I got this thanks to becoming aware of Valancourt Books and their publishing efforts to reprint classic horror (and other genres). My generous mom got me several titles for Christmas, and I was excited to see Burnt Offerings. I saw the movie a while ago, mainly because I love horror, Oliver Reed, and Bette Davis and from my recollections it was quite scary and in line with the novel. I could go on at length here about Oliver Reed’s ability to play fatherly and menacing so completely within one movie, and the underlying darkness that makes his performances so powerful, but this is a book review.
In the introduction, Stephen Graham Jones talks about how there are Stay Away houses (the Amityville house) and Hungry Houses, of which the Burnt Offerings house is one. I liked this concept a lot and realized that I prefer a Hungry House for my horror media. Burnt Offerings follows the Rolfe family as they search for a vacation house to escape Queens during the hot summer. The mother, Marian, finds an ad for a summer rental in the newspaper that ends up being a huge run-down mansion on Long Island. They don’t think they can afford it, but are offered a deal too good to be true by the odd elderly brother and sister who live there. As they settle in for the summer, things slowly go wrong and Marian is faced with a terrible choice.
I enjoyed this, as it was a very zippy read, but it didn’t quite live up to the pull quote on the front from the Times (“Terrifies even by daylight!”). I read it during daylight and was not terrified once. I think this was due in large part to my having already seen the movie and remembering vaguely what happened, and as I was reading along I was remembering and seeing the scenes from the movie. This undermined any tension for me. I also didn’t find it that scary in general and didn’t feel that connected to the characters. The bit I enjoyed the best was the first section about how miserable it is to live in NYC during the summer and what it’s like living in a busy apartment building, which had the real ring of experience to it. Again, it was enjoyable, but nothing that blew my mind or that I found particularly groundbreaking. It definitely did make me want to watch the movie again and re-read one of my favorite Hungry House books, Adam Nevill’s House of Small Shadows.