Monday, July 26, 2010

The Guardian (1990)

Here we have a movie in which a dull American couple with a new baby hires an English nanny, which turns out to be a bad idea. Not just because, as the audience knows from a pre-credits sequence, this particular nanny has a penchant for sacrificing babies to a tree; but because their first reaction to having a child is to turn its care over to a complete stranger immediately.

At least the nanny loves her tree.

The movie actually opens with a disclaimer telling us that not all trees are evil. At first I thought this might be an in-joke, referring to the disclaimer before co-writer/director William Friedkin's earlier movie Cruising which started with a disclaimer stating that not all homosexuals are extreme S&M fetishist serial killers, but by the time the movie finished I was convinced that it was earnestly meant. This is an earnestly stupid movie.

Friedkin has made some terrific movies including The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A. and (most relevant here) The Exorcist. The Guardian has no good dialogue, no good acting, weak cinematography, terrible music (by Jack Hues from '80s band Wang Chung) and a terrible story full of plot holes. Friedkin has said that the movie is an attempt to create a modern-day version of a Grimm's fairy tale, but it fails miserably in this respect as well. Even the gore scenes are dull.

The movie was originally by Stephen Volk (who also wrote the insane Ken Russell-directed Gothic, the silly but fun Joanna Pacula vehicle The Kiss, and Ghostwatch) and this is the worst movie I've seen from him. As his script was rewritten by Friedkin, I'm reluctant to pass any of the blame on to Volk.

The story involves a woman who is either a Druid or a tree-spirit (the movie seems a bit confused about this) who has to sacrifice babies to a malevolent tree for reasons that are unclear. The babies need to be less than 20 days old, or else their "baby genes" will have turned into "normal genes" and presumably the tree won't want them anymore.

In one of the more memorable scenes, she is hanging with the baby in the woods when three cartoonish rapists appear seemingly out of nowhere and threaten her with a big knife. She lures them to the tree, which then kills them in gruesome fashion. They are impaled, eaten (yes by a tree) and spontaneously combust. Later she goes back to the tree so it can heal the rather nasty stab wound she received during the fracas; it's unclear as to why she needs to leave and come back to do this, except that it allows an uninteresting minor character to follow her and see what she's up to, so that she can send her magic wolves to eat him.

I'm unsure why a tree spirit can command magic wolves, unless it's just to add to the supposed fairy-tale ambiance that the director needed to explicitly point out before I noticed that it was there.

There is a rather stupid scene where the father takes the baby and runs off into the woods while the nanny flies after him and the mother drives alongside in the family four-wheel drive. (Finally explaining why wealthy city & suburb dwellers drive those sorts of vehicles - I guess the fear of tree-worshipping nannies is more prevalent than I had assumed.) It concludes with her driving her car full-force into the nanny, who slams into the tree and seemingly dies. The parents are then furious when the cop on the case (played by the irritating husband from Candyman don't take their story seriously.

The finale of the movie involves the mother fighting the nanny for the baby while the father goes at the tree with a chainsaw. When the father cuts off a tree limb, the nanny's leg falls off. That was the best part of the entire movie - an unintentional laugh.

This movie, in case I have not been clear enough, is quite aggressively bad. It is not so-bad-it's-good, nor is there a case for critical appraisal. I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch it.

Also, what the hell is up with evil trees in horror movies? I've already written about Poltergeist but off the top of my head I can also think of The Woods, Evil Dead & Evil Dead 2 and From Hell It Came, and I'm sure there's plenty more.

If you want a good Grimm's fairy tale for adults movie, see A Company of Wolves (directed by Neil Jordan, based on stories from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter).

Can't be bothered with screen shots for this one


  1. The Awakening also has evil trees :)

  2. Is that the mummy movie with Charlton Heston, based on The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker?

    I've seen the Hammer version, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, and thoroughly enjoyed it. No evil trees though.

  3. I saw the Guardian when I was in my teens, during my first big horror movie phase. I fell asleep watching it too! It's lame.
    Friedkin has directed one more good horror film since... that's if you count "Bug" as horror.
    (& think it's good)

  4. M. Night Shlamalama made a movie about evil trees, didn't he?

    Like C G I watched this in teens, with a bunch of other people. It was lame, but we had a good time. "Watch with teens hopped up on candy and coke who have low standards" is not the best recommendation, but I am proud to award it to The Guardian, not the newspaper, the film.

  5. Friedkin didn't do much good with BUG, but it's nonetheless a decent film. SORCERER is a stupid film, but then THE WAGES OF FEAR is a stupid film, despite a great beginning and aspects.