Halloweek: “The Watcher in the Woods” (1980)

This week, Comet Over Hollywood is celebrating Halloween with slightly more offbeat horror films.  

(This contains spoilers to explain alternate endings)

The_Watcher_in_the_Woods,_film_posterWhen I was growing up, there were two movies my sisters and I begged for our parents to rent from Blockbuster: “Troop Beverly Hills” (1989) and “Watcher in the Woods” (1980)
While I watch “Troop” fairly regularly, it had been at least 15 or 20 years since I had seen “Watcher in the Woods.”

I only remembered three things about the Disney horror film: a girl wearing a blindfold appearing in mirrors, elderly Bette Davis and being scared after watching it.

In the film, Americans Helen (Carroll Baker) and Paul (David McCallum) move their two daughters to England. Jan (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is an intuitive teenager and Ellie (Kyle Richards) is her younger sister.

The family finds a large mansion for rent at a price that they can’t refuse, leased by elderly Mrs. Alywood (Bette Davis), whose daughter disappeared under mysterious circumstances 40 years ago.

Much to the shock of several villagers, Jan looks very similar to Mrs. Alywood’s missing daughter Karen.

Within the first few days of the family moving into the large home, Jan begins to experience strange disturbances: a window breaks by itself and leaves the shape of a triangle, she sees a blue circle in a river, she can’t see her reflection in a mirror, and a mirror breaks by itself and she sees a blindfolded girl pleading for help.

Jan sees a vision of Karen pleading for help in the fun house in "Watcher in the Woods."

Jan sees a vision of Karen pleading for help in the fun house in “Watcher in the Woods.”

Ellie even names a new puppy Nerak (Karen spelled backward) after something “tells her to name it Nerak.”

Several other disturbances happen like something is protecting the Curtis daughters. At a motorcycle race, Ellie starts yelling for Jan and when Jan moves to her, a motorcycle lands and explodes where she was standing.

Jan tells Mrs. Alywood about the disturbances, who shares with her about the night Karen went missing in the 1940s. Karen was with three friends in an old church. The church caught on fire and the three other teenagers escaped, but Karen did not. However, the church was searched and her remains were never found.

The Curtis family, including Carroll Baker, moving to their England home.

The Curtis family, including Carroll Baker, moving to their England home.

When Jan tries to ask the other three people who were with Karen about what happened, they are all too afraid to discuss the events. Only one man, Tom Colley (Richard Pasco) will say what happened. Karen was being initiated into a secret society when the church caught on fire. When a bell in the church fell, she disappeared.

As Jan searches for answers, a spirit- or the watcher- is using Ellie to communicate with Jan to free Karen.

During an eclipse, Jan assembles the original three people at the church to free Karen.
Ellie enters, possessed by the “watcher,” and explains what happened on the night 40 years before. The watcher has been on Earth since Karen was sent to an “alternate dimension” by mistake.

Jan stands where Karen stood as everyone holds hands around her, and Karen reappears, still 17 years old, and is reunited with her mother.

Alternate ending

The ending in the theatrical release is not what was originally released in theaters in 1980.

“Even when they released it, Disney couldn’t decide how to end Watchers in the Woods,” Davis said in the biography, “The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis: A Personal Biography By Charlotte Chandler. “…Eventually they tried three different endings, but I haven’t the foggiest as to which they chose for posterity.”

The film was also rushed to theaters to correspond with Bette Davis’s 50th anniversary as a film star.

In the first theatrical ending, released for a week in New York City on April 17, 1980, the group still gathers in the chapel for a seance to bring back Karen. Rather than a beam of light coming over Jan and returning Karen like in the 1981 ending, an alien comes into the room, picks Jan up and takes her away.

Jan’s mom runs into the chapel asking whereher child is, and Jan reappears with Karen. Jan returns Karen to Mrs. Alywood, and Ellie asks Jan what happened. Jan gives vague answers, still leaving what happened unexplained.

Ellie: Where was she?
Jan: I’m not sure. A place where people are changed into negative images.
Ellie: How did she get there?
Jan: An accidental exchange between the watcher and her. He needed my image to set her free.
Ellie: So what happened to the watcher?
Jan: Now the watcher can go home too, where ever that is *smiles into the distance and the film ends*

“I challenge even the most indulgent fan to give a coherent translation of what passes for an explanation at the end,” New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wrote in 1980.

