In Buddhism, an offering is given to the Three Jewels for inspiration and contemplative gratitude. The potential outcomes of such a material donation are:
A better rebirth in the cycle of birth and death (Samsara).
Progress towards release from suffering (Nirvana).
Release, at least in the framework of the slasher film, is often the prime mover for the killer, an attempt to break free from the repression of trauma most often from the past. Progress, to the killer, is achieved by bringing to light, through death, an injustice forgotten or never properly atoned. In Prom Night, the killer finds release by killing those responsible for a prank that left a small girl dead, and the killer finds progress by alerting the rest of the partygoers of the deadly secret that caused a small girl to die years ago. The outcomes of suffering and death should be pretty clear to slasher fans by now – Jason, Angela, Freddy et al. had to suffer before they could have their time to find rebirth by bringing about the death of others. So with all this, it goes without saying, that the term “offerings” is a loaded one, both in the rubric of the slasher film and in broader terms, spirituality and religion.
So what does the 1989 slasher, Offerings, have to add to this dialogue on ritual? Nothing, really. Like many a low rent slasher before it, its psychology is often implicit and something for the Robin Woods and the Carol Clovers of the world to decipher while it goes about its simple business of killing teenagers admist swells of synth. It just happens to have a wicked title.
John Radley had a pretty rough childhood. His mother allegedly murdered his father, and now she somehow has custody of the boy and spends her time shutting him in and berating him with insults about his masculinity and his character. He’s mute as a result, and prime fodder for the neighborhood kids to lambast and bully. There’s one girl, though, Gretchen, who doesn’t mind his silence – hell, who needs to talk during sidewalk games of checkers anyway? She’s the one kid who will play with John, and while he can’t articulate it, it’s clear from his eyes that he’s in love. One day while the two are playing, a bunch of the kids on their street ride by on their bicycles and decide to give John a hard time. They challenge him to the local rite of passage – to “walk the well”. He’s got to walk around the ledge of an open, arid well in the middle of a park (how’s that for safety? And only two years removed from that famous “Baby Jessica” well media frenzy in ’87). This is a slasher film, so naturally something goes wrong – one of the kids intentionally scares John as he makes his roundabout the well, causing him to fall all the way down into a fade to black.
We get a “Ten Years Later”, where we learn that Radley (now Richard A. Buswell) is comatose in the local sanitarium. The plot really doesn’t do a good job of explaining this, but somehow the boy not only survived the lengthy fall onto brick, but he also was able to return home to kill his mom and then go back to being on life support. Apparently you’re fed well through a tube, too, because he’s grown in to quite the portly presence.
To win a girl’s heart, most people will resort to flowers, cards or poetry. Maybe a long walk on a beach. For John, though, the best way to tell Gretchen he loves her is to dismember the people who wronged him and quietly place pieces from their severed bodies on her doorstep. Fingers, ears, noses, you name it – he even has the mind to sprinkle their giblets on a pizza. Gretchen didn’t ask for sausage when her and her valley girl friend ordered some ‘zza for their horror movie night, but by god they’ll eat it! Soon after, when their boyfriends start to disappear and more body parts start to pile up, the girls realize that maybe, just maybe, they’re next on the kill list, and that John Radley lives!
Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Christopher Reynolds (who’d go on to be the editor for another guy who got his start in slashers, Sledgehammer’s David A. Prior), Offerings exhibits the crude and clunky storytelling mechanics you’d expect from someone just learning their craft. Like the kind of movies I’d make with my friends when I was a kid, there isn’t much production value, the gore is mainly just some puddles of corn syrup and the performances barely qualify as line readings. But the heart is in the right place.
The central lore of the film is solid, the communal test of walking around the well crystalizes what it felt like to be a kid and the enormity of what those little dares felt like at the time. Furthermore, the idea of the killer returning with body parts as offerings is an even better concept – one hardly mined in slashers other than the usual funhouse reveal of dead bodies that punctuates films like Halloween, Friday the 13th and Madman. Sadly, where the film missteps most is how it fails to give much reason or motive for the killer’s actions. Conversely, it spends way too much time devoted to scenes of clumsy cops or telephone operators reiterating plot points of which the audience is already well aware. What it doesn’t explain, though, is why the offerings? In the one scene we see with John and Gretchen as children, there’s nothing involving a gift or a sacrifice, nothing that would really make John’s tokens later on symbolic in any way. He just sort of does it, piling up body parts on her step, without any motive other than the most obvious – he’s giving her a gift. At first you think that the movie is intentionally holding the punch line back, that the title will stand for something much like it did for April Fool’s Day or Happy Birthday to Me. Nope. The guy doesn’t talk, nobody knows him or what he’s thinking. He just gives gifts, that’s it and that’s a missed opportunity.
A film like Halloween can get away with the ambiguity of the killer’s motive because of its quality of production and the way it is able to use visual, aural and other indicators to provide critic and symbolism. Offerings is a film at face value – when people talk, they talk about plot, when the camera shows an object, the killer is going to use it. It’s once again a shame, because the film sets itself up with that title and premise to be so much more. There’s also a notable scene midway through where the girls, watching some chainsaw flick, have the reflexivity to comment on how horror movie characters always seem to make the wrong choices. In wiser hands this would become Wes Craven’s Scream, but in Christopher Reynolds’ it’s closer to 1980’s Scream.
