The 1980s Disney Sci-Fi Horror Thriller Being Buried in The Past

By Jason Collins | Published

Does anyone remember a time when Disney ventured into the horror genre? Well, we do; it happened during the ‘80s, and while its initial attempts were met with skepticism, the re-releases and modern re-evaluations made them into fine additions to the horror genre. The Watcher in the Woods is one such movie, and sadly, it’s missing from streaming.

Watcher In The Woods

The Watcher in the Woods centers around an American family who moves into a secluded English country house, where Jan and Ellie, the two daughters of the family, start experiencing strange and supernatural occurrences.

The girls begin to uncover the mystery involving the previous occupant, a young girl named Karen, who disappeared 30 years prior under mysterious circumstances in the nearby woods—as if the cabin in the woods isn’t scary enough. The movie follows the girls’ efforts to solve the mysterious disappearance and confront the supernatural things lurking about.

Disney’s Brief Push Into YA Horror

The Watcher in the Woods, released in 1980, is an adaptation of A Watcher In the Woods, a novel by Florence Engel Randall. It was one of the several live-action movies produced by Walt Disney Productions during the 1980s when the studio was targeting young adult audiences.

However, it didn’t fare well in the initial screenings, and Disney pulled it from theaters due to an overwhelmingly negative response from both the critics and the audiences—which proves that Disney’s botching of fan-favorite narratives isn’t a novelty.

Bombed At The Box Office

The company made several changes to the movie before re-releasing the revised cut in 1981, which fared better among the critics and the audiences, allowing The Watcher in the Woods to gross some $5 million against a $9 million budget. Despite the negative reviews and bombing at the box office, The Watcher in the Woods still managed to gain a cult following in the years following its release, and it’s particularly praised for Bette Davis’ iconic performance in the movie.

Considered A Cult Classic Today

watcher in the woods

The Watcher in the Woods’ unsettling and atmospheric approach to horror, despite negative reviews prompted by the somewhat incoherent story, made the movie a memorable part of Disney’s filmography and 1980s horror cinema.

Sadly, the movie is missing from all major streaming and Video-On-Demand platforms, including Disney’s own Disney+, which features a wide umbrella of cinematic offerings, including those belonging to the horror genre. It’s as if Disney purposefully lets the movie fall into obscurity and oblivion.

Unavailable To Stream Anywhere

watcher in the woods

We’ve discussed the importance of media preservation before, and the lack of The Watcher in the Woods on major platforms only underscores that discussion. This is especially true because Disney is doing everything in its power to push for streaming, including the company’s efforts to distance itself from theatrical and Blu-Ray releases.

Why earn from one-time payments when you can have your audiences pay subscription-based fees? Well, even a subscription won’t help; The Watcher in the Woods is slowly drifting toward oblivion.

After you watch it, check out the GenreVision podcast episode breaking it down, and comparing it to that other 80s Disney horror, Something Wicked This Way Comes.