WATCHER IN THE WOODS
DIR: John Hough
CAST: Bette Davis, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards, Carroll Baker, David McCallum
It’s important to always try to expand our horizons. It’s the way we grow and evolve as people doing little personal development exercises. It prevents stagnation of the mind and challenges us to keep our wits about us. That said, there are sometimes when someone takes a plunge into unfamiliar territory and it doesn’t work out for the folks in question and just confuses the hell out of the rest of us. If you need me to draw you an example, then please allow me to direct your attention to Disney’s WATCHER IN THE WOODS.
WATCHER IN THE WOODS was Disney’s first foray into thriller/suspense/horror. The idea occurred to producer Tom Leetch to convert Florence Engel Randall’s book of the same title into a film. Leetch pitched the project to Disney executive Ron Miller with the idea that WITW could be Disney’s answer to THE EXORCIST. However, the subject proved to be a little dark for Disney’s tastes and there were a series of problems from the get go starting with multiple screenplay revisions to Ron Miller neutering more of the darker material on set. Problems continued to plague production right up until after the film was pulled from theatres and Disney had multiple different endings planned (“roughly 52”) up until the rerelease. Despite all of these problems, the final product is a solid piece. My own introduction left me scared to look at reflections in glass up until about a year ago.
This film was one of the movies available for rent at the local video store in Tsawwassen in 1985. I know this because my mother rented it, along with MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK and a Beta machine on which to play them on in the summer of 1984. I know this very precise knowledge because this turn of events scarred me for life, though it also might explain a few quirks regarding my personality. My mother, being a young, single mamma had brought me and our rented technology over to her friend’s house for a BBQ. The idea being that I’d watch my cartoons, and then when I was asleep the adults would come in from the cold coastal air and gear down watching WATCHER IN THE WOODS. My mother had drilled into me how to work the Beta player, and had asked if I had my tape. I nodded eagerly, excited to use the hardware and put on my own movie.
However, I got the tapes mixed up, and rather than watch the capering, animated Disney products, instead I was treated to Disney’s attempt at William Friedkin. This was pretty heavy for a four year old. So I sat through three quarters of Bette Davis being menacing and vague, eerie reflections of someone stuck in another dimension, a haunted chapel, and some deep Lovecraft vibes. My mother came in to check on me, and found me scooted, with my back against the couch, my eyes huge in my face, and Bette Davis being appropriately menacing on the television. She went to turn it off, and I leapt up to stop her. We’ve all been there; thou committed to a film and it’s hypnotized you to the point that you HAVE to see it to the end, so you have closure. I felt that way about SUCKERPUNCH, hoping there’d be a great twist at the end to make up for all the abysmal insulting of my intelligence, but sadly I was to be denied satisfaction. C’est la vie! So I fought hard to finish watching the movie.
As my mother reluctantly left her offspring to seeing this beast through to the end, I heard her exclaim to her friend that she thought I was a little odd. I totally watched my ‘toons after, though. But recently, I wanted to revisit this and see if it, like some many other things from my distant childhood memory, held up against my scrutiny. Luckily for me, our friends at Anchor Bay released the film on DVD in 2002 so I got the chance to see if I had been avoiding my own reflection in windows for years for good reason. The DVD features director commentary and also the three alternate endings. So you can have a choose-your-own-adventure to decide which ending you prefer at the end of the day… But seeing this movie again reminded me that blind man’s bluff is still one of the scariest games from my childhood, and that closure on a film like this feels awesome.
Hugs and hisses,
Check out all of Little Miss Risk’s previous journeys into the wild and the wicked here!
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