The file marked Disney Horror films isn’t too substantial; the notion of staff hailing John Hough’s The Watcher in the Woods as ‘This could be our Exorcist’ suggests that the company were indeed looking in surprising directions in the early 1980’s. The Watcher in the Woods came out just before The Shining, and has a number of similar tropes, notably children discovering backwards writing on the windows of a crumbling mansion. But Watcher was pulled by the company bosses, re-edited and given a new opening and closing sequence; the original version, and Hough’s preferred version, are even harder to find than this 1982 reissue. Safe pair of hands Vincent McEveety was drafted in for the reshoots, but the regular reader of this blog will know that John Hough is the draw here; from Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry to Biggles, his skills are first rate. Here, he brings a real gloss to proceedings as David McCallum and his family move into an old house, where Bette Davis has a secret relating to a missing child and a spectral presence. Since the 1980’s, PG horror has become something of a staple, but in 1980, the whole concept of a children’s horror movie seemed like a contradiction. Hough’s movie has plentiful jump scares, like a child putting on a witch’s mask, that don’t connect to the main narrative. But reboots and remakes are welcome when they right wrongs; Disney’s idea was ahead of the curve, and even though there’s been a take Lifetime tv movie remake with Anjelica Huston, it would be nice to see Disney get to grips with this property and see what attracted them to it in the first place. It’s certainly got atmosphere, even if the story defies logic for children and adults alike.
Writer/director Anthony Minghella made the jump to Hollywood with the sensitive and charming BBC drama, a British version of Ghost with less sentiment and more depth. Juliet Stevenson plays Nina, who finds herself lost in her rat-infested London house after the death of her soul-mate Jamie (Alan Rickman). Jamie returns to haunt her, but not in a sinister way; they enjoy music (Bach), share jokes, and he gradually moves back in, frequenting the sofa to watch old movies with his undead friends. Nina is initially delighted, but comes to realise that much as she loves Jamie, she has to move on and allow his memory to rest. Truly Madly Deeply is a very British affair, beautifully played and with something fresh and moving to say about the bereavement process.
The perfect film for those who prefer ghosts to gore, Kwaidan is a portmanteau film, with four stories of the supernatural linked in chronological order. Adapted by Yoko Mizuki from the writings of Lafcadio Hearn circa 1903, and shot of luscious sound-stages, this 183 minute film rewards perseverance, with The Woman In the Snow the most haunting of the stories. It tells of a young woodsman lost in the snow, who happens upon a little cottage where a young woman rescues him. He promises never to tell the story of what has happened, but revenge is swift when he breaks his promise. Black Hair, Hoichi the Earless and In A Cup Of Tea are all similarly absorbing stories, rendered in a painterly manner by Masaki Kobayashi and the overall effect is soothing rather than disturbing. In a digital age, Kwaidan’s lengthy running time is best enjoyed over four nights, a book at bedtime for aficionados of Japanese culture and discerning horror fans alike.