Trauma Scene:: Burnt Offerings (1976)

I’ve got a new odd obsession. I was able to purchase one of those small TV sets with a VCR built inside from my local thrift store ($3!) and attached a converter to it so that it could pick up broadcast television. Not only does it get COMET TV, it gets it on two different channels! So now I’m recording movies just like in the old days complete with commercials (I know that’s a minus now but in the future, it will be a plus). It’s so darn delicious that it feels illegal but nope, this is what VCRs were made for! It’s all on the up and up! Of course, I’ve run out of blank tapes so I’m just picking up any second-hand VHS I can find that’s over two hours long and recording over them! So thanks, RON HOWARD for making such long movies! I have no problem covering up CINDERELLA MAN with GHOULIES!

Anyway, the other night I recorded the classic BURNT OFFERINGS, which was a big late-night TV favorite from my youth (as was PHANTASM which utilizes the same abode).  Even though I naturally own it on DVD, I couldn’t help desiring a VHS version that I can play as I go to sleep and will rewind and turn itself off and not leave me with a repeating DVD menu screen. BURNT OFFERINGS has a plethora of memorable trauma scenes and when I was younger, I might have said the scariest bits involved the last-blast falling chimney, KAREN BLACK’s white eyes or that skeezy, smiling chauffer that pops up from time to time. Today though, I’m leaning toward the swimming pool scene for really delivering the uncomfortable creeps.

You must remember it; OLIVER REED as Ben Rolf is swimming in the pool with his young son David (the underrated LEE MONTGOMERY of BEN, DEAD OF NIGHT, MUTANT, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, etc.). At some point, he discovers a pair of broken glasses on the pool’s floor that triggers him into becoming a wild-eyed abusive nutcase. One moment he’s playfully tossing his kid under the water but soon he’s dunking him viciously as if he means to drown him. The dubious horseplay becomes so savage that BETTE DAVIS, of all people, is forced to be the voice of sanity in the situation. It’s at this point too that you can’t deny BURNT OFFERINGS influence on THE SHINING. I seem to recall Stephen King complimenting ROBERT MORASCO’s novel in his book DANSE MACABRE and I think that affection must have bled into the Torrance family’s drama. There’s something innately scary about losing your sense of safety around someone you love and especially so when you’re a child and that person is your parent. It doesn’t hurt that OLIVER REED is such a gifted and intense actor whose whiplash flip from kind to clobber-y is pitch-perfect in its harsh abruptness. KING famously lamented that JACK NICHOLSON’s performance in THE SHINING was too one-note for his liking and I can’t help but wonder if what he desired to see was closer to what REED delivers here. In any case, it took me off guard just how unsettling this scene remains and it reminded me how great of a movie BURNT OFFERINGS is, even all these years later.

Do you have a horror scene that sticks out in your head as particularly traumatic? Why not right it down and send it to so we can share it with others?

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3 years ago

Jim Carey’s stand-up act was some of the funniest, most brilliant stuff I’ve ever seen and it’s a shame people only know him from the movies he’s been in and the zany characters he’s created.

One particular stand-up skit was a real gut-punch when I was younger because it verbalized an uncomfortable truth of how thin the veil is between sanity and madness. He said, “The only difference between you and the guy swimming in the shark tank at Sea World is that you can ignore that little voice in your head that tells you to ‘go ahead, jump in.'”

This reminds me of the saying that the only difference between the sane and the insane is the sane know they’re insane and try to not act that way.

As a kid, how many times had my brother done some stupid, risky thing like hang over a railing and that little voice popped up in my head taunting, “Go ahead, push the moron.”? I think the only difference between me and the maniac is that the maniac listens to that voice and acts on it rather than pushing it away with a dreaded sense of guilt that it even went through their head.

I think a good amount of psychological horror revolves around people’s fear that some day they could go insane without even knowing they’ve gone mad.

On a related note, I’ve actually known people who were like human skeletons from eating disorders and when they looked in the mirror they saw themselves as morbidly fat. It’s that kind of madness, of a completely distorted perception that is as real to them as the sun and the sky is to me, that terrifies me. That one day, I could be doing something absolutely abhorrent and think it perfectly normal or natural, that makes me tremble at the thought of it.

3 years ago

I remember quite well that, at a young age, I was terrified the night before my Grandfather was to take me out in a canoe on a fishing trip. My worry, which carried through to the trip itself, was that, while out on the lake with him, I would have the overwhelming compulsion to throw my (his, given to me) fishing rod in the water and it would sink. There was no reason to do it; rather it was the fact that the only thing stopping me from doing it would be little old ME. That fear of an “overwhelming compulsion” worry would later manifest itself in high places. After all, what was going to stop me from ME deciding in a split second, that it was time to jump?