The file marked ‘Disney Horror films’ isn’t too substantial; the notion of staff hailing John Hough’s The Watcher in the Woods as ‘this could be our Exorcist’ suggests that the company were indeed looking in surprising directions in the early 1980’s. The Watcher in the Woods came out just before The Shining, and has a number of similar tropes, notably children discovering backwards writing on the windows of a crumbling mansion. But Watcher was pulled by the company bosses, re-edited and given a new opening and closing sequence; the original version, and Hough’s preferred version, are even harder to find than this 1982 reissue.
Safe pair of hands Vincent McEveety was drafted in for the reshoots, but the regular reader of this blog will know that John Hough is the draw here; from Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry to Biggles, his directorial skills are first rate. Here, he brings a real gloss to proceedings as David McCallum and his family move into an old house, where Bette Davis has a secret relating to a missing child and a spectral presence.
Since the 1980’s, PG horror has become something of a staple, but in 1980, the whole concept of a children’s horror movie seemed like a contradiction. Hough’s movie has plentiful jump scares, like a child putting on a witch’s mask, that don’t properly connect to the main narrative.
But reboots and remakes are welcome when they right wrongs; Disney’s idea was ahead of the curve, and even though there’s been a take Lifetime tv movie remake with Anjelica Huston, it would be nice to see Disney get to grips with this property and see what attracted them to it in the first place. It’s certainly got atmosphere, even if the story defies logic for children and adults alike.