Karen Black in ‘Burnt Offerings’ (1976)
Film Synopsis: (wikipedia.org)
The Rolf family takes a vacation at a large, shabby neo-classical 1890s mansion in the California countryside. The family consists of Marian (Karen Black), her husband Ben (Oliver Reed), their young son David (Lee Montgomery), and their elderly aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis). The owners of the house are the Allardyce siblings, brother Arnold and sister Roz (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart respectively). The Allardyces inform their new tenants of a particularly odd requirement for their rental: the Allardyces’ elderly mother continues to live in her upstairs room and the Rolfs provide her with meals during their stay. The siblings explain that the old woman is obsessed with privacy and will probably not interact with them, so meals are to be left outside her door. As it turns out, this task falls to the mother, who gradually succumbs to the allure of the ornate house and its period decor. She becomes obsessed with caring for the home, begins to dress as if she is from the Victorian age, and of particular concern to her is the room outside Mrs. Allardyce’s room with its huge collections of framed pictures and a music box.
Various “accidents” occur during the summer. While playing in the pool the father almost drowns the child, a gas heater in the child’s bedroom is mysteriously turned on and the windows closed. Ben is haunted by a dream and a waking vision of an eerie, grinning, malevolent looking chauffeur whom he saw at his mother’s funeral decades prior. With each “accident,” the house begins to regenerate itself. It gradually becomes clear that Marian is somehow being possessed or controlled by the house and that a malevolent force is slowly consuming the family. Then Aunt Elizabeth suddenly takes ill and dies, and the mother does not attend the funeral. She steps into a room that had previously contained barren and half dead flowers only to discover a beautiful, ornate garden. Upon arriving home from the funeral, Ben confronts Marian, who retreats to the room outside the old woman’s bedroom. He angrily confronts her about her obsession with the home and what the home is doing to their family. She denies it. He reveals to her his intentions of leaving the next day, “with or without you.”
The father sleeps in an armchair in the son’s room, then awakens to the sound of old shingles falling off the home. He attempts to escape with the son but, a tree blocks the road. The mother drives them back to the house; the father accuses her of being part of it. He then sees the mother as the chauffeur, and becomes catatonic. The next day, while David is swimming and Ben is watching him, the placid pool turns into angry, vicious waves, pulling the boy under as Ben is unable to move. Marian frantically saves him, and agrees it is time to leave. As Ben readies his family to leave the house, Marian decides to go back inside to tell Mrs. Allardyce that they are leaving. After she fails to return to the car Ben goes inside to get her, but cannot find her. Ben decides to confront the elderly Mrs. Allardyce, whom he has not seen face to face. Ben is horrified when he finds that his wife has somehow become the old woman in the attic, or perhaps always has been. Ben is thrown from an attic window, landing on the windshield of his car. In shock, David runs toward the house and is killed when one of the chimneys falls on him. When the house is now fully rejuvenated and glistening like new, the voices of the Allardyce siblings are heard marveling at the house’s beauty and rejoicing over the return of their mother. The house is seen to be filled with pictures of various people, many from years past, and some more recent, including those of Ben, David and Aunt Elizabeth.
Short Bio: (wikipedia.org)
Karen Blanche Black (née Ziegler; July 1, 1939 – August 8, 2013) was an American actress, screenwriter, singer and songwriter. She is known for her appearances in such films as Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Great Gatsby and Airport 1975 (both 1974), The Day of the Locust and Nashville (both 1975), Alfred Hitchcock’s final film Family Plot (1976), and Capricorn One (1978). Over the course of her career, she won two Golden Globe Awards (out of three nominations), and an Academy Award nomination in 1971 for Best Supporting Actress.
Black was born as Karen Blanche Ziegler in Park Ridge, Illinois, in suburban Chicago, the daughter of Elsie Mary (née Reif), a writer of several prize-winning children’s novels, and Norman Arthur Ziegler. Her paternal grandfather was Arthur Charles Ziegler, a classical musician and first violinist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her sister is the actress Gail Brown. Black was of German, Bohemian (Czech) and Norwegian descent.