So who was Anthony James ?
Movies have a peculiar power to transfix and mesmerise us, planting their images in our sub-conscious that for a variety of reasons remain there in which time does not dim.
We all have movies and/or scenes that for whatever reason frightened us when we were much younger, and have ever since remained in our thoughts.
So this weeks’ focus is something a little bit different and somewhat more obscure as I look back at the 1976 supernatural horror thriller Burnt Offerings, directed by Dan Curtis and starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis and Burgess Meredith.
I first saw this on release when I was a teenager, and it has struck a cord with me ever since.
So what’s it all about . . .
A married couple (Oliver Reed and Karen Black) with their 12 year-old-son and the aunt (Bette Davis) of the husband rent a rundown large mansion and estate for the summer whilst they are also required to look after the elderly woman, named Mrs. Allardyce, who lives there. She is the mother of the siblings who rented the place to them.
As the days and weeks go by the family begins to disintegrate as there appears to be supernatural forces at play within the house. In addition, as each person is injured or suffers distress, the house mysteriously begins to restore itself.
So who was Anthony James then ?
Well one of the sub-plots running through the film is that the husband, Ben, is haunted by visions of an eerily, malevolently grinning hearse driver (played without dialogue by the actor Anthony James). It would be fair to say these short scenes scared me quite markedly whilst first seeing the film and even today they still send a chill down my spine whenever I re-watch them again.
As for Anthony James, well he was an American character actor who often played villains mostly in Westerns, in both movies and on TV. His last film role was in Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar-winning Best Picture Unforgiven. He died in 2020 aged 77.
Eventually, the husband decides the family must leave the estate, but his wife says she must inform Mrs. Allardyce that they are leaving . . .
It’s one of these films that still resonates with me to this very day but which I can’t explain why.
It isn’t a masterpiece or even a great horror film but it is still very scary and quite unsettling without the need for incessant gratuitous violence that we so often seen in horror films in the last 50 years – although the climatic ending has its bloody moments.
The performances of the small cast are very effective – I always liked watching Oliver Reed. Whatever you may say about him for one thing he is never dull when on screen, and here is very good as the confused, and at times, quite weak husband.
What other films did Cats find scary or unnerving that they first saw many years ago and which still gives them uncomfortable chills today.