Watcher in the Woods

Watcher in the Woods

Synopsis of Movie

As part of Walt Disney Productions’ early 80’s foray into PG-rated territory, the company delved into the haunted house sub-genre for The Watcher in the Woods. Based on the 1976 novel by Florence Engel Randall, the film starred screen legend Bette Davis in one of her final feature roles, playing mysterious English estate owner Mrs. Aylwood.

Now that she’s getting on in years, Mrs. Aylwood rents her country home to a pleasant American family—composer dad Paul Curtis, wife Helen and teenage children Jan and Ellie. The secluded estate is the perfect place to unwind for the summer, but Jan and Ellie get restless. The spooky woods that surround the home make an inviting place for exploration, and soon enough Jan and Ellie are out wandering.

Out in the woods, the kids learn that Mrs. Aylwood is still faithfully searching for her long-lost daughter Karen, who disappeared some thirty years earlier. Even more disturbingly, Jan bears an uncanny resemblance to the missing girl. Before long, strange voices and other goings-on interrupt this peaceful vacation, as Karen’s spirit apparently has some unfinished business.

The Watcher in the Woods packed enough genuine fright to spook young moviegoers, but many were left confused by the film’s ending. Disney reissued the film with an added a special effects sequence a few months later, then changed the ending again for a re-release one year later. Perhaps as a result of this conclusion shuffling, the film was a bit of a disappointment in theaters. Regardless, the Disney name was enough to get several kids into the cineplex, giving many their first taste of real movie chills, leaving an impression (perhaps even a scar or two) that remains to this day.

Movie Release History

1980 - Watcher in the Woods

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Mrs. Aylwood Bette Davis
Jan Curtis Lynn-Holly Johnson
Ellie Curtis Kyle Richards
Helen Curtis Carroll Baker
Paul Curtis David McCallum
Mike Fleming Benedict Taylor
Mary Fleming Frances Cuka
Tom Colley Richard Pasco
John Keller Ian Bannen
Karen Aylwood Katherine Levy
Mrs. Thayer Eleanor Summerfield
Young Mrs. Aylwood Georgina Hale

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