Last week I reviewed a funny Disney movie with Hocus Pocus, but with Halloween less than a week away I decided to look back on a movie that was a little more in line with traditional Halloween movies. I will be looking at a movie that seriously freaked me out as a kid. I was very young when I first watched this movie and so I did not remember the details of the story very well. Instead I had been left with a vague impression of the plot and very lasting impression of unease. The movie I will be reviewing today is The Watcher in the Woods.
Doesn't sound familiar? That's not a surprise. This movie had a bit of a hard go from production right through to theatrical release- it was even pulled from theatres and had the ending changed! To date there are three different endings for this movie, some which are definitely better than the others. Click here to read a great article from Retro Junk on The Watcher in the Woods.
The Watcher in the Woods is based on the 1976 novel by Florence Engel Randall. The movie tells the story of a teenage girl named Jan and her little sister, Ellie, after their family moves into a new home in the English countryside. The young girls start to experience strange happenings and become involved in a supernatural mystery regarding the daughter of Mrs. Aylwood (Bette Davis), the owner of the residence. Jan bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Aylwood's daughter, Karen, who disappeared inside a chapel near the village 30 years ago.
|Jan, Mrs. Aylwood, and Ellie|
Though I did not remember the exact plot of The Watcher in the Woods, it is a movie I have thought of from time to time over the years and my heart still started racing a bit whenever I thought about it. This week was my first time watching it since all those years ago. Though it is admittedly tame by today's standards, The Watcher in the Woods is still spooky enough that I really wished I hadn't watched it alone and at night!
Director John Hough established a very creepy atmosphere through music and point-of-view camera angles which left me feeling like the watcher was looking for me and not the Curtis sisters. Perhaps the most fitting element though was the beautiful and yet haunting setting. The house and the woods surrounding it were beautiful, except when paired with the soundtrack and that made it even more unnerving. As I have said before, I am a scaredy cat! And even though I was still freaked out by this movie, it was not nearly as bad as I had thought it would be. Yet the movie did contain a series of chilling moments.
One moment in particular occurred while the girls were moving the family's belongings into the house. Jan was carrying an ornate mirror into the living room and even as she was setting it down I knew what was coming. I sat with a blanket clutched to my chest murmuring "She's not going to be in the mirror. She's not going to have a reflection. Don't look in the mirror!", which is of course when she looked in the mirror and we see that she has no reflection. As Jan reaches out to touch the mirror I started seriously freaking out and again started muttering, "Don't touch the mirror! It will grab you! YOU'RE GOING TO DIE!!" Now I admit I may have gotten a little carried away, particularly considering it was so early on in the movie. But it is the moments like this that, when combined, make The Watcher in the Woods still a spine-tingling experience regardless of the predictability of scares such as this.
Unfortunately, between the moments like these I found several aspects of the movie and the actors a little irritating. I found Jan to be a less a determined heroine and more a whining bystander. She spends the majority of the film either screeching about the watcher or flirting with the neighbour without a care in the world. And then there is Jan's little sister, Ellie, who never seems to be even slightly worried about the fact that she's hearing voices or that there is obviously some sort of creepy unknown entity that is able to control her.
This may not be a truly terrifying movie by many viewers’ standards today. However, I would say Watcher in the Woods is still a film that can still provide a thoroughly chilling 80 minutes of entertainment.