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The Watcher in the Woods

D: John Hough C: Bette Davis, David McCallum, Carroll Baker

Americans Paul and Helen Curtis move into a manor in rural England with their two daughters, Jan and Ellie. Mrs. Aylwood, now living in the guest house, is said to be particular about her renters, but noticing Jan’s resemblance to her daughter, Karen, she readily signs the lease.

It turns out that Karen disappeared thirty years earlier during a solar eclipse, when she and three of her friends held a séance in an abandoned chapel. Being haunted by images of the missing girl, Jan assembles the original participants in the chapel during another eclipse in an effort to bring back Karen, in spite of Mrs. Aylwood’s protestations that such a ritual would be tantamount to witchcraft.

When the ceremony is repeated, a monstrous alien appears, taking her to its spaceship on another planet, where Karen is trapped. It turns out that the two were switched by accident, when Karen blundered into its teleportation device, and now it needs Jan to set things straight, returning Karen to Earth.

The transition from family picture to horror to science fiction is brilliantly conceived, making the film a minor masterpiece. The visual effects, however, took longer than expected, and the producers, eager to get the movie out in time for the star’s 50th anniversary, cut the unfinished sequence on the planet, retaining the alien.

No one understood this new ending, so the movie was cut once again, this time omitting the alien as well, making no sense at all. What we see on the screen often has precious little to do with what the filmmakers originally imagined!

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