The Horror Honeys: Honey Switch Month: The Watcher in the Woods

Honey Switch Month: The Watcher in the Woods

A Honey Switch Month Head Honey Review by Lisa

The Watcher In The Woods (1980)

In the 80’s, Disney didn’t own 98% of the pop culture universe and they were’t nearly as concerned about maintaining a squeaky clean image. In fact, they churned out quite a few pieces of horror entertainment. For me, the scariest thing they ever did was a little gem titled The Watcher In The Woods.

While Bette Davis isn’t in the staring role, she’s certainly the star of the film because she’s Bette Davis. Based on the novel of the same name, The Watcher In The Woods experienced a few bumps on the road before becoming the cult classic that it is. Suffering from multiple rewrites and three different endings, it still holds a special place in the hearts of horror lovers. If you had the pleasure of seeing this movie at a young age, then odds are good that specific moments are etched into your memory, but, for the uninitiated, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Disney made horror films?”

Indeed. In an effort to attract the young adult audience, Disney turned to horror. In fact, the film’s producer, Tom Leetch pitched the film saying that it could be, “Their Exorcist.” After one adaptation and two screenplay revisions, the film finally made it to the theatre only to be plagued by an unsavory ending that involved a space alien and this caused the film to be pulled. It wasn’t until 1981 that the film made it into theaters with the ending that you see now. While all of this is very exciting and interesting, for me, the biggest mystery of this film is the fact that Bette-Fucking-Davis is in it.

Davis had wanted to play her character in both current time and in flashbacks where she would be forty years younger. Despite a hair and makeup team being brought in to create a younger Davis, it just didn’t look right in the final product and, sadly, we only get to see her in the one role. Although her introduction finds her hamming it up a bit, Davis emerges as the Hollywood queen that she is. It’s absolutely undeniable that her presence gives this film a certain level of class.

An ice skater, Bette Davis, and a Real Housewife
So, what is the movie about? It’s about two sisters, Jan and Ellie, who move with their parents to a secluded house in the English countryside only to be haunted by supernatural beings and they must solve the mystery in order to be freed from them. While the older sister, Jan, is tormented by visions of strange lights in the forest and curious geometric shapes, Ellie can hear things that no one else can. With the help of Mrs. Aylwood (Davis) they will embark on an intriguing and dangerous adventure.

Like a lot of movies of it’s time, the ladies seem to feel as though yelling is the only way to convey how very worried/scared/serious they are about every single thing that they say. Although grating at times, the movie does star a former ice skater (Lynn-Holly Johnson plays Jan) and a girl who would grow up to be a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills (Kyle Richards plays Ellie). Sometimes, you just have to forgive people and their acting. Utilizing simplicity in storytelling and visual effects, The Watcher in the Woods is still a great film and a wonderful example that young adults can, and do, appreciate sophisticated and layered stories. Also, it’s really wonderful that two girls are the driving force behind solving a decades long mystery with the help of their eccentric neighbor. In a time where women named Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele (the names, alone, should tip you off) are being touted as “strong, independent” women, it’s interesting and refreshing to go back to 1980 and find female characters who don’t back down from danger and insist on doing the right thing. Also, some of the imagery in the chapel is still uber creepy. Whether you’re feeling nostalgic or looking for something that’s new to you, The Watcher in the Woods is a smart and enjoyable ghost story. And it has Bette-Fucking-Davis.

Uber. Creepy.