So with Offerings you don’t get wit, you don’t get subtext and sadly, slasher fans, you don’t really get much in the G, T and A departments either. Gore consists of blood dripping out from underneath beds or soaking through someone’s shirt, and nudity, well, there isn’t any. The makeup of the killer is moderately effective, his face deformed but still infant-like in a disturbed way, sort of like Stephen Furst’s basement monstrosity in The Unseen. Initially, death scenes show promise, with the killer exhibiting no lack of comfort with using his surroundings, using everything from a vice grip to a noose to do away with his bullies, but sadly most of the deaths are either cast in silhouette or done off-screen. The stuff that is on screen, like the over-acting by overzealous cop Buddy Logan (Barry Brown) is stuff that should be off – that cop would even flunk out of whatever police academy those goofs in Halloween 5 graduated from.
Speaking of Halloween, this movie do more than borrow liberally – it’s plagiarism, but plagiarism how a four year old might write Plato’s Euthyphro. The score outright lifts some of Carpenter’s strings, and everything from the sanitarium break, the discovery of animals the killer has eaten and the zealous psychiatrist all the way to the blue-hued Final Girl chase in the upstairs of the house are all verbatim from the Carpenter-Hill book of secrets. The movie even lifts the whole watching a horror movie on late night TV, except in Halloween they watch Hawks, in Offerings they watch some Betacam shot of people walking down a hallway. For us die hard slasher fans, the amateur riffs on the successes of the genre are to be expected once you get past the popular, erm, offerings of the sub-genre, and for some it’s a little endearing, while others will want to mash fast forward.
Don’t skip forward too quickly though, because the film is peppered with some eccentricities that buoy oddities like Don’t Go in the Woods, The Prey and Honeymoon Horror. In this film’s case, there’s the wait…what!? scene of a sheriff walking into an abandoned house to find a little ginger kid beating off to a nudie magazine. As if that weren’t weird enough, the cop then goes as far to sit the kid down and give him a lecture about the portrayal of women in the media. Epic. Another novelty is what might just be the most cordial distress call I’ve ever seen in the genre, when our blonde guido heroine gets the police she politely exclaims: “I’ve got someone coming to kill me, can you please send someone?” Guess they still do teach manners down in the valley.
Offerings was waaaaaay late to the slasher movement by the time it debuted in 1989, but while other films of the genre were going for excess, this one does at the very least maintain a classicism usually reserved for the films to follow immediately in Halloween’s wake. There’s nothing below the surface, and it’s missed opportunities any time the film does stray away from the Carpenter template, but it is technically proficient enough to at least pass the time. It’s definitely not nirvana, but for slasher fans who don’t mind another trip to a dry well, this’ll do.
The film is offered to us full frame, and you can tell that’s the shooting aspect ratio since vingetting from the matte box can be seen frequently in the corners throughout. It is an older disc (2003) of an older film (1989), but it is at least progressive scan and the colors hold up marginally well. Fleshtones come out a nice peach, that is other than the leading lady who is caked in a brown spray tan. The film is often quite dark by choice, but this transfer is a tad too contrasty and as a result much of the detail is lost to the blacks. Picture is soft throughout, but the print is relatively clean with only intermittent instances of specs. Overall it is watchable and a slight upgrade over VHS, although the slow motion finale has an insane jitter to it, but that’s likely from camera shake because of the faster film speed.
Like the video, the sound is only a slight upgrade from VHS. A hiss can be heard throughout, although everything is audible and there are no drop outs or thinning of voice levels. Given the film’s meager budget it is no surprise that some scenes exhibit poor, echoed sound from a far off mic placement, especially the scenes in the lecture hall or in the kitchen.
Although this is a budget title from a company you’ve probably never heard of, they still had the wherewithal to include the original (theatrical?) trailer. The trailer is about as unique and engaging as the film itself – not much. There are also a few other trailers for some of Madacy’s other films. The menu has a nice loop of the derivative score set to a stylized shot of the killer’s mangled face in animated flames, that, at least, is a lot better than we usually get.
Behold…a chubby killer with bad makeup killing amateur actors in concealing silhouette! Witness…a film that copies Halloween note for note…including the score! See…a film where an old policeman stumbles upon a child masturbating! It’s Offerings, and it’s underwhelming on pawn shop racks across the country! Strictly for slasher completists, this time burner will deliver all the beats you expect from early entries in the sub-genre, but it sadly fails to deliver on the offerings suggested in the title. The presentation on this DVD is serviceable, so if you see it in a bargain bin, you could do worse picking it up. To echo the killer’s last lines, you have to “LOOOOOOOVE!!!!!” slasher films to accept this Offering.
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It was an okay movie but was really dragged down by all the time we had to spend watching the cops figure out stuff that the audience already knew.
i have both the vhs and dvd but still havent watched either
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