the official he’s sent to Loudun to knock down the walls. They feel powerless to move against Grandier, who’s so popular in the town. What they need is to get rid of him, but how? Then into their laps lands the gift of a lifetime… a tailor-made excuse to rid themselves of the troublesome priest…

The lead female character, chillingly played by Vanessa Redgrave, is Sister Jeanne of the Angels, head nun of the local convent. Poor Sister Jeanne. Her head is permanently to one side because of a dreadful hump on her back. She constantly shuffles about on her knees in the narrow, claustrophobic confines of the convent and this has the effect of making her personality seem as stunted, deformed and twisted as her physical person. I see her as a figure deserving of pity, yes, but a little creepy too.

Underneath the habit (and the hump), Sister Jeanne is a normal woman with normal, human lusts and sexual appetites. Sometimes these will out, even if you try your hardest to repress them. She has a huge crush on Father Grandier, whom she’s never seen, but the legend of the sexually dynamic and charismatic priest that precedes him wherever he goes is enough for her to hang her hopes on.

A perceived slight from the genuinely unwitting Father Grandier leads the horribly frustrated Sister Jeanne to accuse Grandier of a terrible crime. In comes the church’s leading exorcist, the handsome blonde could-easily-have-been-a-rock-star Father Barre, to get to the truth (let’s not say ‘the bottom,’ please!) of the shocking matter…

What follows is certainly shocking. The scenes of orgy and exorcism, torture and sheer brutality-for-brutality’s-sake are hard to watch. Father Barre believes in putting on a good show, and the farcical spectacle attracts viewers from all over France.

Father Mignon cuts a frightening figure all in black with his pudding bowl haircut, Baron de Laubardemont is in his element, strutting about the place shouting, and King Louis XIII is shown to be a disgustingly decadent and trivial character, with no more real feeling for his subjects than for one of the grapes peeled for him by his lackeys.

Underpinning it all is the magnificent performance of Oliver Reed as the poor tortured Father Grandier, who once played fast and loose with the feelings of all women, but who now believes he really, truly loves a woman, which love has brought him closer to God and shown him the meaning of love and life for the first time in his thirty-something years.

What he undergoes in the name of ‘Christ,’ no man deserves to go through. This film will stay in your mind for a long time after you watch it. And rightly so, because it’s surely Ken Russell’s and one of Britain’s finest.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

CAPTAIN CLEGG. (1962) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

captain clegg

CAPTAIN CLEGG. (1962) A HAMMER FILM PRODUCTION. DIRECTED BY PETER GRAHAM SCOTT. PRODUCED BY JOHN TEMPLE SMITH. SCREENPLAY BY JOHN ELDER (AKA ANTHONY HINDS).

STARRING PETER CUSHING, MICHAEL RIPPER, PATRICK ALLEN, MARTIN BENSON, DAPHNE ANDERSON, MILTON REID, SYDNEY BROMLEY, JACK MACGOWRAN, DEREK FRANCIS, OLIVER REED AND YVONNE ROMAIN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Their oath was… Terror! Their cry… Blood!’

This isn’t one of my favourite Hammer movies, as I tend to prefer the ones with Christopher Lee as Dracula in them, heh-heh-heh, or beautiful lesbian lady vampires bursting at the seams with bounteous bosoms, but it’s still a most enjoyable swashbuckling romp.

Patrick Allen stars as Captain Collier, the leader of his little band of rowdy sailors or ‘King’s men.’ They come to the picturesque little English coastal village of Dymchurch in the late 1700s to investigate various rumours that have been circulating about the place.

Firstly, that a marauding band of ‘Marsh Phantoms’ have been seen riding out and terrorising the countryside by night and secondly, the slightly more Earth-bound rumour that illegal smuggling activities have been taking place there. What Captain Collier finds at Dymchurch, situated on the edge of the Romney Marshes, looks like this.

He finds Peter Cushing in splendiferous form as the aptly-named Dr. Blyss, a happy chappie who occupies the role of village Parson and who delights in delivering lengthy sermons to his long-suffering parishioners. Dr. Blyss thinks nothing of making these lazy parishioners sing the various hymns again if he feels that they were lacking in gusto first time round, lol. The sadist…!

The Parson passive-aggressively makes it known to the King’s men, in the sweetest way possible, that there is no room at the Inn for the sailors. And of course the villagers have every reason not to want the King’s investigators sniffing around the darling little village of Dymchurch, because they’re up to their very tonsils in the aforementioned illegal smuggling activities.

They’re running quite a nice profitable little bootlegging operation out of Dymchurch, keeping their illicit booze from France in coffins supplied by Michael Ripper as Mr. Mipps, the local undertaker.

Dear me, most ingenious, most ingenious indeed. The Parson is in on it, the surly local inkeeper Mr. Rash is in on it, the local Squire Cobtree’s son Harry (Oliver Reed) is in on it, the whole damn village is in on it.

Captain Collier will have the devil’s own time proving it, however, especially as a local scarecrow has been conscripted into keeping watch for the smugglers and sightings of the ‘Marsh Phantoms’ are keeping Collier and his drunken sailors busy running round the countryside in the middle of the night on wild goose chases.

There’s a romance underway in Dymchurch as well, between Squire Cobtree’s handsome, dark-haired womanising son Harry and the local barmaid Imogene. I don’t believe for one second that Harry has the remotest intention of making an honest woman out of Imogene like he’s promised her.

He’s coming up with the lamest-sounding excuses for putting off their nuptials and intended running-away-from-the-village-to-start-a-new-life-together-where-nobody-knows-them. Does his constant delaying of their plans have anything to do with Imogene’s mystery-shrouded origins?

Imogene, the ward of the disagreeable Mr. Rash, who’s simply ‘itching’ to get his hands on her splendidly ample goodies (geddit? Itching? Rash?), does not seem to be correctly informed as to her parentage. And who is the almost mythical figure whose mouldering bones have supposedly been taking up space in the quiet little village churchyard for some time now? Since around 1792, to be precise?

Could these bones be a clue to the busty Imogene’s identity…? And why does the man known as ‘the mulatto’ react so violently when he sees a certain man of the cloth? The village of Dymchurch is certainly awash with mysteries.

The increasingly exasperated Captain Collier will have his work cut out for him attempting to solve them, especially as the cunning villagers are determined to put obstacles in his path whichever way he turns.

I personally would have put a few more bosomy beauties and a few more sexy rolls-in- the-hay into this production, but that’s just me. As usual, the scenery and settings and costumes are spot-on and Peter Cushing is magnificent as the pleasantly-spoken bootlegging Parson, with a hidden agenda he doesn’t wish to come to light.

It reminds me of the Prohibition episode of THE SIMPSONS, where booze has been banned in the town of Springfield because ten-year-old Bart Simpson gets drunk on Saint Patrick’s Day and shames his family on national television.

Homer Simpson duly becomes the ‘Beer Baron’ or the person responsible for ‘jerking suds on the side.’ He manufactures the hooch down in his basement and smuggles it into Moe’s Bar via the use of bowling balls. Dear me, most ingenious, most ingenious indeed…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor