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Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson

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A few pro's overshadow the con's here in a gripping mystery that still leaves some unanswered questions. It is too bad that there are some reels of this film where top billed legendary leading lady Bette Davis completely disappears. The premise of the film reminded me of "Burnt Offerings", the 1976 Dan Curtis haunted house movie where Ms. Davis played the aunt of the family moving in to an old secluded mansion. Here, she's the owner of the mansion, living in the large guest house on the property, renting to David McCallum and Carroll Baker who bring their daughters Lynn Holly Johnson and Kyle Richards out to the country to get them away from the city. The glorious face of the legendary Davis is now older and somewhat cynical, griping that she expected a phone call before visitors and potential renters showed up. Once Davis looks on at the face of the sweet looking Lynn Holly Johnson, though, it is apparent that she has more than just money as a motive for renting to the family. Could she be like the town matriarch in "The Dark Secret of Harvest Home" where her character had sinister movies? Or is she an innocent bystander involved in a situation that took away her own daughter 30 years before in a way that was beyond anybody's control?The watcher in the woods appears to be a light coming from beyond the forest that makes Johnson break the glass on the window pane she is touching at that time. The sight of a blonde look-alike in the mirror has her convinced that the spirit of somebody is trying to get her help. Davis, at first, seems like that cranky old recluse that nobody wants anything to do with, but as Davis and the young girls begin to connect, it is apparent that there is a bond there and that Davis's character is hiding years of loneliness and a lifetime of loss through a snarky demeanor. The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Davis's daughter involves the mother of Johnson's new boyfriend, a drunken hermit and a doberman owning recluse who lives in a church like structure that looks like something out of either "Dark Shadows" or a Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe based movie.Excellent photography and special effects turn this from just another Disney movie into something very unique and helped Disney get away from all those sitcomish like Kurt Russell movies of the 1970's. The presence of two time Oscar Winner Davis, Oscar nominee Baker and veteran actor McCallum helps deflect from the rather generic acting of Johnson, the star of "Ice Castles", who isn't embarrassingly bad, but just rather ordinary. Surprisingly, Kyle Richards holds her own amongst the veterans and comes off very well. The film has several truly spooky moments, including one scene where Davis appears to be drowning Johnson, another with a nasty thunderstorm where Baker and the girls try to escape from the house, and another scene where Johnson, Richards and all the participants from an event that aided in Davis's daughter years before recreate that day. While I had a feeling of what was coming in the conclusion, I found it to be quite touching and had to dab away a few tears as to the emotional ending. Davis had another decade of films ahead, so this was far from her swansong. It was a nice transition for her into the type of actress she always insisted that she was: a character actress.

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