The Guardian (1990)
The Guardian (1990)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: April 27th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: William Friedkin Actors: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown, Carey Lowell, Brad Hall, Miguel Ferrer, Natalia Nogulich, Pamela Brull, Gary Swanson, Theresa Randle, Xander Berkeley

 


 

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or thousands of years, a religious order known as druids have worshipped trees. Sometimes they even sacrifice humans to the guardian spirits of those trees. And those spirits are sometimes good; but other times they’re the embodiment of pure evil. This definition of druids and their practices is printed across the screen prior to the opening title credits, spelling out quite a bit of what is to happen in the film. It’s not only completely unnecessary, but also very unfortunate; the shocks and surprises could have been more powerful if the characters and motivations weren’t given away before the film even got underway.

When the Sheridan parents (Natalia Nogulich and Gary Swanson) depart for the evening, their young son and infant are left in the hands of a babysitter called Diana Julian. But when she steals the newborn away into a sacred forest for a sacrifice to a gnarled tree, the caregiving episode ends in tragedy. Three months later, Chicago graphic artist Phil Stone (Dwier Brown) and his interior designer girlfriend Kate (Carey Lowell) move into a Southern California house (designed by local architect Ned Runcie [Brad Hall]) to take a job with a successful firm (overseen by Ralph Hess [Miguel Ferrer]).

When the happy couple have a child, a boy named Jake, they immediately look for a live-in nanny/maid to help out so that both parents can return to work. They call up the Guardian Angel service, from which they both like young Arlene (Theresa Randle) – but their first choice curiously meets a bloody demise, falling down a hill into a patch of cacti after running over a hole while riding a bike. Their second choice is the overly attractive Londoner Camilla (Jenny Seagrove) – a woman unafraid of parading around nude after giving the baby a bath. But scarier behaviors are yet to come – particularly when it becomes apparent that she has doomful intentions for the child.

Sadly, it’s obvious right from the start that Camilla isn’t a mere babysitter, and that she wants to sacrifice the new infant to a malevolent tree spirit. Audiences are blatantly told this not only from the preface at the beginning, but also with the opening scene, which swiftly illustrates her looming plan for yet another target. Besides this, the picture is rather uneven and unbalanced, working in several gratuitous sex scenes and moments for random nudity, along with horror movie tropes – including nightmares, lone walks into the woods (nonsensically, Camilla states that she’s going to window-shop at the mall after a long stroll in heels in what looks to be the middle of the night), and brief gore.

Although the budget clearly isn’t sizable, it’s enough to design a couple of amusing scenes of violence (a tree-branch face-smash isn’t too bad) and morbidly funny tree-creature effects. The use of real wolves (or, at least, real dogs) is also impressive. Some of the ideas are better than the movie they’re involved with, and Seagrove is effectively creepy in a few choice shots, but genuine thrills are light while witchy frights are ephemeral. Fortunately, the finale steps up its game, boasting a bloodier, more destructive showdown with the antagonist, though it’s difficult not to wonder how director William Friedkin was unable to maintain a convincingly dark atmosphere some 17 years after he helmed “The Exorcist.”

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10