Ghost story meets paranormal mystery in Disney's PG family spookfest, a rare kid-friendly scary movie that still manages to frighten. American girls Lynn-Holly Johnson (Ice Castles) and little sister Kyle Richards move int... more »o a secluded British manor cradled in a mist-shrouded forest, home to a ghostly guardian angel and a decades-old mystery that still haunts the place. Director John Hough (whose Legend of Hell House is a classic of supernatural suspense) delivers all the right shiver-inducing ingredients: flashes of light, whispers in the wind, eerie visions of a blindfolded little girl lost (the long-lost daughter of withered widow Bette Davis) reaching out from mirrors, as if trapped behind them. Though tame by today's bloody standards and a flop on its original release in 1981, this handsome little gothic ghost story has become something of a cult film for its suggestive direction, impressionistic imagery, and spooky sense of the unknown. Ages 9 and up, although more sophisticated younger kids should enjoy this. --Sean Axmaker« less
"Perhaps the watcher in the woods is a female? If so, am I'm not saying it is, I wonder if she's got Bette Davis eyes? Get it? Watcher? Eyes? The Kim Carnes song? A bad joke? Yes it was, but I was stumped for a way to start my review, and inspiration seems to have failed me yet again...The Watcher in the Woods (1981), released by Disney, directed by Englishman John Hough, who also did Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) Return from Witch Mountain (1978), and a couple of episodes for television program Hammer House of Mystery, stars Bette Davis, Lynn-Holly Johnson, who also appeared in films like Ice Castles (1978) and the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981) (the early 80's were pretty good for Johnson, but her career has since taken a detour in the land of the B movies), and Kyle Richards, who started out on the television show Little House on the Prairie, but then moved to major horror features appearing in The Car aka Deathmobile, John Carpenter's Halloween, and its' sequel Halloween II. Also appearing are Carroll Baker (Baba Yaga) and David McCallum, probably most known as secret agent Illya Kuryakin from the popular 60's television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The film begins with an American family, recently re-located to England, looking for a home. McCallum plays the father, Baker the mother, and Johnson and Richards as the two daughters. They find a real deal in an old English manor, owned by a peculiar old woman named Mrs. Alywood (Davis), who happens to live in a smaller house on the property, and is very particular about who rents the larger house, but, on meeting Jan (Johnson), and her younger sister Ellie (Richards), she agrees to allow the family to rent the place. Even before the family moves in, Jan has uneasy feelings about the place, almost like she's being watched (hence the title), and soon afterwards, begins experiencing strange and odd visions, visions regarding Mrs. Alywood's long, lost daughter, missing now for some 30 years. As the visions progress to other, more intense supernatural phenomena, Jan feels compelled to learn the true nature of what's happening to her and her sister, and also to learn the truth about Mrs. Alywood's missing daughter. What terrible secrets does she uncover? Who is the watcher in the woods? Why's that Mrs. Alywood so very creepy? Answers to these questions and more are forthcoming, if you care to watch...(who watches the watcher? I did, and it was pretty good...)
When I purchased this film, I didn't know it was a Disney release. As another reviewer already stated, Disney had an odd period there for awhile, releasing films that didn't necessarily seem very Disney-like, like this film. I actually liked the movie a lot, as it was very suspenseful and I honestly could not figure out the ending until it was revealed. I will admit I found myself somewhat attracted to Johnson, and it felt odd as she seemed to be presented as someone in her teens, but in reality, she was in her early 20's at the time this was filmed, so I felt a lot less creepy. I did think she seemed a bit too old for her part, and after checking on her age, my feelings were confirmed. All the actors did very well, and given their collected past acting experiences, I wasn't surprised. Whoever casted this film did very well, choosing highly capable and experienced actors. Johnson's character did become a bit of a pest as the film worn on, especially as she tries to uncover the dark secrets that now seem to plague her and her sister in visions and the odd possession or two. Davis' character seemed a bit weak and two dimensional, but one is willing to cut the woman some slack, given her body of work, and those very creepy eyes. The sets and location shots all added a great deal to the story, providing a wonderful backdrop to the story. I did find it kind of annoying when Johnson's character kept looking out various windows, as if she could see whatever strange force keeps causing the wee hairs on the back of her neck to stand up...The script was very well done, and tended to focus on the important elements, keeping the viewer in the thick of things. The plot moved along very slowly, almost excruciatingly so, but it did allow for the viewer to ponder and develop their own theories, which will most likely be wrong, as I was...the ending in this film was so very oddly fantastic I doubt I would have ever figured it out on my own. Some may have already given it away in reviews here, which is too bad, as it's pretty mind-boggling. It really seemed to come from nowhere, but did provide a satisfactory, if highly unusual conclusion.
