Anchor Bay // 1980 // 83 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 15th, 2002
The most legendary monster of all time can now be seen for the first time!
In the annals of cult classic cinema there are some rare gems, movies that only 2% of the movie going public has heard about. I am one of the 2% -- I was sure that I'd heard of every cult classic known to man. I was wrong. Suddenly out of nowhere came Anchor Bay's newly remastered special edition of director John Hough's The Watcher In The Woods. I was stunned. How had this movie slipped past my B-movie/cult classics radar? Frankly, I have no idea. Originally produced through the Disney company (who apparently had their share of dark fantasies with Return To Oz and this film), The Watcher In The Woods is based on the novel by acclaimed writer Florence Engel Randall and features a very old Bette Davis (What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?) and the most mysterious monster ever caught (or was he?) on celluloid. Now you the viewer can see for the first time who "The Watcher" really is in this new THX-certified DVD edition from Anchor Bay!
When an American family rents a house in a rural part of England, they get much more than they bargained for when the discover who -- or what -- is waiting for them...in the woods! The elderly Ms. Aylwood (Davis) is the owner of the house with a dark secret: years ago her only daughter Karen disappeared without a trace during an innocent children's game with some neighboring friends. Years later, her disappearance has never been explained, but speculation abounds as to what happened to her that fateful night. When sisters Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson) and Ellie (Kyle Richards) move into the old house with their parents, Jan starts seeing strange things which include mirrors without reflections, triangle cracks in her windows, and blue circles of light in the near by pond. Ellie seems to be hearing voices from the woods that are telling her secrets...secrets that just might unlock the mystery to Karen's disappearance! Together with Ms. Aylwood the girls must unravel the puzzle, save Karen and discover who is the watcher in the woods!!
I was very disappointed in this movie. After hearing some initial good things about The Watcher In The Woods, I was preparing for an entertaining and possibly chilling movie. No such luck. I found The Watcher In The Woods to be slow, dull, and ultimately unengaging. I guess when I discovered this was a Disney produced thriller I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up. I mean, let's face it -- asking Disney to produce a scary movie back in the 1980s was the equivalent of getting a good James Bond film out of Timothy Dalton.
The Watcher In The Woods fails on many levels, the highest being the story. The idea and execution behind this film just wasn't substantial enough to warrant even the scant 83-minute running time. The film's plot doesn't truly kick in until a good two-thirds of the way through, and even then it's just not that exciting. Certainly, Karen's disappearance could have made for some great atmosphere and dread; sadly, The Watcher In The Woods exploits none of this. Instead we have a lot of tedious moments of Jan and Ellie walking through the dark woods...running through the dark woods...seeing circles of light in a pond...falling into the pond...walking back out of the woods...and so on, and so on. None of this is even remotely engaging.
As for the actors, everyone seems to be suffering from a bout of "overacting-itis." What this means is that whenever there's a really important or frantic line to be delivered, the cast tends to DELIVER IT LIKE THIS. Sometimes the cast EVEN delivers their lines much to exaggerated AT SOME VERY inappropriate times. The real perpetrator of this crime is the grating Lynn-Holly Johnson (who also starred in the "I'll only see it if you shove hot coals up my nostrils" chick flick Ice Castles). Johnson doesn't seem to have the slightest idea how to deliver a line of dialogue without making it sound like she just discovered that her parents have been run over by a tractor combine. Whenever Johnson is able to keep her hysterics in check, it sounds as if she's trying to present herself as innocently doe-eyed as possible. Then there's poor Bette Davis -- "voted #2 in American Film Institute's Top 100 Stars" list, so reads the DVD case cover -- who seems to be somewhat lost in this film. Davis' character and performance show no trace of what made Davis such a big star in the 1940s and '50s. Before her death in 1989, she starred in a batch of crappy made-for-video/TV movies, including Murder With Mirrors, As Summers Die, and her final film Wicker Stepmother. Such a shame that at the end of her career Ms. Davis was forced to perform in such cruddy cheapies like The Watcher In The Woods (I know I'm going to get letters for that comment...bring it on). Not looking a day over 104 years old, Davis seems to be tired, placid...and most of all, just plain worn out.
I guess some consider The Watcher In The Woods a guilty pleasure. I mean, it's taken on cult status, which means there's a fan base out there somewhere. Heck, my life turned a big corner when I saw Hot Dog: The Movie years ago, so I can't really complain about liking certain films that everyone else hates. Bottom line: If you're a fan of The Watcher In The Woods, you're going to be happy with Anchor Bay's work on this disc. Otherwise, call me up and we can watch Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol sometime.
The Watcher In The Woods is presented in THX approved 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. For a film dating back some 20 years, I was fairly impressed with how good The Watcher In The Woods looked. There are a few defects and imperfections in the image (some dirt and grain is very visible), and a small amount of edge enhancement penetrates the picture on a few occasions. However, these problems can be forgiven due to the age of the movie. Overall, the colors appear very solid while the black levels appear well saturated and dark. While maybe not completely up to Anchor Bay's usual standards, this is still a good looking transfer.
The audio is surprisingly presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround, DTS 6.1 Matrixed ES, and Dolby 2.0 Surround, all in English. I'm always a little stumped as to why movies like The Watcher In The Woods receive grand audio treatments, and other big budget flicks get cruddy mono soundtracks. Ah, the mysteries of life. Anyhow, both the DTS 6.1 and Dolby 5.1 mix sound very good, though limitations in the source material tend to give the audio a sometimes hollow and jaded quality. There are some fun directional sounds utilized here, especially when the wind blows leaves around the forest. A small amount of distortion was heard in a few scenes, though this may be due in part to the source elements rather than Anchor Bay's mixing. Also included on this disc are English closed captions.
Once again, Anchor Bay comes to the rescue of a film that shouldn't have a full blown special edition, but does. The big whoopee on this DVD are the two "alternate endings" to the movie. Apparently back when the film was produced, these endings didn't sit well with test audiences. As such, the film was put on a studio shelf for a year and the ending was re-shot and re-edited into the version on the final cut. Personally, I think this movie would have benefited if one of these two original endings would have been included. Each ending (14 minutes and 6 minutes, respectfully) is presented in anamorphic widescreen and looks almost as good as the movie. Fans will finally be able to say to their friends, "I have SEEN the Watcher!" (kind of a cross between one of the creatures in Virus, E.T., and a large bat). Their friends will then proceed to laugh at them and then permanently change their phone numbers. Fans of the film will certainly be delighted to see the fabled endings that have collected dust for so many years.
Next up is an audio commentary by director John Hough. Hough is a somewhat dry talker who blandly recalls different production stories, how certain actors got connected with the production, and so on. While Hough seems like a jolly enough fellow, overall I thought this commentary track was a bit too dull with far too many gaps of silence during the discussion. This is a must for die-hard fans only.
Finally, there are three full frame theatrical trailers for the film (with my favorite horror voice-over narrator), a TV spot for the movie, and a fairly extensive biography on director John Hough featuring poster stills from many of his films.
I wasn't thrilled with The Watcher In The Woods. However, you might be singing a different tune once you see the work Anchor Bay's put into this DVD presentation. And now you too can say you've seen "The Watcher" and lived to tell the story!
The Watcher In The Woods is guilty of being slow and laborious. Anchor Bay is acquitted on all charges due to their fine work on this movie.
Review content copyright © 2002 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Audio Commentary with Director John Hough
* Two Alternate Endings
* Theatrical Trailers
* TV Spot
* John Hough Biography
* 20 Page Insert Booklet