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RELEASED: 1981 (official release date), Cert. PG
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 84 mins
DIRECTOR: John Hough
PRODUCER: Hugh Attwooll
SCREENPLAY: Brian Clemens
MUSIC: Stanley Myers
Bette Davis as Mrs. Aylwood
Lynn-Holly Johnson as Jan Curtis
Kyle Richards as Ellie Curtis
Carroll Baker as Helen Curtis
David McCallum as Paul Curtis
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Adapted from Florence Engel Randall's 1976 novel "A Watcher In The Woods" and made by the Disney company, this film tells the story of an American family who decide to rent a very large, old manor house which nestles in the English countryside.
Once installed in the house and having encountered the owner, a rather cranky elderly lady called Mrs. Aylwood, sisters Jan and Ellie Curtis begin to see and hear strange things both in the grounds of the old house, and inside.
When Ellie buys a puppy, she mysteriously christens it Narek, yet on being questioned as to how she came up with such a name, she is unable to say why except that she heard a voice in her head saying the name. It becomes apparent that Narek is the name Karen in reverse, and Mrs. Aylwood reveals that Karen was her teenage daughter who was killed 30 years previously when a church that she and her friends were inside of was struck by lightning.
Jan continues to see peculiar things, such as strange glowing lights in the woods outside, and it seems that around a certain area of the woods where she walks, there is always a strong wind blowing.....she also notices that a mirror the family bring to the house doesn't show her reflection, yet on looking into it again, she sees the image of a young girl wearing white and with bandaged eyes looking back at her. Ellie tends to hear rather than see oddities, and begins to say things in her sleep that set Jan on a quest to find out what really happened on the night in the church when Mrs. Aylwood's daughter was killed.
That sets the scene....and as ever, to find out what happens, you must watch it for yourself.
I was expecting The Watcher In The Woods to be a creepy, psycho stalker/killer type film and was rather surprised to find that it falls within the supernatural genre, rather than that of horror/thriller. I was very drawn to the movie because of its name, as that alone suggested something very spooky and/or sinister to me.
Almost immediately, I got the feeling of this film definitely being a Disney production. It has the hallmark of a typically 'happy families' entertainment atmosphere to it, even with the creepy, supernatural storyline. I was also very surprised to eventually learn that Bette Davis' role is quite small compared to the other cast members, but nonetheless very significant.
As is always and expected, Bette Davis gave a superb performance as the rather pernickity, feisty elderly Mrs. Aylward whose hostile façade hides a deep, 30-year-old grief over the daughter she lost. I did find the acting from everybody else to be merely average. It certainly wasn't bad, but nothing special and I do feel that the cast's acting style would have been more suited to a light-hearted Disney family romp.
As a whole, I didn't find The Watcher In the Woods all that scary, although I did jump a couple of times due to the suddenness with which certain things happened....and, those things are accompanied by an abrupt, loud noise, which is always guaranteed to startle me. I guess it is possible that I may have become inured to low-key scary movies, due to my cinematic appetite largely being satisfied by very adult-orientated, sometimes quite gory psychological thrillers. When it got to the end of the film, I have to confess that I found it a little hard to understand the exact details of what was going on, and as I believe the age range that the movie is quite likely aimed at is a much younger audience than myself (say late childhood/early teens), I did wonder a little if viewers within that age group would also have similar problems....or, am I a bit thick?
For me, the musical score came across as a bit too twee, but I do accept that if it had been made harsher, then it possibly could have raised the spook levels higher than a younger audience may be comfortable with. Some of the music is quite pleasant to hear and could appeal to those who love to curl up with a bar of chocolate and an easy-listening CD.
Overall, The Watcher In The Woods reminds me of the type of film which would be ideal for middle of the evening Christmas entertainment, appealing to older children and giving them something to watch when the excitement of opening presents and eating mince pies has worn thin. I would definitely classify this as a family-oriented film, although not really one for the younger kiddiwinks!
I did quite enjoy my viewing of The Watcher In The Woods, although I can't pretend that I didn't feel a little disappointment on discovering that the 'thing in the woods' wasn't a psycho-slasher or some grimly fiendish type of blood-sucking monster. Had I realised that it is a Disney production before I began watching, I might have expected less in the horror/thriller department. I suppose that the film's PG rating should have alerted me to the fact that it wasn't going to be something that would make me feel nervous about going to bed!
If ever I watch this film again, it will be when I need something very lightweight, easy to digest and undemanding, although I do recommend it for family entertainment as described above. I also feel it perhaps would come across very well if serialised and shown on TV, during the time of the day which is reserved for older children.
At the time of writing, The Watcher In The Woods can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.02 to £14.95
Used: from £1.98 to £14.95
Collectible: Currently only one copy available @ £9.99
A delivery charge of £1.26 must be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
If you think Disney could never be scary then you have not seen The Watcher in the Woods. The Watcher in the Woods is such a spooky film you would think it was made by Disney in a reverse dimension where everything is not sweet and schmaltzy but is terrifying and dangerous. Tom Leech pitched The Watcher in the Woods to Disney as "our Exorcist" so that should be an indication of what this film is like.
This is a brilliant example of a good Haunted House horror. It has everything from strange lights to seances to apparitions in mirrors to possessed children speaking backwards!!!
A young American family have moved to an old English country house in the woods. Mrs Aylwood played by the fabulously sinister Bette Davis is the owner of the house. From the opening credits we know that all is not right at the house. Strange lights appear in the woods leading the children of the house Jan and Ellie to investigate - what follows is truly frightening. It is revealed that Mrs Aylwoods daughter Karen disappeared years earlier during a childish initiation ceremony. She is trapped in the woods somewhere and tries to call out to the present day children to help her get home.
This is a brilliant horror from Disney which plays on all of the classic elements of traditional ghost stories. It is essentially a kids film (with a PG rating) but it is just as likely to keep adults awake at night too. My mam first let me watch this film when I was about 8 years old and I have never really forgiven her. I recently purchased it from Amazon, being older I thought I would laugh at how scared I was of this film as a child - I was wrong! The Watcher in the Woods is just as spooky for a 30 something. There is a particular scene when Jan is at the fair and the blindfolded Karen appears to her in the hall of mirrors that is really frightening. I still cannot go into a hall of mirrors to this day. My little sister used to speak backwards and write things backwards on the bathroom mirror to freak me out just like the little girl in the movie. This flim is full of atmosphere and suspense not least due to the musical score (which I can hear in my head as I write this) and a spectacularly spooky performance from Bette Davis. The Watcher in the Woods was actually on TV quite recently and my boyfriend stumbled across it channel hopping whilst I was in the other room - I heard the music and was immediately transported back to being a frightened 8 year old and demanded it was turned off. If you like a good spook then this is the film for you.
I don't think I have ever seen such a genuinely scary kids film and I do not think Disney would make a film like this today.
If you have seen this film as a child I know you will empathise with the comments above.
This is a great introduction to horror films for older children. If you want to spook the kids on Halloween turn of the lights and sit them in front of The Watcher in the Woods.