Saturday, September 14, 2013
The Watcher in the Woods
The plot of the movie involves a family comprised of husband, wife, and two daughters, who move into an old manor house in the English countryside. The house's owner, played by Betty Davis, lives in a cottage next door. The older daughter Jan (Lynn Holly Johnson) begins to see strange lights in the woods and later the ghostly figure of a young girl who appears in mirrors or other reflective surfaces.
Jan learns that the old woman's daughter Karen disappeared during a seance/initiation ceremony performed by three local youths during a solar eclipse 30 years back. A bolt of lightning struck the old chapel where the ceremony occurred, setting the building afire. Three of the kids escaped, but not Karen. However one of the three had looked back and he claimed that Karen had vanished before the chapel roof collapsed. Jan begins to realize that there is something in the woods around the manor stalking she and her sister and to stop the 'haunting' she must solve the mystery of what happened to Karen.
Back in 1980 Trailers for the movie stressed Watcher in the Woods was NOT a standard Disney film and wasn't meant for small children. It actually is pretty creepy. There's a lot of the special effects one expects from this sort of film. Odd camera angles. Mysterious winds from nowhere. Steadycam shots of something following the protagonists. The camera work is moody and claustrophobic.
Now, about that ending. When I saw the movie in the theater, it was revealed that the titular Watcher was not a ghost, but an extra dimensional being. Somehow the solar eclipse and the seance had caused the being to switch places with Karen, trapping the girl in the creature's dimension and he in ours. This is somewhat Lovecraftian in of itself, but it gets better.
In the movie I saw, the extra dimensional being was shown as a pillar of light, but in the original cut the creature was pure Lovecraft, with membranous wings, a Cthulhu style skull and long, spidery limbs and fingers. It was quite a surprise for me tonight when I saw it. Just think. I could have seen a Lovecraftian monster onscreen back when I was a teenager. THAT would have been a kick.
So anyway, I enjoyed the film. It still holds up after all these years in terms of suspense and a few good scares. And what a nice surprise to find that the Watcher was originally conceived as a extra dimensional beasty from the outer dark. HPL would have approved.