Due to the cryptic ending, the film was poorly received and was said to not have an ending. “Watcher in the Woods” was pulled from theaters, re-edited and released again in 1981.

“We felt we had seven-eighths of a good picture, but the ending confused people,” said the Disney co-producer Tom Leech in 1981.

The revisions took 18 months and cost $1 million, but the film earned $1.2 million after the second release in its first week. Many theater owners said if the alien science fiction ending was changed, they would be willing to take the picture, according to an Oct. 22, 1981 article, “New ending gives Disney movie second chance” by Aljean Harmetz.

“The ending is seamless, satisfying, resolving the mystery,” wrote The Richmond Times-Dispatch after the second release.

My review:

While I was revisiting “Watcher in the Woods,” I couldn’t remember how it ended. I was probably six or seven years old the last time I watched the film, and I’m not surprised that I didn’t remember Karen being in an “alternate dimension.” Even now, I found that explanation of the missing girl mildly confusing. However, the 1981 ending is admittedly more clear than the 1980 ending.

Bette Davis, 72, in "Watchers in the Woods"

Bette Davis, 72, in “Watchers in the Woods”

I think my favorite part was seeing Bette Davis, 72, and Carroll Baker, 49, late in their careers. Davis unsurprisingly gave the best performance in the whole film.

Though I’m not familiar with much of Lynn-Holly Johnson’s work, I believe Disney cast her because if you squint, she vaguely looks like former Disney star Hayley Mills.

I think my biggest complaint with “Watcher in the Woods” is, while I enjoyed it, the story seemed to move awfully slow for an 82 minute film.

Regardless, rewatching “Watcher in the Woods” was a pleasant trip down memory lane. I still found some parts genuinely frightening, such as when Jan is in the fun house, and Karen appears in every mirror pleading for help.

“Watcher in the Woods” is a fairly dark horror movie for Disney but it isn’t that scary. However if it is still semi-scaring me at 25, you can imagine why I don’t watch more frightening horror films.

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Musical Mondays: “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (1943)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500.
To celebrate and share this musical love, I’m starting a weekly feature about musicals.

Poster - Thank Your Lucky Stars_01

This week’s musical:
Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) –Musical Number 470

Starring:
All top Warner Brothers stars: Eddie Cantor, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Ida Lupino, Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, John Garfield, George Tobias, Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson, Dinah Shore, Alexis Smith, Joan Leslie, Alan Hale, S.Z. Sakall, Edward Everett Horton,

Director:
David Butler

Studio:
Warner Brothers Studios

Plot:
Thank Your Lucky Stars” is a movie with less of a plot and more musical numbers from the top stars of the 1940s.
The plot that runs between the musical numbers is about producers (played by S.Z Sakall and Edward Everett Horton) who want to put on a wartime charity event for soldiers. Egotistical Eddie Cantor, playing himself, takes over the production. Singer Tommy Randolph, played by Dennis Morgan, and his girlfriend Pat, played by Joan Leslie, try to get into the show and replace the real Cantor with a bus driver who looks just like Cantor (also played by Eddie Cantor). Zany comedic moments and confusion ensue as Eddie Cantor has to prove he is the real Eddie Cantor.
Stars who usually don’t appear in musicals perform in the film such as Bette Davis, Ida Lupino and Errol Flynn.

Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie are one of the few stars in "Thank Your Lucky Stars" who don't play themselves.

Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie are one of the few stars in “Thank Your Lucky Stars” who don’t play themselves.

Trivia:
-This is one of the few movies where Bette Davis sings- another film where she sings is “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.” She performs the musical number “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old.”

-During Bette Davis’s musical number, she jitterbugs with champion jitterbugger Conrad Wiedell. Davis never rehearsed the dance with Wiedell, because she was afraid she could only get through the dance once, according to the book “The Girl Who Walked Home Alone” by Charlotte Chandler.
 “Look, I’m not a movie star. I’m just some dame you picked up at the dance hall,” she told him.
She hurt her leg during the dance, and you can see she is limping at the end of the dance and rubs her leg but completes the number. Davis didn’t want to spoil the take, because she didn’t think she could do the dance again, according to Chandler’s book.
-This is the last of nine movies Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland star in together.
-Though not dubbed in every movie, Joan Leslie is dubbed by Sally Sweetland.
-Olivia De Havilland is dubbed by Lynn Martin.
-All of the stars were paid $50,000 for the film which was donated to the Hollywood Canteen, according to “Errol Flynn: The Life and Career” by Thomas McNulty.
-Errol Flynn proposed singing as the cockney bar patron, because he wanted to do something different, according to McNulty’s book.

Notable Songs and Highlights:
Almost every song in the movie is worth noting because so many unique performances from stars you usually don’t get to hear singing:
-Errol Flynn sings “That’s What You Jolly Well Get” as a braggart Cockney. Flynn does an EXCELLENT job. He dances and sings with ease and sells the song well, while being humorous at the same time.

-John Garfield sings “Blues in the Night.” Garfield is no crooner and the song is a bit rough. However, he gives it his all-while telling a story between the lyrics-and is very entertaining.
-Ida Lupino, George Tobias and Olivia de Havilland sing “The Dreamer.” Lupino and De Havilland sings as gum chomping, jitterbugging dames and make a hilarious trio with Tobias.
My only disappointment is that de Havilland is dubbed and it’s obvious. Tobias and Lupino sing well but their unpolished voices don’t mix well with the de Havilland’s dubbed voice.

-Hattie McDaniel belts out sings “Ice Cold Katie
-Bette Davis sings “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” and jitterbugs. The song was nominated for an Academy Award and became a hit because of Davis.
-Ann Sheridan sings “Love Isn’t Born” with a group of Warner Brothers starlets, including Joyce Reynolds. Her song is one of the best in the movie. Sheridan is a great singer was in a few musicals, though that isn’t what she’s known for.

My Review:
This movie is a delight!
If you are expecting a movie with a firm plot and a moral, this may not be for you. But if you want to laugh and smile, “Thank Your Lucky Stars” will do the trick. Every single musical performance brings a smile to my face, especially those performed by Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and John Garfield.
Movies that were basically musical reviews were not rare in the 1940s. Several World War II films took on a canteen-style approach with thin plots and dominate musical numbers such as Hollywood Canteen (1944), Stage Door Canteen (1943), Two Girls and A Sailor (1944) and Thousands Cheer (1943). Warner Brothers made a similar, but less appealing, musical review in the 1950s for the Korean War called “Starlift.”
Thank Your Lucky Stars ” also gives you an education of who the top actors and actresses were at Warner Brothers Studios during the 1940s.
I own this movie via the Warner Brothers Homefront Collection which includes “This is the Army” and “Hollywood Canteen” released in 2008. If you don’t own it, I highly suggest it.

Eddie Cantor in the "Thank Your Lucky Stars" finale

Eddie Cantor in the “Thank Your Lucky Stars” finale

Check back next week for Musical Monday.

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Actress beauty tip #29: 1930s eyebrows

This is the twenty-ninth installment of the monthly classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested…except for this one.

Jean Harlow with her signature, exaggerated eyebrows.

Jean Harlow with her signature, exaggerated eyebrows.

Eyebrows are the frame work of the face.

Overtime that framework has been defined differently.

The 1940s were more natural and of medium thickness.

In the 1960s were heavy, emphasized with an eyebrow pencil.

But the most dramatic eyebrow look was in the 1930s. Brows were thin with exaggerated height.  Several actresses shaved their eyebrows and drew on their eyebrows. Petroleum jelly or oils were used to give a shiny look on the brow, according to Return to Style.

Jean Harlow’s high arched, drawn on eyebrows became part of her signature style. Greta Garbo plucked her eyebrows thin to follow the arch of her eye socket. Marlene Dietrich shaved off all of the hair and penciled on her brow higher than her natural hairline, according to the Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History.

Some actresses shaved their eyebrow for role and they never grew back:

Lucille Ball dressed as a blond slave in "Roman Scandals" (1933)

Lucille Ball dressed as a blond slave in “Roman Scandals” (1933)

-In her first film appearance “Roman Scandals” (1933), Lucille Ball was asked to shave off her eyebrows. She was playing a slave girl with a long blond wig. Her brows never grew back and she had to pencil them on the rest of her life, according to the Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History.

