The Watcher in the Woods (1980)


“Are you adventurous? And kind? Are you kind?
I… try to be.
And sensitive? Do you sense things?”


So this is a horror film not only made by Disney but actively promoted as a Disney film.

Fraught with production problems and a negative reception by cinema-goers in America meaning re-shoots that were hampered by an actors strike can only mean this is a disaster of a film and not the film I remember of my childhood, right?

Well speaking of my childhood I was had almost completely convinced myself that I never watched a Disney made horror film (yes I know Disney do make horror films but they aren’t released on the Disney label) because such a film couldn’t exist.

Well I found it and despite the production problems mentioned this is still a surprisingly good film.

Starring Bette Davis who puts on a very convincing English accent, The Watcher in the Woods is about an American family that move into a very fancy English home where their daughters start experiencing supernatural goings on within the woods.

This is aimed probably at children to early teens but manages to get many of the things right that a successful 70’s horror film does.
The music, the atmosphere, locations and overall look and feel of the film feel just right.
A few jump-scares and clever camera work, the mirror scene is simply brilliant, plus it rarely strays from the main story which at 80 minutes means it is nicely paced.

The performances do the job but are a bit wooden, especially from the lead, apart from Bette Davis who is really the only standout performer here playing the part of a cantankerous old woman. So basically playing most Bette Davis roles but with a superb English accent.

The story is a basic haunting tale and given how the original ending involved an alien trying to get home (this is two years before E.T.) for once I’m glad a film was changed because American audiences didn’t like it.
Moving it into the supernatural saved it.

So despite being a child’s or early teens film (or supposed to be) this is far more mature than you would expect from an equivalent film for that demographic.

In fact this succeeds far more than a lot of modern horror films do.

Watcher in the Woods is apparently being remade with Anjelica Huston in Bette Davis role and Benedict Taylor returning.
It is being directed by Sabrina and the Teenage Witch star Melissa Joan Hart so maybe this one will actually resemble a children’s film.
If you haven’t seen it already I recommend checking out  Melissa Joan Hart in the decent Nine Dead (2010)