Written by El Puerquito Magnifico
As a young lad, holidays were always a special treat at school, because it meant we got to have a party or watch a movie rather than do actual schoolwork. One such movie was Disney's The Watcher in the Woods, which, to my fourth-grade sensibilities, was the most terrifying film ever made. I recently had the opportunity to revisit the proverbial scene of my adolescent trauma. Would it hold up after all these years? Would it be as mystifyingly scary to me as an adult as it was as when I was a child? Or would it just feel like a long episode of Goosebumps guest starring a decrepit Bette Davis? Turns out it was a little of both.
The story centers around two sisters who begin having strange premonitions and seeing visions shortly after their family moves into an old mansion in the country, owned by the elderly Mrs. Aylwood (Bette Davis). It turns out that the eldest girl, Jan, bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Aylwood's daughter Karen, who disappeared 30 years ago during a séance of some sort.
Visions of a blindfolded girl crying out for help begin to haunt Jan more and more frequently, and she just can't shake a feeling of dread every time she goes near the woods surrounding the old house. Now, I'm not the type to give away the entire plot of a movie, but in a spoiler-free nutshell, clues begin to surface regarding Karen Aylwood's mysterious disappearance and the ominous presence in the woods, but her childhood friends, who seem determined to keep the secret under wraps, continually rebuke Jan’s detective work.
Do we ever learn the story behind Karen's disappearance? Just who or what is the Watcher in the Woods, and how does it all tie in to the solar eclipse? Well, you'll have to see the movie to unravel that mystery, but I can tell you this – it's worth your time to find out.
Okay, it's a 1980 live-action Disney "horror" movie. That should sort of clue you in regarding the film's quality, but if it doesn't, I'll give you my two cents – it ain't bad, but it ain't a masterpiece either. Having done a little research into the film, I uncovered a tale of many rewrites and reshoots, which led to the film's somewhat ambiguous ending. In this case though, I actually think it might work in the movie's favor. As an adult, I see the film as being sort of odd, and not making complete sense. As a kid though, I felt like there was a lot more going on that my brain could fully comprehend, and it actually made the movie even creepier. The movie is, after all, made for kids.
And yes, it is pretty creepy for a Disney movie. I may be a bit of a scaredy-cat, but there were a few instances that were somewhat frightening, and the overall mood was one of tension and supernatural terror. All in all, I'd say that if you've got any nostalgic feelings towards this movie, go ahead and rent it, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised. If you've never seen it before, but have younger kids who are just getting into scary movies, this is probably a good choice for them as well.