A quaint family of four move into an isolated manor on the edge of the woods where supernatural activity occures. The eldest daughter Jan’s (Ice Castle’s Lynn-Holly Johnson) resemblance to the property owners missing daughter is uncanny. Karen mysteriously disappeared years ago without a trace but her image and presence, along with an entity watching in the woods, has Jan determined to put the puzzle pieces together in hopes of finding the truth about Karen’s untimely disappearance.
This is an incredibly artistic, melancholy supernatural tale that may not be as scary as say Poltergeist but to this day, it still proves to be effective. Bette Davis alone will scare the shit out of your children. The photography catching the dark forest with clouds of mist engraving its characters creates a strong atmosphere. The spectacular set designs; the exploration of the gothic mansion, the run down cathedral, and the freakish fun house with mirrors all help add to the atmosphere. There are also a lot of POV shots in the woods, reminiscent to Raimi’s Evil Dead.
Among the supernatural happenings, Watcher in the Woods gives us possession, backwards writing, moving furniture, a secret society that performs seances, and aliens. Yes. Aliens. Depending on which version you have, you’ll either see the entity in the woods as a glowing object without a face or you will see a masterfully crafted alien.
The film suffered from a variety of production problems. It was pulled from theaters in 1980 for cuts and edits then re-released in 1981. DVD versions show you the alternative endings and deleted scenes but some of the footage has been lost. Initially, the ending featured a little girl playing with her doll in the woods until the alien watcher scares her and destroys her doll. The doll’s burning face was meant to be in the background of the opening credits but Disney thought this was a little too much and it might scar the children.
For adults who have never seen this spooky Disney flick, it may not be for you. If it’s a film you haven’t seen in years and fear feeling embarrassed, don’t be. It still holds up relatively well. Maybe not the silly, over the top acting. Your kids will enjoy putting the puzzle pieces together for sure.