The wide screen print here is very clear and sharp, along with the audio, although the DTS track on the earlier Anchor Bay release (now out of print) is missing here. There are a few extras on this official Walt Disney Home Video release (although less than there were on the pervious Anchor Bay release), including two alternate endings well worth checking out, and two trailers. After watching the alternate endings, I would think they weren't used maybe because they would have been too frightening to younger viewers, or too goofy for older viewers. The ending used in the final product, compared to the alternates, seems the best route to have been taken. Overall, this is a very good thriller, one that forsakes visceral elements for story and genuine suspense. It moves a bit slow, but does reward at the end. It is a Disney film, but probably not one for very young viewers, as it could cause nightmares and the subsequent staining of the sheets.
Jennifer | Virginia | 01/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think this has to be one, if not THE scariest of movies I have ever seen! This movie is non stop suspense! It strongly stands as a classic horror movie without all the blood and guts! It scared me to death as a little kid, but I kept going back and watching it over and over and over! For a while I was scared to look in mirrors, or if a breeze would blow through the wood when I was in them I couldn't (and still can't) help getting chill bumps sometimes. Many aspects make the movie scary - it's setting, the main plot, and mainly the music! I can still hear that song from the music box playing in my head. I think this is a brilliant film, and was impressed that Disney made it. Though it may scare the pants off your kids, I don't think it's inappropriate for them. It lacks todays standards of what makes a "good" horror film - blood, guts, extreme violence, nudity and horrid language left and right. Though the movie is scary, it still holds that Disney "wholesomenes." If your kids want to see a scary movie, let them watch this one. I watched it and I'm fine ten years later! Besides, the end of the movie explains what the heck was going on, and you understand that it wasn't some psycho monster lurking in the woods. The problem is resolved, and the ending is relieving and happy. It's a great thriller that keeps me coming back. It you haven't seen it YOU MUST!"
Scary for all ages
mike coe | MELBOURNE,FLORIDA | 01/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was lucky or unlucky depending on your taste in movies to see The watcher in the woods on the big screen, upon its release in 1981. I was 12 at the time, and thought oh yea a Disney movie with Bette Davis....real scary. Well let me tell ya I spent a good portion of this feature crouched down in my seat, hands at ready position to cover my eyes. It was very scary indeed. With all the elements any spook flic buff could want. Fog covered swamps, abandoned farm houses in the middle of nowhere, a strange old woman(bette davis) with a hidden agenda, and plenty of good old fasioned surprise scares and suspense. Best of all, you can watch it with the whole family. Thats right, this movie does not rely on gore or profanity to aid in its chills. Its just naturally frightning. So gather up the family,load up the sofa, turn out the lights and enjoy....if you dare!"
Spooky Disney fare with Bette Davis and Lynn-Holly Johnson
Byron Kolln | the corner where Broadway meets Hollywood | 03/15/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Based on the novel by Florence Engel Randall, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS is a finely-crafted Disney thriller with Bette Davis and a great cast.
The story is about an English-American family (David McCallum, Carroll Baker, Lynn-Holly Johnson and Kyle Richards) who move into a creepy mansion in the English countryside. The estate also includes Mrs Aylwood (Bette Davis) who acts as a caretaker of sorts. Mrs Aylwood's daughter Karen mysteriously died in a fire many years ago and she has never really come to terms with her grief.
Once the new family moves in, strange things begin to occur. Eldest daughter Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson - ICE CASTLES) senses something watching her, and starts seeing a blindfolded girl in mirrors. Younger daughter Ellie (Kyle Richards) adopts a little dog and calls it 'Nerak' ('Karen' spelled backwards). Everything that happens seems to lead back to Karen Aylwood and her mysterious death. Jan and Ellie join Mrs Aylwood in a race against time to stop the hauntings and hopefully find out what really happened that fateful night...
Bette Davis gives a mesmerizing performance as Mrs Aylwood (with Georgina Hale also fine as the younger Davis during the flashback sequence). David McCallum sadly doesn't get much to do as the father, though Carroll Baker impresses in her relatively-small role as the mother. Lynn-Holly Johnson (following her breakout role as Lexie in ICE CASTLES) is a knockout as Jan and Kyle Richards is just plain spooky as Ellie.
Filmed entirely on location in England, the tense and eerie atmosphere is perfectly carried throughout the whole movie. Also featuring Eleanor Summerfield, Ian Bannen, Richard Pasco, Frances Cuka, Benedict Taylor and Katherine Levy."
I LOVE THIS MOVIE
Emily | Sweden | 02/01/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw Watcher in the Woods when I was little. Now at 23 I saw it again last night. It is so scary, I wanted to sleep on the floor in my parents room. It is nothing like a Disney movie I have nave no clue why it is rated G or PG. I would never let any small kids see this movie. If you are older and want to see a really scary movie go out and get this one."