Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Guardian (1990)

I absolutely curse Kevin Costner for making that movie in 2006 called The Guardian because there have been so many times where I've been checking the TV Guide and I've seen that title, thinking it's this film, only to be disappointed to discover that it isn't when I highlight the info section. Granted, I've owned this on both DVD and Blu-Ray for quite some time now, so it's not that big of a deal but still, when I'm channel surfing and need to kill some time, it'd be nice to see a film that I'm familiar with and like (I've never seen that 2006 movie but I'm not a fan of Costner at all, so I know I wouldn't enjoy it). In any case, my first exposure to this was actually when I was in late elementary school. One Saturday, my mom was watching it on cable, thinking it was just a typical kind of movie, but as it went on and she began to realize what it actually was, she got cold feet about it, as she's not a horror fan. I could remember some moments from it, like Camilla putting the stuffed animals around the baby in his crib, the moment where the father is at his desk when a slight earth tremor occurs, and some bits here and there of the three punks chasing Camilla through the woods. My mom and I decided to go for a walk up at a lake near our house and I can remember that somebody, possibly a friend and former coworker's of hers who often walked with her back then, drove me home when I decided I didn't want to stay up there the whole time with her and, before they did, she told me not turn "that scary movie" back on when I got home. I didn't and I never thought about nor saw it again until my first year of junior high, when I caught the last third of it on USA one afternoon after school (it was actually the week leading up to Halloween). I came in on the scene where Ned is trapped in his house and stalked by a bunch of wolves and, having never seen that movie before, wondered if it might be The Howling or one of its sequels but, when I got a look at Camilla during the scene, I knew it was something else. As I watched it, I think I sort of connected to it to the first half that I'd seen a little bit of when I was younger but I didn't realize it was the same movie until I caught a fuller showing of it one other day, again on USA. After that, I felt I knew everything there was to know about the movie itself, until late 2004 and at the start of 2005, when I ended up getting Boogeymen: The Killer Compilation on DVD as a Christmas present. Camilla was one of the monsters featured in the compilation, along with much more well-known movie killers like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Chucky, and others, but when I watched the clip, which was the climax, I was taken aback, as I'd never seen this before. I recognized the characters but I was so perplexed because I had never seen this stuff with the father chainsawing the tree, blood gushing everywhere from it, and Camilla chasing the mother around the house, looking like patches of her body were made of tree bark. Of course, as I would find out, this was the actual theatrical ending, whereas what I'd seen on TV was the television version, but until then, I thought my memory sucked big time. (It also took me a while to understand the plot about the tree, as what I'd seen of that TV version didn't elude to it that much.)

Looking the movie up over the years on film websites and in review books like John Stanley's Creature Features, I learned that just about everybody on the planet hated this movie. Stanley gave it a mere 2 1/2 stars, calling it, "A major disappointment from director William Friedkin- at best a grade-B supernatural thriller,"; another movie review book gave it their lowest rating, which was a turkey (but, then again, the authors gave Fight Club and The Blair Witch Project the same rating, so their tastes aren't typical); I found out Siskel and Ebert put it on their "Worst Films of the Year" for 1990, with Roger Ebert in particular calling it one of his most hated; and, overall, there was a general sense of disdain towards it. Even people who were involved with it didn't seem to think much of it, as I read up on how Jenny Seagrove wished that it had been a straight thriller with no supernatural elements and I'd heard that, during a Q & A, Friedkin had been asked about it and his response was, "There are some films you just don't want to talk about." What's more, the movie was, for a long time, hard to get ahold of, as the only digital release of it before 2016 was an Anchor Bay DVD from 1999 that went out of print years ago. I, however, was lucky to find a good quality rip of that DVD at the first horror convention I ever went to in late 2009 (good thing I picked it up, as I never saw it anywhere else) and when I was finally able to watch it from beginning to end, with the actual ending, I thought it was a pretty good little horror film and I still do. It may not be a dynamo or an absolute classic but I still think it's a well-made, fairly atmospheric flick, with some genuinely creepy moments and images, solid direction, and good acting all-around. I really don't understand why so many people hate it, as I can name numerous movies that are far, far worse.

Molly and Allan Sheridan head out on a trip, leaving their young son Scott and infant daughter Leah with their trusted and beloved nanny, Diana. However, once they've gone, Diana takes Leah out into the nearby woods, where she allows a wicked-looking old tree to absorb her, the child's face appearing within its bark among many others; at the same time, Molly and Allan arrive back home after the former forgot her glasses and discover that their baby's been taken but are too late to do anything. Three months later, Chicago-couple Phil and Kate Sterling arrive in Los Angeles, where Phil prepares for a new job working with an advertising agency. After settling into their new house in the suburbs, Phil learns that Kate is pregnant and she eventually gives birth to an adorable baby boy they name Jake. The couple decides to hire a nanny to take care of Jake so they can both continue working and, after their first choice dies in an accident, they hire Camilla Grandier, a wise, caring, and attractive young British woman. Camilla quickly proves to be everything Phil and Kate could've dreamed of and Jake grows very attached to her. However, after she moves into the house, Phil begins to have disturbing visions and dreams, ranging from terrifying ones centered around Jake, wolves, and a disturbing-looking tree to sexual ones involving himself and Camilla. Unbeknownst to the couple, three local thugs learn the hard way that Camilla is not to be trifled with, as they meet gruesome fates dealt by the tree when they attempt to rob and have their way with her in a nearby field. Their neighbor, Ned Runcie, who's also the architect of their house, becomes attracted to Camilla during a dinner party one night, but when he makes the mistake of following her when she leaves the house the next night, claiming that she's going into town to do some window shopping, he learns of her terrifying secret when he follows her into the woods, to the tree. Ned is immediately dealt with in a bloody manner but not before he leaves Phil and Kate a phone message warning them about Camilla. Phil is soon contacted by Molly Sheridan, who tells him of Diana Julian and her kidnapping their baby, believing that she and Camilla are the same person. While initially skeptical, Phil begins to realize that something strange is going on when young Scott shows him a storybook with a pop-up tree inside, which he himself has dreamed about, and learns that Jake is now the exact same age that Leah was when her mother last saw her. As Phil learns that, just like Diana, all of Camilla's references and recommendations are fake, it becomes clear to him that she's not who or, for that matter, what she appears to be, and he and Kate must now save Jake before he becomes the tree's next victim.

