The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Directed by John Hough

This is an odd one coming, as it did, from Disney back in 1983. The Disney touch can be seen in the way The Watcher in the Woods focuses on children. It’s essentially told from a young girl’s point of view (played by Lynn-Holly Johnson).

The parents are supporting players and not very involved in the story’s development.

A family comes to a house in England which, as it turns out, is haunted. There is something, or someone, in the woods. However, only the children sense it. With the house, comes an old woman (played by Bette Davis). As it turns out, her own daughter mysteriously vanished many years back.

So … we have a haunting and a mystery (which are connected, of course). Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson) decides to solve the mystery.

The atmosphere created by the movie is pretty good (and the image on the DVD is excellent given the age of the film – colours are rich, bright, and the contrast is quite good).

The movie’s failing is in the ending.

You get the sense that while the filmmakers had a good storyline they never quite figured out how to resolve it. (This is evident by the two alternate endings included on the DVD.) The problem with the ending is that it appears to be another kind of a film – almost science fiction (though perhaps fantasy is a better term).

Nothing previous to the ending really suggests what is coming. In tone and style, the end veers from its ghost story format into something different. It also requires special effects, which are not particularly good. Up to this point, the film worked partly because it wasn’t relying on effects, or at least only on standard effects – primarily editing, wind, and so on.

Overall, the film is 90 percent good, but the last 10 percent is disappointing. Also note that while it’s a Disney film, it’s probably too intense for very young children. It’s certainly not gross or bloody by any means, but the suspense and surprises may not be suitable for the very young.

(Originally written & posted in 2002.)

The Watcher in the Woods on DVD:

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