[Movie Review] The Watcher in the Woods (1980) ★★★★☆

Blindfoled Karen in the mirror in The Watcher in the Woods 1980

The Watcher in the Woods is a gateway fantasy horror into another dimension. 

The Watcher in the Woods is a supernatural horror film that is suitable for the whole family. It’s a dark fantasy with some scary effects and a spooky mystery that will appeal to younger viewers and it is therefore a great introduction for children into the horror genre. 

Although it’s a Disney production, it’s a production stemming from Disney’s more darker period and some scenes can be indeed a bit frightening although everything ends well. Protagonist is teenager Jan who is brave, determined and smart and we follow her adventures that lead her to strange happenings in the woods and an old chapel.


Helen and Paul Curtis move with their two teenage daughters Jan and Ellie into a big manor in rural England. On the property in an old cottage lives Mrs Aylwood whose daughter disappeared 30 years ago. Jan immediately senses that someone is watching her from the woods and that something is not quite right. Meanwhile Ellie gets a puppy and she names her Nerak, which is spelled Karen backwards which is also the name of Mrs Aylwood’s daughter. When Jan sees a blindfolded girl in the mirror and mirrors and glass break into a triangle or circle, she knows that Karen is calling her for help. And that she has to do something about it.

Why you should watch it

The Watcher in the Woods is a great supernatural fantasy horror tale that will speak to a younger audience. It has some disturbing and scary scenes, but in the end everything turns out all right. Even people who seem bad or scary, in fact aren’t. But that doesn’t mean they first frighten Jan very much. Bette Davis as the old lady has a great role being scary and mysterious that really creates an ominous vibe at the beginning.

The story evolves around Jan and Ellie, two sisters who love each other and take care of each other. While both parents are hardly present in the story. In fact we only see Paul at the beginning. The only adults who play big part are Mrs Aylwood and three grownups who were as teenagers present when Karen disappeared. It’s up to Jan to figure out what happened, where Karen is and what she is trying to communicate and how she must solve the mystery. 

The film has a structure that reels you in with its storytelling. It mixes their normal lives with the supernatural that slowly creeps in, up to a point it cannot be denied any longer. The buildup is solid and cares for the two sisters and the mystery. Although the atmosphere and some events can be frightening and disturbing, the overall story is an innocent adventure but isn’t without danger. 

The film creates an overall spooky vibe. The woods are beautifully shot, but also with a foreboding sense of something lurking, benign or evil. The light that falls through the treetops creates a dreamlike atmosphere, and gives it a fairytale vibe. But some shots are taken from a first person perspective, like there’s indeed someone or something watching from the woods, keeping an eye on Jan and Ellie.

The chapel where Karen disappeared, now is in a state of disrepair due to what happened 30 years ago and is cause for more spoke vibes. The scene at the carnival in the mirror house is greatly done and has some frightening shots for its viewers. The scene where Jan falls into the water is a quite disturbing scene, so it seems but has a nice little surprise. The Watcher itself stays very elusive and isn’t shown until the ending, but still it stays a mysterious column of light. But if you want to see more of it, search for the alternate ending.

It’s a very entertaining film that focuses on the kids and their exciting adventure. With some mild scary scenes, but engrossing nonetheless this is a perfect watch for a younger audience that like scary stories. 

My favorite part

The film ends with a rather fantasy science fiction vibe, which explains everything that had happened and creates a great atmosphere that is quite different from the rest of the film. But in fact that is the alternate ending. The real ending couldn’t be finished in time for its premiere but still can be seen.

I highly recommend it to watch that original ending, for it’s a great ending in which you actually see The Watcher himself. It’s a huge insectoid alien with big wings that takes Jan to his spacecraft and where she finally meets Karen. Although the explanation is rushed, it is far more visually stunning and more creepy than the ending as it is known now. So do go and see the original or as it is called the alternate ending after the original movie, cause the scary visuals you absolutely don’t want to miss out on. 


Rating: ★★★★☆

Scare factor: ★★★☆☆

Entertainment factor: ★★★★☆

Cast and crew

The Watcher in the Woods is based on the novel A Watcher in the Woods written by Florence Engel Randall in 1976. The film is directed by John Hough and written by Brian Clemens, Harry Spalding and Rosemary Anne Sisson. It stars Bette Davis (Mrs Aylwood), Lynn-Holly Johnson (Jan), Kyle Richards (Ellie), Benedict Taylor (Mike), Frances Cuka (Mary), Richard Pasco (Tom) and Ian Bannen (John Keller). 

Duration: 84 minutes. Music: Stanley Myers. Cinematography: Alan Hume. Edited by: Geoffrey Foot. Produced by: Ron Miller. Production company: Walt Disney Productions. Distributed by: Buena Vista Distribution.  

Check the trailer below

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