Thursday, October 5, 2017

Halloween Flashback: Watcher in the Woods

One of the most memorable live action scary films from Disney that I watched back in the day was Watcher in the Woods. On October 21, just in time for Halloween, Lifetime is releasing a remake of the film directed and produced by none other than Melissa Joan Hart, also a major part of my youth. The trailer looks pretty good, although I don't know what the plague doctor mask has to do with anything:

I loved this film as a kid: spooky ghost activity, a mystery to be solved, an old manor, British accents. I have very fond memories of watching it on a yearly basis. But I suspected my memory was a little colored by youth. The last time I watched it was probably pre-high school. So I was wary when I ordered it through my library. I didn't want it to be ruined by my more experienced and savvy adult brain.

If you aren't familiar or don't remember, Watcher in the Woods is about a family that moves into an old English manor being rented out by a widow, Mrs. Aylewood, whose daughter Karen disappeared mysteriously thirty years prior. Mrs. Aylewood lives in a cottage on the property and is very picky about who lives in the house.

The Curtis family consists of musician Paul, children's book writer Helen, teenage girl Jan and a younger girl, Ellie, who talks a lot about food. They are deemed acceptable, likely because Jan looks an awful lot like Karen.

Strange things start happening to Jan and Ellie. Jan sees images of Karen in mirrors, and Ellie hears things that Jan can't. As they meet and talk to other locals who apparently live 5 seconds away and never have anything better to do, Jan starts to put the pieces to Karen's mystery together.

The cast is actually worth mentioning, as some of the actors have been in noteworthy roles both before and after this film:

  • Bette Davis as Mrs. Aylewood, and... well, she's Bette Davis, enough said.
  • Lynn-Holly Johnson as Jan was also in "Ice Castles"
  • Kyle Richards as Ellie was fucking LINDSEY from "Halloween"! How did I never know that!
  • Carroll Baker as their mom, but once she was nominated for an Oscar for a film called "Baby Doll", where she played a "sensuous nineteen-year-old virgin."
  • David McCallum as their dad, who has been in some decent stuff like "The Great Escape" and "NCIS"
  • Benedict Taylor plays teen love interest Mike, and was also a nameless fighter pilot in "Star Wars Episode I", which is probably a best case scenario for being associated with that film.
  • Frances Cuka is Mike's mother, and I was pleasantly surprised to see she had a role in "Snow White: A Tale of Terror."
  • Richard Pasco as Tom Colley, who was also in the Queen Victoria film "Mrs. Brown"
  • Ian Bannen who starred in "Waking Ned Devine"

Overall, the movie still had a nice eerie factor to it, and the mystery of how Karen disappeared is actually even more interesting to me now that I've been reminded what happened. I think the spoiler-expiration has more than passed, but I'll limit myself to saying that this is a great example of unexpected sci-fi horror. It's set up as a ghost story, but it's not a ghost story. Kinda cool, and I totally forgot about that part.

I think one downside is the special effects. The images of Karen are done well enough, but the computer generated colors and lights look really weird and out of place. Another downside is Lynn-Holly Johnson's performance. When her character's emotions are level, she's mostly fine. Still a little overdone at times, but acceptable. When she gets angry or passionate or excited, her voice just ramps up to irritating heights. And she goes from zero to screaming pretty fast. It's hard to take by the end.

And given that, I will point out that if and when you visit the film's IMDB page, you'll notice that it won an award. I was a little surprised-- while it will always be a favorite from childhood, it just didn't seem like an award-winner. Sadly, the award it won was a "Stinker" bad movie award in 1981. The strange part is that Kyle "I was in Halloween motherfucker" Richards won for worst performance by a child in a featured role. I would have given it to Johnson, personally, although I suppose she might not have been a "child" at the time. Girl was chewing the scenery something fierce. I thought Kyle did a fine enough job, and she has some truly creepy moments when the "ghost" possesses her.

So if, like me, you hold a certain degree of nostalgia for Watcher in the Woods, it would be worth borrowing a copy to at least indulge your inner child and remember where your love of creepy things started.

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