The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Earlier today, I wrote about how I’ve been upgrading my DVDs to Blu-rays, where I can, what with studios being pretty selfish in some cases. About a week ago, I learned that several Disney live-action films that I enjoy and own can only be purchased through the Mouse’s old-fashioned subscription service, like the old Columbia House Record Club. Among these treats: The Watcher in the Woods. Well, you can pay through the nose for them one at a time on eBay, or you can count that there’s six you want, and five you’re obliged to buy, and sign up. Unfortunately, Watcher has yet to arrive, and I wasn’t going to delay watching this on Halloween weekend, so the DVD’ll do.

Hmmm. Hope the Blu-ray’s got these two alternate endings on it. Wonder what that’s about? (*reads) Oh! Wow!

Anyway, I remember a little stir when Watcher was released, and the media started asking whether it was too scary for children, and why Disney had suddenly started making horror films. I didn’t remember the fuss about it being yanked from theaters for more than a year, with Vincent McEveety called in to give John Hough’s film a new finale. Maybe that’s why David McCallum unceremoniously vanishes from the movie halfway through.

Anyway, Watcher was based on a novel, and the great Brian Clemens was called in to adapt it. Feels a lot like what he did was basically pen an episode of Thriller, right down to the token American girls in jeopardy. As we frequently saw in that anthology series, a British man is married to an American woman, played here by Carroll Baker, who was actually the American lead in a 1976 Thriller. They have two girls, and they get involved in a freaky series of supernatural events that has something to do with the mysterious disappearance of Bette Davis’s character’s daughter thirty years ago. Clemens’ script was rewritten by three others, including Gerry Day and Rosemary Anne Sisson, and apparently they still cocked up the ending and it had to be reshot months and months later.

Despite the remarkably troubled production, the finished product is still a really solid ghost story for the Goosebumps-age crowd, helped by some fabulous photography and some great camera tricks. We all enjoyed the way that something unseen is constantly following characters from the woods, and how the massive winds that whip up around them feel so much like part of the forest. There are weak links, certainly. The three witnesses to the original incident are incredibly unbelievable when they insist on refusing to talk about it, and Lynn-Holly Johnson, who plays the older daughter, is Michael Caine-in-The Swarm-level intense. But it simply looks so impressive and so real that these are just quibbles. It’s a very nice looking scary movie for younger viewers.

Our son enjoyed it, but it didn’t leave him half as rattled as Sleepy Hollow did last week. Hmmmm. Maybe we should have gone with Watcher a year ago. The media forty years ago was wrong, unsurprisingly. This isn’t too scary for children at all.

4 thoughts on “The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

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