FILMS

The Film That Scared (Scarred?)Me Most as a Child: The Watcher in the Woods

I was six when I saw Disney’s 1980 Thriller

Samantha Lazar
2 min readSep 29, 2023

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Still from The Watcher in the Woods, 1980. Credit: Walt Disney Productions

What scared me as a child? Thoughts of being trapped, caught in another dimension, distorted underwater calls for help, rituals that were catalysts for trances or unearthing evil.

I have few memories from being six, but I remember one of my earliest cinematic experiences — The Watcher in the Woods.

One of my mom’s best friends took me and my sister (aged four) to see the movie. She thought it would be great for little kids because it was Disney. What could go wrong?

First, the movie begins with a family with two daughters moving out to this old manor in the woods. There’s an old woman, played by Bette Davis, who watches the new family from her cottage window. She seems evil. However, her missing daughter, Karen, has haunted the woods since she disappeared thirty years prior.

The mysterious and gloomy atmosphere continues as the missing daughter tries to reach for help from some other dimension. Before Karen was lost, she and her friends played some occult-like circle game. They blindfolded Karen, and because of whatever magic they invoked, Karen disappeared.

I will never forget the scene when one of the daughters sees Karen reaching out through multiple reflections in some funhouse mirrors. Distorted and anguished, Karen is still blindfolded. One of the girls writes Karen’s name backward on the window, a la “Redrum” in The Shining. I’m sure I would still get chills if I saw this movie again.

My sister was terrified and probably blocked most of it out. I, however, was deliciously scared. I was the kind of kid who went downstairs purposefully to feel a rush of fear. I stayed in the dark basement for as long as my heart could stand the visions I conjured. I’m unsure if my interest in the supernatural and the occult began before or after seeing this film, but The Watcher in the Woods, although permanently scarring, definitely sealed the deal.

Horror is entertaining, but psychological thrillers, mystery, science fiction, speculative fiction, and ghost stories are my thing. What movie scared you?

Samantha Lazar 2023

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