The Watcher In The Woods (1980)
Directed by John Hough & Vincent McEveety (uncredited)
Based on A Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall
Starring: Bette Davis, Carroll Baker, David McCallum, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards
Production company: Walt Disney Productions
Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
The film tells the story of a teenage girl and her little sister who become encompassed in a supernatural mystery regarding a missing girl in the woods surrounding their new home in the English countryside.
This is a Disney horror movie! Yep, you read that right! I can’t believe I didn’t know of this film’s existence. Well, I had heard of it and liked the sound of it so recorded it when it popped up on TV several months ago but I don’t think I ever realized it was a Disney film. Okay, it’s not like it’s a Saw film or something. This is “horror-light”. Think: R.L. Stine Goosebumps-level horror. It’s a fun film and I think, being a lover of things like the original The Twilight Zone from a very young age, I’d have loved this movie if I’d seen it as a kid.
This movie is from 1980 and I’m not gonna lie – it’s very 1980 so it’s unlikely that a younger generation would necessarily be able to tolerate its look & pace. Being a child of the 80s, I obviously have no issue with something that hasn’t aged that well. I’ve only JUST noticed when looking this movie up at IMDb for this review that a new version starring Anjelica Huston has been made! It has a US release date of tomorrow (21st of October 2017) & looks like it’s a TV movie. How can I see this in the UK?! I wanna watch it with my kid. But she doesn’t like scary stuff AT ALL. She doesn’t take after her mommy!
I enjoyed the supernatural story in this, even though it was a little cheesy at the end. But, hey – it’s for kids! Well, maybe more for teenagers at the time but nowadays it would be fine for pre-teens. As I said, I’d have loved this as a kid so I can’t really criticize it as I think it’s perfectly fine for its target audience at the time it was made. Bette Davis, as the lonely & mysterious lady who owns the English countryside house that an American family moves into, is the one big name in this and helps to give the film some credibility. There’s a mystery surrounding her daughter, who disappeared 30 years earlier. The two girls who’ve just moved into the house, a teenager & her young sister, try to solve the mystery.
For those of you who didn’t grow up on 70s & 80s movies, you may not be a used to the, um, acting style of kids & teenagers back then. They weren’t like Jacob Tremblay in Room (I love that movie). The acting from the two daughters in this, especially the teenager, is dodgy as hell. I’m not saying that’s their fault, though, as this was common in a lot of movies at the time. I think writers & directors just seriously didn’t know how to make young characters feel genuine back then. Come to think of it, Steven Spielberg probably deserves some credit for paving the way for believable kids in movies thanks to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The teenager in this, Lynn-Holly Johnson, was in a figure skating romance movie called Ice Castles (1978) with Robby Benson. Oh, I wanna see that! Looks like my type of thing. And the younger sister, Kyle Richards, was in Halloween but I mostly remember her as Alicia on Little House On The Prairie (that show rules and is another love of mine that I’ve been unable to get my kid to show any interest in). 😉
If you watch this movie bearing in mind the time it was made, you might get some enjoyment out of the story. I did, but I love a fun supernatural mystery. There’s also some good imagery that I’m sure stuck with kids who saw this at the time. This will be one of those movies that people my age would say “that movie scared the crap out of me as a kid!” and then, if they rewatched it now, they’d realize how tame it is. I liked it. I think Disney should’ve made more movies in this genre! But, having a horror movie with the “Disney” name attached to it, I can also see why that didn’t end up working.
My Rating: 6.5/10
**Oh! I found the trailer for the 2017 movie! It’s a Lifetime movie. Bwahaha! I remember those from the days I lived in America! Not gonna lie – I loved some Lifetime movies. 😉 And it’s been directed by Melissa Joan Hart?! Whaaat? Clarissa? Sabrina? She’s a director? When did that happen? I’m so old. I seriously want to see this (it looks scarier than the 1980 film):
And the 1980 trailer for comparison: