The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

The Watcher in the WoodsPaul and Helen Curtis moves into a manor located in rural England, together with their two daughters Jan and Ellie. The manor is owned by an elderly woman named Mrs. Aylwood, and she lives in the guest house next door. Mrs. Aylwood once had a daughter, Karen, but she disappeared in an abandoned chapel in the woods thirty years ago. Upon seeing a photo of Karen, Jan notices that she actually looks a lot like this girl. And she also starts sensing something strange about the place, witnessing strange lights in the woods, glowing objects, and visions of a blindfolded girl in the mirror. When getting to know some of the townspeople, Jan wants to find out more about Karen’s mysterious disappearance in the woods all those years ago, and finds that she was together with a bunch of friends that night. What they were up to and what happened to Karen is something only they would know, but none of them are willing to talk about it.


The Watcher in the Woods is a supernatural film from 1980, directed by John Hough and Vincent McEveety, and Produced by Walt Disney Productions, being one of several live-action films from a time when the studio focused on targeting young adult audiences. It is based on a novel from 1976 by Florence Engel Randall, and it was filmed at Pinewood Studios and the surrounding areas in Buckinghamshire, England. The building that’s being used in the film is called Ettington Park Manor, and it was also used in The Haunting (1963).


Upon its release, the film had to be pulled from the theaters pretty fast as the response was overwhelmingly negative, both from critics and audiences, and many considered it “too dark”. Thus, the studio made the decision to make changes to the movie, with extensive reshoots and a brand new ending, and re-released it eighteen months later in 1981. Despite the critical response being so harsh, the film still ended up gaining a cult following over the years.


Now, this movie is certainly not one to watch if you want something scary. It’s from a time when Disney started dipping their toes into PG-rated films, with…well…rather mixed results. Something Wicked This Way Comes is probably one of their best and most memorable efforts among these. While The Watcher in the Woods is more aimed at a young audience, it still does have a certain appeal with a gothic teenage mystery vibe to it, and it is of course heightened by the performance of Bette Davis, who plays Mrs. Aylwood. There are some spooky goings-on, with some charming old-school supernatural effects, and I can easily imagine that seeing this as a kid during the 80’s would make a certain impact. Then again, the director John Hough previously directed the 1973 horror film The Legend of Hell House, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is at least some spookiness here.


So I’d say that overall, The Watcher in the Woods works as a family suspense thriller, layered with a certain old-school charm.


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Director: John Hough
Writers: Brian Clemens, Harry Spalding, Rosemary Anne Sisson
Country & year: UK, US, 1980
Actors: Bette Davis, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards, Carroll Baker, David McCallum, Benedict Taylor, Frances Cuka, Richard Pasco, Ian Bannen, Katharine Levy, Eleanor Summerfield, Georgina Hale


Vanja Ghoul




Night of the Demon (1980)

Night of the DemonNight of the Demon Bigfoot is an amateur monster schlock from 1980, which starts off with a wounded dude, Bill Nugent, lying in a hospital bed surrounded by doctors and a police inspector. He’s an anthropology professor, you see, and here’s his fascinating story you wouldn’t believe, which is about his adventure with a group of his students to track down Bigfoot in the woods of Northern California. And he has to convince the doctors that he’s not insane and that he was the only one who survived Bigfoot after the monster killed all of the students.


And good-fucking luck with that, my dude. Mr. Kallen from Slapped Ham would have loved to have you on his first podcast.


Bill starts with the first story, the first series of flashback scenes where we see Bigfoot killing random people. The first victim is some guy in the forest who’s getting ready to fish by a river. In order to have some suspense here, the monster is shown through POV and off-screen and, just like in the great classic Blackenstein, we have a moment where we see the monster rip his arm off with zero force in silhouette. Someone has clearly taken notes from the very best. While he bleeds to death with the use of the thinnest cranberry juice streaming from his ripped arm, the blood streams down to fill one of Bigfoot’s footprints, following the opening credits.


