Wednesday, 22 December 2010



Horror for kids is a very difficult balance to achieve. Too graphic and explicit and the resultant certificate will be too high for them, too mild and restrained and they'll just be bored. You can't really do a zombie or a slasher movie for the under 12s, and anything actually frightening or upsetting has to pitched at the level of Dr Who (some of which end up with 12 certificates on DVD), so it's a kind of safe horror in which they know that everything is going to be all right, whereas the thing about Real Horror is that we know it probably won't be.

The Watcher In The Woods is a fairly typical British haunted house movie, in which a fairly typical family move into a big country house (at a suspiciously low rent) where a young girl disappeared many years ago, and it's not long before teenage daughter Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson, probably best known as the ice skating nymphomaniac in For Your Eyes Only the following year) becomes the focus for the haunting. Ghostly apparitions appear in mirrors, mysterious blue lights flash in the woods, the locals obviously have something to hide, and Jan's little sister has taken to writing backwards. She names her new puppy Nerak, which turns out to be the reverse of the missing girl Karen - daughter of the now elderly owner of the house (Bette Davis).

Walt Disney's second film to get a PG rating (after The Black Hole), The Watcher In The Woods is not bad, but it is a bit of a mess. Bits were reshot by another director (Vincent McEveety, although John Hough is the only one to be credited), the ending hacked about and extra special effects inserted into the frankly silly climactic scene where we find out what actually happened and why. Maybe it would have had much more impact if I'd seen it in the cinema back in 1980 - I was 16 when it came out but in my forties now and watching it on DVD - but aside from a couple of nicely timed jump moments and a good cast that also includes David McCallum, Ian Bannen and Carroll Baker, it's not much more than okay. Sadly.


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