The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Article #1296 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-1-2004
Posting Date: 2-28-2005
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Bette Davis, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards

When a family moves into a secluded mansion in the woods, the daughters begin to have strange experiences involving an unseen presence in the woods.

If you look at this movie from the point of view of its striking out in a new direction from the usual Disney fare, the movie does have a certain success; it manages to avoid the incessant cuteness that infects almost all of the other Disney live-action features up to this point. However, on its own terms, I’m less than impressed. Part of the problem is that the script is poorly written and somewhat muddled. Another problem is that Lynn-Holly Johnson gives a very weak performance; her line deliveries show a distressing lack of variety, so that everything she says sounds the same. The movie also tries a little too hard for big scares when it should be aiming for a Twilight Zonish eeriness; as it is, much of it comes across as shrill and forced. It also doesn’t help that certain elements of the film keep reminding me of THE SHINING. It’s a bit of a shame; there’s some interesting ideas here, and the occasional scene comes off well. Bette Davis gives the best performance here, but even she seems swamped on occasion by the poor script and the lack of equally talented fellow performers with whom she can interact. The best scene involves a church bell; it just barely beats out a scene in a mirrored fun house which I really liked until one jarring camera zoom broke the spell.

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