As Bill and his group of students head into the forest to find our mythic creature, they hear about this lady Wanda. She’s a mysterious outcast who lives as a hermit in a cabin deep in the woods, and the legend says that she knows where Bigfoot is. Okay, then. In the meanwhile, as they’re heading for Wanda’s cabin, we get some more flashback scenes told by Bill as they sit around the campfire to remind us how dangerous this Bigfoot is. All these campfire scenes were shot and added during the post production because the producer wanted to amp up the gore. We see Bigfoot killing people in different ways, but don’t get too excited. In one scene, he even uses an axe and the effect is the cheapest-looking rubber wound sticker they could afford.


The most memorable scene is the biker dude who gets his dick ripped off when he’s about to take a piss. Because this is no laughing matter. This is serious. Dead serious. Just look at the deadpan seriousness on Bill’s face when he tells the story. Don’t you dare to even chuckle or roll your eyes in disbelief. Show some respect for the poor guy.


We also have a campfire story about this random couple who’s about to have sex in a van. This is also the only body count flashback scene (as far as I remember) that was not shot in broad daylight. This is one of the more what-the-fuck-moments where the guy gets dragged by Bigfoot up to the top of the car while the lady can’t decide how to react as she makes orgasms sounds and looks confused rather than terrified. It’s noteworthy to mention that director James C. Wasson mainly produced porn films, so maybe there are some connections there.


Then there’s the star of the film, the man, myth and the legend himself: Bigfoot… and I have to be honest and say that the face-makeup is not the worst I’ve seen. Some effort went in here for sure, and I would assume the make-up artists took some inspiration from the creation of Michael Myer’s mask in Halloween, only here based on the face of Mick Jagger. And I don’t think anything can really top that.


Night of the Demon is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Severin Films, restored and uncut. A fun time for all lovers of schlock and funny-bad movies.


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Director: James C. Wasson
Writers: Mike Williams, Jim L. Ball
Country & year: US, 1980
Actors: Michael Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins, Jody Lazarus, Rick Fields, Michael Lang, Melanie Graham, Shannon Cooper, Paul Kelleher, Ray Jarris



Tom Ghoul




Zombi Holocaust (1980)

Zombi HolocaustWe’re at a hospital in New York at night, where someone is stealing body-parts from the cadavers. One of the doctors is able to catch the body-snatcher as he is about to eat one of the cadaver’s heart, but then quickly commits suicide by jumping out of a window. Well, case closed, then? Well, no, he doesn’t die right away, and says his last word “Kitoh ordered it”, and we soon learn that he was a part of a cannibalistic cult from an obscure island in Asia, also named Kitoh.


A trip to this island gets arranged with Lori, a journalist, and some other dude in order to meet a doctor named Dr. Obrero, while they get to the source of the cannibal cult. As soon as they enter the island, one of the bearers goes missing, and after a quick search for him the next morning they find him mutilated, and soon surrounded by a horde of cannibals and a doctor with some really shady practices. And yes, there’s also some zombies wandering around.


As you already know by reading the title, Cannibal Holocaust┬ácomes to mind. I assume that Zombi Holocaust was an attempt to do some sort of a crossover with the wave of Italian cannibal films that came and went in the late 70’s and early 80’s with the rise of zombie films after Lucio Fulci’s success with Zombi 2. Most of the film is pretty tedious and sloppy with dry dialogues, boring characters, cheesy undressing-scenes with porn music, plot holes and nothing much that keeps the pacing or interest up.


The title is also a head-scratcher since the zombies are far in the backseat and appears in only a scene or two. The film was released under several titles and most known as Doctor Butcher M.D. in the states, which is probably more fitting, I guess. However, the most entertaining moments are when the cannibals show up and provides some really grotesque death scenes. The last act is the best part where we finally get some interesting scenes with Dr. Obrero/Butcher, and a pointless ritual-scene with some blurry nudity. So yeah, Zombi Holocaust isn’t much as a whole, unless you’re only in for the goryness.


Zombi Holocaust


Director: Marino Girolami
Country & year: Italy, 1980
Actors: Ian McCulloch, Alexandra Delli Colli, Sherry Buchanan, Peter O’Neal, Donald O’Brien, Dakar, Walter Patriarca


Tom Ghoul