Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Watcher in the Woods (1980)


Young Jan and Ellie Curtis and their parents move into an eerie mansion in the English countryside.  The owner, Mrs. Aylwood, lives in a cottage on the property and has a nasty habit of lurking around and looking creepy (as Bette Davis is wont to do, for indeed it is she).  Jan discovers that Mrs. Aylwood's daughter Karen--to whom Jan herself bears a striking resemblance--disappeared thirty years ago.  Then Jan starts seeing strange things, and Ellie seems to be hearing voices . . . What happened thirty years ago?  Where is Karen?  Are the girls being watched?  By what?  And why?

I didn't love Lynn-Holly Johnson's acting style (shout everything!), and I found myself annoyed with Ellie's inability to keep her dog from running off at inopportune moments, as well as her perpetual insistence that she was not, in fact, doing the weird things that she was, in fact, doing.  But Bette Davis was phenomenal, and the images of blindfolded Karen in the mirror were genuinely creepy. 

In fact, my first exposure to this film was by way of the old 'Walt Disney and You' promos at the end of VHS copies of various Disney classics.  Interspersed with all the clips of more familiar films were these unsettling snatches of a pale, ghostly girl reaching out from a mirror, her face half-swathed in a white scarf . . . [shiver]. 

Plus, the alternate endings are fantastic.  The DVD features the final 1981 theatrical ending, but offers viewers the option of viewing two alternate endings--the initial theatrical ending from 1980, and the original ending concept--both of which take the movie in a decidedly more science fiction direction. I highly recommend both of them.  They are hilarious. 

All in all, this is a decent hybrid of horror, mystery, and thriller, with hints of fantasy/science fiction, all wrapped up in a fairly family-oriented package.  The trailer firmly admonishes parents that this is not the usual Disney fodder, and indeed, some of the sequences are pretty creepy.  Still there is no gore, no swearing, no sex . . . all in all, pretty family friendly and worth checking out, especially if you like a bit of horror without all the fountains of blood.

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