The Watcher in the Woods

Critics Consensus

The Watcher in the Woods boasts plenty of spooky atmosphere and a typically strong performance from Bette Davis, but it builds to a conclusion so dissatisfying that it undermines all that came before.



Total Count: 23


Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,681
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Movie Info

This chiller represents one of Disney's first attempts at a more serious horror movie as it chronicles the travails of an American family who rents a charming country cottage from a strange old woman. The home is set within some mighty spooky-looking woods, and soon after they move in, one of their young daughters begins experiencing scary visions. Eventually they figure out that the hapless child has been possessed by the spirit of the old lady's dead daughter, who vanished many years before.


Bette Davis
as Mrs. Aylwood
Carroll Baker
as Helen Curtis
David McCallum
as Paul Curtis
Kyle Richards
as Ellie Curtis
Ian Bannen
as John Keller
Richard Pasco
as Tom Colley
Frances Cuka
as Mary Fleming
Benedict Taylor
as Mike Fleming
Georgina Hale
as Young Mrs. Aylwood
Katherine Levy
as Karen Aylwood
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Critic Reviews for The Watcher in the Woods

All Critics (23) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (11) | Rotten (12)

  • It symbolizes the confusion that has been undermining Disney's live-action productions. Craving more stimulating material on one hand but still wedded to reassuring coziness on the other, the studio shortchanges both tendencies.

    Mar 26, 2019 | Full Review…
  • Watcher in the Woods is a first-class thriller, far superior to the usual run of frightened-girl, creepy house movies.

    Dec 3, 2018 | Full Review…
  • The acting and writing are barely professional but the art direction, especially Alan Hume's stunning camerawork, gives the pic a gloss.

    Oct 17, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • When it became obvious that the film's mix of cutesy sentiment and vague scariness wasn't working, the company ordered whole sequences to be rewritten, re-shot or re-edited, then imposed a stupid ending that explains precisely nothing.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…

    Nigel Floyd

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • I challenge even the most indulgent fan to give a coherent translation of what passes for an explanation at the end.

    Jan 15, 2005
  • It doesn't settle for cheap boring scares and or cheap gory scares.

    Jun 19, 2019 | Rating: B | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Watcher in the Woods

  • Feb 16, 2013
    I think it's fair to say that Disney was just trying to jump on the horror bandwagon with this movie. That totally brings down the integrity of this. At least it is based on a novel. Although the story is somewhat chilling, only kids will be scared, and not by much. It might be better to read this instead because the story is good. I just wish this movie was better.
    Aj V Super Reviewer
  • Oct 21, 2011
    The Watcher in the Woods is a surprising film for a Disney film. The film quite chilling, and scary at times. For a ghost story, the film works well enough to entertain. The Watcher in the Woods has gotten so many bad reviews, which is a shame because there is a good horror film here. The film is not the best, but as a ghost tale, it's effective enough to chill you and creep you out. I enjoyed the film despite the fact that some of the actors were annoying (Lynn-Holly Johnson). This film is underrated and if you're looking for an effective, chilling horror tale to watch during the Halloween season, The Watcher in the Woods is a good choice for a night of chills. For a Disney film, The Watcher in the Woods is a surprising dark film and you'd never guess that Disney produced it. The terror is effective, and director John Hugh knows how to steadily build up the plot to an electrifying climax. I thought that Johnson was a decent choice to play the lead, even if she's not perfect. I felt that her character was good, but a tad bland. The Watcher in the Woods is a good horror film that is underrated, and if you're looking for a chilling ghost story, then this is the film for you. This is an underrated film that has some effective chilling moments on-screen, and the film definitely is a must see despite its flaws. In the end, The Watcher in the Woods is a fun horror film to watch.
    Alex r Super Reviewer
  • Jan 12, 2010
    I liked it for it's cheesy 70's era style of film (even though it was released in 1981). However the story was messy and didn't really make any sense, even when it was all revealed at the end. I wouldn't watch this again.
    Sarah P Super Reviewer
  • Apr 07, 2008
    It's hard to fathom what Disney were trying to do with this messy horror picture; "The Watcher in the Woods" is more likely to upset rather than enchant young children, and older, more discerning viewers will probably find it as toothless as it is incoherent. It was infamously chopped about and re-shot by the studio and, consequently, makes very little sense. Although there's a good deal of subjective, "Watcher's-eye-view" camerawork, disappointingly we don't ever get to see the creature itself. However, the atmosphere is reasonably potent and there are a couple of spookily effective moments. Bette Davis makes a late-career appearance, but she's only on hand to look vaguely sinister and contributes little more than a cameo. Interestingly, the film cribs a couple of elements from "The Shining", namely ESP and backwards writing. Undoubtedly, the worst thing about the movie is the awful lead performance of Lynn-Holly Johnson, who some people may remember being equally bad as the figure-skater in "For Your Eyes Only".
    Stephen M Super Reviewer

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