The Watcher in the Woods (1981) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Watcher in the Woods (1981)



Critic 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.

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
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
View All

Critic Reviews for The Watcher in the Woods

All Critics (24) | Top Critics (6)

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.

March 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.

December 3, 2018 | Full Review…

The Watcher in the Woods is a haunting, unusual film, steeped in a strange magic that's only enhanced by the dense thicket of rumour and myth that surrounds it.

July 30, 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.

October 17, 2007 | Full Review…

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.

January 26, 2006 | Full Review…
Top Critic

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

January 15, 2005

Audience Reviews for The Watcher in the Woods

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
Aj V

Super Reviewer

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 roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer


Mediocre scare flick, rather dark for a Disney film but not really very frightening. Lynn-Holly Johnson is an appallingly bad actress ruining every scene she's in. Old pros McCallum and Carroll Baker are wasted. Poor Bette Davis is spared nothing, made to look perhaps the worst she ever did on screen except in Baby Jane where at least she was supposed to look bad. She's still the most compelling presence in the film in her brief scenes.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

The Watcher in the Woods Quotes

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