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The Watcher in the Woods (Walt Disney, 1980)

This is not your typical
Disney movie; it’s a horror film. Based on the 1976
novel by Florence Engel Randall, it was pulled from theaters shortly after its October 1980 release. Re-edited with a revised ending, The Watcher in the Woods was re-released in April
1981.

Teen girls Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson) and Ellie (Kyle Richards) move into an English manor with their parents Helen and Paul (Carroll Baker and David McCallum). Mrs. Aylwood (Bette Davis) is the owner of the property and had a daughter Karen — who resembles Jan — that disappeared 30 years earlier. The girls are pulled into a supernatural mystery.

Producer Tom Leetch pitched the film to Disney by saying, “this could be our ‘Exorcist.'” The script went through several revisions because Disney felt it was too dark. Even during filming, tensions ran high as producers continued to squabble over the film being too dark. The Watcher in the Woods was pulled initially over the ending. In the end, about 150 possible endings were shot. Harrison Ellenshaw, the visual effects designer, was the one who wrote the ending for the re-release.

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