The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

watcher in the woods poster 1980 movie
5.5 Overall Score
Story: 4/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10

Horror for kids can be fun

This kids horror movie suffers major plot problems and lacks minimal scares

Movie Info

Movie Name:   The Watcher in the Woods

Studio:   Walt Disney Productions

Genre(s):   Horror/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):   April 17, 1980

MPAA Rating:   PG

watcher in the woods drowning scene lynn holly johnson

Well at least the movie tries to get primal scares from a drowning scene…

Paul and Helen Curtis (David McCallum and Carroll Baker) have rented a home in the English countryside but their daughters Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson) and Ellie (Kyle Richards) seem to have been touched by something in the woods.  When Jan learns about the mysterious disappearance of Karen (Katherine Levy) from her mother Mrs. Aylwood (Bette Davis), Jan begins to question if something supernatural is happening…and if something is watching from the woods!

Directed by John Hough (and an uncredited Vincent McEveely), The Watcher in the Woods is a supernatural-horror thriller produced by Walt Disney.  The movie is based on the 1976 novel A Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall.  The movie was initially released in 1980, but reedited and rereleased in 1981.  The reedits of the movie movie resulted in multiple endings and received negative reviews (but a cult following).

The Watcher in the Woods was on occasionally growing up.  Even as a kid, it felt like the movie was half baked.  Returning to The Watcher in the Woods, it feels like a mix of a thirty minute Goosebumps stretched over an hour or a dull ABC Weekend Special.

watcher in the woods alternate ending creature monster

We could have seen this monster…

The story feels a bit like Burnt Offerings (including an appearance by Bette Davis) with a family moving into an odd house with a woman monitoring them.  It then goes magical and the reason behind the attacks isn’t really logical.  The “Watcher” wants to get home to its world but it keeps putting Jan (the only person who can get it home) in danger instead of really trying to lead her…it doesn’t make much sense.  This combines with the rewritten ending which goes less occult but also less alien…leaving the “Watcher” pretty much out of the picture.

The cast is dull.  Bette Davis is kind of a third wheel as the mother of the missing girl and the two daughters split the focus (it feels like Lynn-Holly Johnson or Kyle Richards should have been the focus instead of both of them at points).  You add in a dull British boyfriend (Benedict Taylor) and three under developed supporting characters who initiated the transfer (Frances Cuka, Richard Pasco, Ian Bannen), and you have a waste of a cast.

watcher in teh woods ending karen church

…instead we get a lame shower of light

The movie also doesn’t do much with visuals.  I realize they were trying to keep it halfway kid friendly, but when you are talking about something lurking in the woods, you expect some darkness.  There are some nice shots in a funhouse, and I do like the original ending monster…instead you get a generic flash of light.

The Watcher in the Woods isn’t a very good movie or a very good kids’ horror film.  It feels like there are better “gateway” horror movies for children (like Something Wicked This Way Comes), and it also won’t be fun for adults to watch who might expect more.  The Watcher in the Woods was remade in 2017 with Anjelica Houston in the Bette Davis role.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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