I kept hearing about this Disney movie that was creepy and made a huge impression on some of my friends when they were kids ~ it's  The ...

Movie: The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

I kept hearing about this Disney movie that was creepy and made a huge impression on some of my friends when they were kids ~ it's The Watcher in the Woods (1980) based on Florence Engel Randalls 1976 book of the same name. I had never watched it and decided to check it out one rainy afternoon. It was better than I expected.

***Warning Spoilers Ahead***

The story follows an American family that moves to the British country side in a big old manor house with a guest house on the grounds. The original owner, Mrs. Aylwood, is played by Bette Davis and she continues to live in the guest house observing the family with her penetrating eyes/ resting bitch face/ I-made-a-poop-in-my-pants-face. (She burrows into your soul with those eyes.) As one of her later roles, she's perfect because you can't tell if she's a good or bad character.

The Curtis family has two daughters and the oldest, Jan, bears a resemblance to the daughter of Mrs. Aylwood ~ Karen, that vanished mysteriously many years ago. Jan immediately senses supernatural activity in the woods surrounding the house. The youngest daughter Ellie hears things and starts going into trance-like states. She gets possessed by a spirit, but it's not really clear if the spirit is Karen. Both see and hear premonitions that save them from harmful situations.

With the encouragement from these weird events and her friend Mike, Jan begins digging into the mystery surrounding Karen's disappearance. Her visions of overlapping circles, light up triangles, and a blindfolded girl in mirrors lead her to the people that were there with Karen the night she disappeared ~ her friend Mike's mom, a local aristocrat, and a recluse that lives in the woods. Slowly it's revealed that the night Karen disappeared they were playing a initiation game in an abandoned church during a lunar eclipse and thunderstorm. The thunder hit the bell tower of the church knocking the bell down to where Karen was standing. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up getting trapped in another dimension for all these years. There's occult overtones, but toned for a Disney audience.

Side note: All the light up triangles are very contemporary in movies. Check out my reviews of Neon Demon and The Void to see what I mean.

Another aside...Mike played by Benedict Taylor totally looks like Evan Peters from American Horror Story.

The recluse that was there the night Karen vanished has a black cat. The cat attacked Jan until it realizes that she's not a bad person and it purrs. Super cute kitty. Moody like my Vicktor.

During a sun eclipse they reenact the ceremony with support from Jan. Ellie seemingly possessed, explains what happened that night ~ Karen disappeared and this alien(?) spirit was stuck on earth living in the woods. In a nutshell, they switched places. Then the spirit leaves Ellie and goes back to where ever it came from in a beam of light and Karen reappears. There's no details as to where she was or how it happened. The ending seems a little rushed. After looking it up, there were several alternative endings. I watched the two that were on the DVD. Both involve an alien being the watcher that takes Jan to their planet and Jan comes back with Karen. This was said to be too "dark" for Disney because of the big scary creature and the allusion to the occult. In any event, the ending they decided to go with seems out of place. Most of the movie is explained and clear, but this ending is vague. Who is the Watcher? It is never revealed. Otherworldly alien perhaps? We don't know. They should have went with either of the alternative endings. Both had a good reveal sequence for the time and explain who the watcher is.


The remake aired Oct 2017, and I'm told it's much darker. Do I need to see it? Meh. I think the 1980 version would have been scary to see for it's time. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this movie 3.5 light up triangle visions. It's still pretty dark for Disney and I was impressed.