Lana Turner in "The Adventures of Marco Polo" (1938)

Lana Turner in “The Adventures of Marco Polo” (1938)

-Lana Turner was asked to shave her eyebrows for “The Adventures of Marco Polo” (1938) and had slanted brows were drawn on to give an “Asian look.” Her eyebrows never grew back. She later had false, stick on eyebrows made that she wore for the rest of her life. Her daughter Cheryl Crane said she only saw her mother without her false eyebrows twice, according to the book LANA: The Memories, the Myths, the Movies.

Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I in "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" (1939)

Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939)

-For her role as Queen Elizabeth I in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939), Bette Davis shaved two inches off her hairline at the forehead and her eyebrows off. She said they never grew back properly and had to use an eyebrow pencil, according to IMDB.

To review: Though I have testedmany of all of my beauty tips but I have not shaved off my eyebrows and drawn them back on for this one. However, I think several of us have had that panicked moment of over plucking and fearing they won’t grow back properly. It’s amazing how many actresses had to deal with eyebrow issues for the remainder of their lives due to shaving them off for roles.

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Actress Beauty Tip #15: Bette Davis Eyes

Young Bette Davis

This is the fifteenth installment of our monthly classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.

Bette Davis is known for her eyes. There is a cheesy song that emulates them, people reference them all the time.

I came across a beauty regiment of Bette’s that I’ve always wanted to try that Miss Davis used to keep her eyes striking and bright.

I think we’ve all seen advertisements, television shows or movies where people lie around with cucumber slices on their eyes. I have always wondered, “What does this do? Is there any purpose?”

Bette Davis would put cucumber slices on her eyes at night and would sleep with petroleum jelly under her eyes. This was to help reduce swelling and dark circles under the eyes.

I have relaxed for 10 minutes before bed over the past week with cucumbers on my eyes.  I made sure I had washed off my make up before I did this so the cucumber would touch clean skin.

It gives sort of an odd sensation. The cucumber gave a cool and fresh sensation.

It is very relaxing sitting with your eyes closed for a few minutes. The skin around my eyes felt softer, but I’m not sure if it actually reduced puffiness or dark circles.

10 minutes with the cucumbers. Watch out for your pets!

I’ve been sleeping with petroleum jelly under my eyes for about a month and could tell a slight difference. Under my eyes seemed a little clearer.

To review: I could tell a small difference from the cucumbers but not large enough to do it every night.  Honestly, I think the only real way to get rid of dark circles is getting sleep.  However, if you are looking for a good way to relax this is perfect.

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“Don’t make me go all Bette Davis on you”: Actress moods

We all have bad days sometimes. (Bette Davis in “The Letter”)

 
We all go through a series of moods or feelings. Each mood I have, I relate it to an actress. For example, I may think, “I am in a very Greta Garbo mood right now.”  Below you will see my different mood names and their descriptions. I tried to post a photo of the actress that would correspond with the mood.

Garbo in “As You Desire Me” (1932)

Greta Garbo mood:  Sometimes I get down,  sad and just want to be alone. This is what I call my “Greta Garbo mood.”  Garbo’s character Grusinskaya in “Grand Hotel” (1932) says, “I want to be left alone. I think I have never felt so tired in my life.”  I sometimes get in this same mood the reclusive ballerina  in the movie does .  I want to just run away lock myself in my room and be alone.  Garbo has this same attitude in her personal life. Not many people were able to get close to the very private Garbo, and those who did had to tread lightly.

Doris Day

 

Doris Day mood:  Don’t think that I am always angry or down in the dumps. Sometimes I feel very sunny and happy, so much that I sing while I clean my room or shower. This is what I call my sunny, girl next door “Doris Day mood.” Sometimes if I am a particularly good mood, I wish I had a ukulele and could skip around campus like Doris Day does in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.” Doris Day almost personified happiness and joy just with her stage name,  roles and bright, cheery songs.  Though her personal life may not have been so happy, her films put a smile on movie-goers faces.

Bette Davis/Joan Crawford mood: We can all get in vindictive, revenge seeking moods. This is what I call the “Bette Davis or Joan Crawford mood.”  Both of these ladies have bad off-screen reputations (which I think is poppy cock, but I’ll discuss that in another post). I’m referring to the on- screen personas of Crawford and Davis. Who can forget Bette Davis walking down the stairs and shooting her lover at the beginning of “The Letter“?  Remember when Joan Crawford as Crystal Allen gets the last juicy word in “The Women“?  When I’m angry about something, I just imagine what Bette or Joan would do to someone and take on their same attitude.

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