The Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall

There’s no denying that The Watcher in the Woods is one of the darkest, spookiest Disney movies ever made. The old, paled-faced Bette Davis shrouded in black, the isolated estate surrounded by dark woods, the clairvoyant little girl – everything about it gave me the willies back when I was a kid. Oh heck – who am I kidding? This movie still gives me nightmares! 

So when I stumbled upon the book at an obscure used bookstore, I couldn’t believe my luck. Who knew there was a literary version of this creepy cult classic? Considering the book is always better than the movie, I knew I was in for a treat. Boy was I mistaken. 

Let me break it down for you like this. Here are three reasons why I loved the movie and how the book failed to deliver.   

Spoiler Alert! Karen’s Otherworldly Disappearance:  In the movie, Karen’s disappearance was caused by a group of kids playing around with the occult. Aligned with a solar eclipse, the ritual opened a door to another dimension, causing poor Karen to be spirited away to the great beyond. Spooky stuff, my friends.  

In the book, however, it was all one big alien-conspiracy acid trip. This book was written back in the early 80s – the tail end of the “dazed and confused” era – so I’m wondering if the author was chasing the white rabbit while writing about alien stalkers. The philosophical ramblings also had me scratching my head at times.  

The Foreshadowing: The little hairs on the back of my neck still stand on end when I think about the funhouse scene where a blind-folded Karen appears in the mirror maze mouthing the word “help.” Or when the little bratty sister falls into a trance and writes the name “Karen” backwards on a dusty window. And who can forget the motorcross scene where a message from beyond saves Jan from getting reamed by a flying motorcycle?

These spooky elements are few and far between in the book. Aside from a couple broken mirrors and a psychedelic TV scene, the author didn’t really get too creative with foreshadowing.   

The Ending: WTF? That was the question running through my mind as I polished off the last couple pages. There’s a plot twist hidden in there somewhere, but I just didn’t get it. The movie did a fine job tying up the story with a neat little bow, but the book left me with more questions than answers. I think someone got sucked into a wormhole through space and time, but I’m not quite sure. Shit man, I don’t even know if the alien was good or evil! If you fully grasped the convoluted turn of events, please post a comment and fill me in!

5 thoughts on “The Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall

  1. If you ever get around to reading it, let me know if the ending didn’t boggle your mind! On Goodreads, it looks like people either love it or hate it. So I guess the ending made sense to some people…maybe you have to chase the white rabbit to get a grasp on the author’s far-out concepts!

  2. This movie is truly one of my favorites. Never even knew it was based on a book…but I think an ending that deals with aliens ruins the story. I much prefer how Disney ended it. 🙂

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