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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

The Guardian  (1990)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: January 19, 2016) – Marketed as director William Friedkin's long-awaited return to the horror genre following his Oscar-winning 1973 watermark "The Exorcist," 1990's "The Guardian" is, shall we say, a lesser film than that chilling, thought-provoking tale of possession. The screenplay, co-written by Friedkin, Stephen Volk and Dan Greenburg (based on his 1987 novel "The Nanny"), is a collision of spare parts not quite coalescing into a cohesive whole. As a result, the picture is over-the-top and erratic—but also decidedly charming because of its go-for-broke excess.

Predating Curtis Hanson's hit nanny-from-Hell thriller "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" by two years, "The Guardian" plays very similarly, but with a fantastical supernatural element stirred into the pot. Advertising exec Phil (Dwier Brown) and wife Kate (Carey Lowell) have no sooner relocated to Los Angeles when she reveals she is pregnant. Upon having baby Jake, the couple interview candidates to be their live-in au pair and settle upon Camilla Grandier (Jenny Seagrove). Camilla appears to be warm, dedicated to her job, and terrific with children, but looks can be perilously deceiving. In a jolting prologue, Camilla has already been revealed as a druid priestess who sacrifices the infants she cares for to a tree god. Naturally, Jake is her latest target.

Grimms' fairy tales are an unmistakable inspiration for "The Guardian." There are endangered children, devil-dog helpers, a possibly mystical owl forever perched on a tree above the action, and, most overtly, a recurring illustrated pop-up storybook version of "Hansel and Gretel." Alas, the intended parallelism between this classic fable and the story at hand never quite comes together as intended. As "The Guardian" presses forward, however, it begins to work in spite of its occasionally stilted performances and jagged editing job. Friedkin's outlandish flourishes prove auspicious, from an unnerving stalking set-piece involving Camilla's canine minions, to the cleverly gory special effects bringing a giant tree to menacing life, to a rousing double climax involving a chainsaw, the reveal of Camilla's malevolent true form, and ridiculously funny off-road driving. Even Phil and Kate's ultra-modern, glass-encased house is a memorable achievement in production design, complementing the picture's left-from-reality vibe. "The Guardian" may be as bumpy as Kate's prowess behind the wheel of her Jeep, but it retains its own zany, horrific, one-of-a-kind identity throughout.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"The Guardian" sways onto Blu-ray with an appealing 1080p transfer that gives the 26-year-old film newfound visual life. This title has never looked better on a home-video format, and only some light speckles popping up here and there give away its age. Increases in detail are significant right from the opening shot of an owl, every feather offering lifelike dimensionality within the image. The creases and knots on Camilla's wooded beacon of worship are just as impressive, while black levels are richly resolved and colors and contrast are consistently healthy. Don't let the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio fool you; this is a forceful and dynamic track calling handsome attention to the movie's lively sound effects and composer Jack Hues' spooky music score. Dialogue is ever so slightly thin in comparison, but always intelligible; this is an accurate reproduction of the source material and the way the dialogue has always sounded.

Blu-ray Features
  • "A Happy Coincidence - An Interview with Actor Dwier Brown" Featurette (21:56, HD)
  • "From Strasberg to The Guardian - An Interview with Actor Gary Swanson" Featurette (10:10, HD)
  • "A Mother's Journey - An Interview with Actress Natalija Nogulich" Featurette (11:33, HD)
  • "Scoring The Guardian - An Interview with Composer Jack Hues" Featurette (6:40, HD)
  • "Tree Woman: The Effects of The Guardian - An Interview with Makeup Effects Artist Matthew Mungle" Featurette (13:07, HD)
  • "Return to the Genre - An Interview with Director/Co-Writer William Friedkin" Featurette (17:25, HD)
  • "The Nanny - An Interview with Actress Jenny Seagrove" Featurette (13:19, HD)
  • "Don't Go Into the Woods - An Interview with Co-Writer Stephen Volk" Featurette (21:00, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:34, HD)
  • Still Gallery of Behind-the-Scenes Photos (1:19, HD)
Bottom Line
With excellent picture/sound and more interviews with the cast and crew than one can shake a stick at, "The Guardian" is another welcome addition to Scream Factory's splendid high-def catalogue. Imperfect but unusual in a good way, William Friedkin's horror follow-up to "The Exorcist" is a curiosity worth discovering. Recommended.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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