March 4, 2010

Justify My Netflix: The Watcher in the Woods

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Watcher in the Woods

Today's movie: The Watcher in the Woods, 1980 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because back when I was eleven years old and this movie first came out, the commercials for it would scare the beejeezus out of me whenever they'd unexpectedly pop up at night; and believe it or not, in all this time I've never actually seen the movie in question, although I still vividly remember the nightmares its commercials caused. I thought it was high time to change that situation.

The reality: So for those who don't know, the Disney Corporation didn't exactly respond well to the countercultural era, first ignoring for a long time that it was even happening, then in the '70s starting to oh so tepidly add more subversive elements to their usual kiddie fare (see Escape to Witch Mountain, Candleshoe and Freaky Friday, for example), leading to a decision at the end of the Carter administration that was highly controversial at the time, to finally produce their first truly dark PG films in the company's history. The first and third of these films, 1979's The Black Hole and 1982's Tron, are the ones that get the most attention these days; but sandwiched between them was this forgotten gem, starring Lynn-Holly Johnson at her feathered-hair teenage best, as the oldest daughter of an American family of intellectuals, who have decided to rent a rural English cottage for a summer in order for the parents to get some work done without interruptions. But unfortunately for them, said cottage is owned by a batsh-t crazy Bette Davis, cacklingly good here in one of her late roles, who years ago lost her daughter to what seems like a malevolent supernatural creature who lives on the edge of the estate's woods, and who is under the impression that she will get her daughter back if she can find a similar teenaged girl to take her place.

And I gotta say, I'm actually kind of glad that it took me this long to finally see it, because this movie is creeeeeepy; between all the shattered windows and mirrors, the recurring image of a blindfolded girl in the middle of the woods, and the arcane pagan rituals held in abandoned churches that turn out to be part of the complex story of Davis' daughter disappearing, this barely resembles something that Disney would usually have its name associated with, and it's easy to see why just a few short years later, the company would start up a brand-new imprint (Touchstone Pictures) specifically to put out darker titles like these in the future. An anomaly for Disney, one that will scare the pants off you if you're not ready for it, and it comes highly recommended if you've never seen it before.

Strangest piece of trivia: The musician father seen here is played by David McCallum, who some will most know as secret agent Illya Kuryakin in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and others know as forensic scientist "Duckie" Mallard on N.C.I.S.

Worth your time? Yes

P.S. And here, the nightmare-inducing television commercial in question. Oh, internet, is there anything you can't do?

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:20 PM, March 4, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |