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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10%
Worth A Look: 35%
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Total Crap: 5%

1 review, 14 user ratings

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Watcher in the Woods, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"Preciesly what you'd expect from a 1980 Disney 'thriller'."
3 stars

This is one of those early-80s movies that I somehow managed never to see. I’d always been curious about this 1981 mini-cult flick, a rare thriller from the Disney live-action studios, and a film I’d always heard fairly good things about. Unfortunately "The Watcher in the Woods" seems to be that kind of movie that you’ll love only if you first saw it as a kid. Me? I was wavering between stifled giggles and copious yawning.

Initially planned for a 1980 opening, The Watcher in the Woods was released for a few screenings and was not well received. The ending in particular earned a lot of criticism, so producers stuck the movie on a shelf and went about reshooting a few alternative conclusions. Regardless of these changes, audiences and critics did not embrace the movie and it died a quick box-office death.

It wasn’t until several years later - when the film hit home video - that more fans began to crop up, most of them citing fond childhood memories of a creepy flick. The controversy surrounding the film’s difficult birth only added fuel to the fanbase fire, which is just one of the reasons that this Anchor Bay DVD is a long overdue sight for the hardcore fans. (Of which I, unfortunately, an still not one.)

The plot is a family-friendly pastiche of nighttime creaks, forest-bound shivers, past-life problems, and ghostly messages. Hollywood legend Bette Davis plays Mrs. Aylwood, a kindly-yet-creepy old lady who rents her massive estate to a friendly American family. Mom (an author) and Dad (a musician) are looking for a nice, mellow spot to work in, while daughters Jan (the adolescent) and Ellie (the pesky kid) delight in the house’s massive rooms and the overgrown forest out back.

There are, of course, a few skeletons in Mrs. Aylwood’s closet, most of which revolve around her mysteriously missing daughter Karen. We slowly learn that Karen vanished one creepy night thirty years ago, and that only a handful of tight-lipped locals know what went on that night. After experiencing a series of creepy moments (mostly involving mirrors or windows), Jan begins to piece the mystery together and she bravely sets out to discover what ultimately became of Karen.

The Watcher in the Woods is an intermittently creepy and quite well photographed piece of "gothic lite", but newcomers to this movie may struggle through the movie’s numerous slow spots and ponderous pacing. The screenplay (based on the novel by Florence Engel Randall) sets up a few provocative ideas, but they’re rarely followed up in satisfying style. Most of the acting performances are essentially wooden, with Ms. Davis turning in a glorified cameo that doesn’t leave much of an impression. On the whole, The Watcher in the Woods isn’t a really bad movie; it’s just a bit too safe and more than a little drab. Fans of old-fashioned, atmospheric ghost tales will undoubtedly forgive the film’s obvious faults more than others might, but even they will have a hard time generating much enthusiasm for the movie.

Regardless of how much I enjoyed the flick, there’s no denying that there have been a lot of fans waiting for this one on DVD, and Anchor Bay Entertainment deserves hearty praise for the presentation they’ve delivered. In addition to some of the more traditional features, Anchor Bay has located two alternate endings for the film (one running six minutes, the other running fourteen). Those who’ve been dying to see the ending that had test audiences giggling and Disney execs scrambling for reshoots will be thrilled to find it on this DVD.

Then again, anyone who knows their DVD probably already adores the product that Anchor Bay puts out, so this news should come as no big surprise.

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originally posted: 05/04/04 12:21:45
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User Comments

7/07/19 Dr. Lao Pretty good, has the potential for an excellent re-make 3 stars
10/28/12 Kenneth Ramirez The movie was not scary at all but it did have some basics in the genre of horror 1 stars
10/23/12 Nick Macchio I don't think the movie had all of the characteristics that a good horror film should have. 2 stars
10/22/12 Nicholas Manikis Showed the aspects of scifi and the aspects of a ghost story all together a true horror 4 stars
10/22/12 joe schwien i think the movie was boring and dull but it wasnt like every horror movie out there 3 stars
10/22/12 Joel Rivera Showed how suspense can be a horror movie. Gory scenes wasn't needed for this movie. 4 stars
8/14/11 Scott Excellent,if only Disney would allow a restoration. 5 stars
3/12/09 David Fowler Beautifully done. Scott Weinberg and Charles Tatum can suck my queer cock, Thank you 4 stars
4/27/03 Steve Mondel Great family film. The Anchor Bay Edition is full of great stuff. 5 stars
11/25/02 Charles Tatum Unwatchable in the Woods 2 stars
9/12/02 y2mckay Good ghost story for Teenagers. Lynn-Holly Johnson is a piece of ass 4 stars
12/20/01 Andrew Carden You Have To Overlook It's Dullness, and Look Into It's Imagination. 4 stars
8/30/01 Paul Guimond Scary movies for kids are a rarity... and this is one of the best. 4 stars
2/12/99 slink cool flick.......definately a "sleeper" 4 stars
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  17-Apr-1980 (PG)
  DVD: 03-Aug-2004



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