On October 21, Lifetime is set to premiere a new movie directed by Melissa Joan Hart and starring Anjelica Huston that may sound awfully familiar. The Watcher in the Woods tells the story of a missing girl, her mother, and the past coming back to haunt people. But is there any truth to it? Is The Watcher in the Woods based on a true story? The Lifetime film is an adaptation, but not of anything grounded in reality. It's a remake of the 1980 cult film of the same name, which in turn was based on a novel by Florence Engel Randall. Neither the original film nor the novel were based on a real story, either, though there are no shortage of tragic disappearances throughout history. It's how that story plays out that proves there's nothing true here.
In The Watcher in the Woods, the Carstairs family arrives to spend the summer at the Aylwood manor and meets Mrs. Aylwood, whose daughter Karen went missing twenty years early. The Carstairs' eldest daughter Jan looks stunningly like Karen and soon becomes consumed with getting to the bottom of what happened to her. Jan and her sister Ellie are also drawn to the mysterious woods that surround the manor; they hear voices coming from the trees and soon begin to experience all manner of supernatural phenomena. It's those mystical elements that make it clear The Watcher in the Woods is fiction.
Remaking The Watcher in the Woods was a passion project for Hart and her mother Paula, who teamed up to executive produce the film. The original movie had been a favorite of the Hart family for years, and both Melissa and Paula had been seeking to adapt it since the days of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In an interview with Syfy Wire, Melissa explained that she had originally envisioned tackling the remake during one of her hiatuses from Sabrina, but it ended up taking seventeen years to land the rights to The Watcher.
When the project finally came to fruition, Melissa took inspiration from cinematic horror master (and real life creep) Alfred Hitchcock, as well as more recent suspenseful films like The Orphanage and The Others. She wanted the film to be scary but not horrifying or gruesome, while also staying true to the original that she'd been so fascinated by when she was growing up. Because the Harts had loved The Watcher so much, Melissa wanted other families to have the same experience. "We want to make sure that families can enjoy it going forward as well," Melissa told Syfy. "That it's everyone's first sleepover movie, you know?"
Lifetime's version of The Watcher definitely seems to hew closely to the original, at least based on the trailer. Though it appears to have been updated to modern day (R.I.P. all those 80s shag haircuts), many other details are the same. Jan still has unnerving meetings with Mrs. Aylwood while her little sister Ellie feels the pull of supernatural beings in the woods. Karen's blindfolded specter still haunts those who live in the house. Jan's mirror still cracks in the same triangular shape and the Watcher, presumably, still watches. Huston even seems to emulate Bette Davis' distinct speech patterns.
Those who loved the original The Watcher in the Woods will hopefully find something to love about Lifetime's reinterpretation of it. The newest version seems to be even eerier than the original without deviating too much from the story. Remakes are always tricky, but it gets even harder when the film being remade is so beloved. Fans of The Watcher can tune in and make up their minds about the remake just in time for Halloween.
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