When Sam Raimi bowed out of directing The Guardian in favor of doing Darkman instead and was replaced by William Friedkin, it created some hype around the film since it was the first horror film he'd done since The Exorcist and, by extension, expectations it couldn't possibly hope to live up to. While the film did also have the added burden of a kind of troubled production, especially when it came to nailing down exactly what kind of a movie it was, I don't think it would've mattered if the production had gone completely smooth: The Exorcist is such a legendary film, both in the horror genre and cinema in general, that The Guardian had no chance of matching it in the eyes of both critics and audiences. (It also didn't help that I don't think people quite understood Friedkin's approach and found elements of it to be rather silly, which I'll talk about later.) Friedkin's involvement also prompted Universal to demand that the movie be changed from a completely down-to-Earth thriller, which made it more in line with the novel that it's based on, The Nanny, to something with supernatural overtones when he began reshaping the screenplay with writer Stephen Volk. As always, Friedkin was a very demanding perfectionist during all parts of the production, pushing Volk to come up with and incorporate so many different ideas into the script that he eventually had a nervous breakdown and quit the movie, leaving Friedkin to finish the writing up himself after shooting began, getting hung up on the sound recording because it wasn't absolutely perfect and he could hear a buzzing sound in the distant background of it, and about driving the actors crazy during the dubbing and looping process. In the end, his perfectionism and Universal's wanting him to do another supernatural horror film proved to be for naught, as the movie did nothing at the box-office, was absolutely savaged by critics, and is one of the least talked about entries in his filmography.

Trying to gauge Friedkin's own personal feelings on The Guardian is difficult. Judging from what he said at that Q & A I mentioned, as well as the fact that he doesn't say one word about it in his memoir, The Friedkin Connection, I always assumed he hated it. But, at the same time, he did do a commentary on the original Anchor Bay DVD (that wasn't ported over to Scream Factory's Blu-Ray and they couldn't get him to do another) and he's even called it his most personal film, as he once had an experience with a nanny involving his then infant son that made him able to relate to the central core of the story. Friedkin, however, is kind of a weird guy, and tends to try to duck questions he doesn't want to answer. For instance, on the Anchor Bay commentary, he claims to have no knowledge of the television version when the moderator asks him about it, even though that version has the Alan Smithee credit on it, meaning that he himself must have decided that he didn't want his name associated with that version. In the end, your guess on this matter is as good as any.

One of the things that really helps elevate The Guardian in my eyes is the cast, which I think is made up of some very strong, capable actors, not the least of which is Jenny Seagrove as Camilla. When she's hired to take care of baby Jake, she seems like everything the Sterlings could hope for: she's charming, caring towards Jake, treating him as if he were her own child, seems to be very wise when it comes to rearing children, and does everything else Phil and Kate could hope for in order to make their lives easier, like cleaning the house and cooking. She's also a very attractive woman, which doesn't go unnoticed by any of the men who meet her, like Ned Runcie or Phil himself, for that matter, who can't help but realize it despite his devotion to Kate, to the point where he begins having sensual dreams about her when they're not frightening nightmares. In spite of this, Phil, and eventually Kate's, affection towards Camilla doesn't begin to change until the former is contacted by Molly Sheridan, who believes that she's her old nanny, Diana Julian, who took her four week-old daughter and disappeared without a trace. Indeed, Camilla is not who she appears to be, but Phil and Kate, along with the audience, soon learn that she's something far more terrifying than a child abductor: she's a Druid who sacrifices month-old babies to a demonic tree in the woods, which survives on their perfectly "pure" blood. Each sacrifice must be made when the child is at that exact age, before their blood cells mature past this point of purity. Camilla does this not just as part of her own twisted beliefs but because she's linked to tree, as seen during the climax when the damage Phil inflicts on it with the chainsaw is shown on her body, and as a result, if it dies, she dies. It's not known how long she's been doing this but, from what Molly Sheridan tells Phil, little Leah wasn't Camilla's only victim, as she's been using fake names, references, information, and recommendations, as well as changing her appearance, to gain access to other babies to sacrifice. Interestingly, she seems to form something of a bond with the children she takes care of, doting on them, giving them books and toys, and treating them like her own, as well as talking to them about going to the "sacred forest" and how pure their blood is. She does become something of a guardian to Jake, protecting him over herself when these thugs attack her while she's having a picnic with him in a field and becoming concerned when he appears to be ill, but in the end, it's all just to ensure the sacrifice and her devotion to the tree isn't at all skewered by any feelings she develops for the kids. She rationalizes what she's about to do by saying that Jake will have eternal life through her, adding, "Isn't that beautiful?"

You get very little information about Camilla's background, other than she's seemingly English and she says that she never knew her father and her mother died when she was a little baby like Jake. Besides that, you have no clue when or how she became a Druid, if it was something she got into just recently or has been doing for centuries, living off the sacrifices to the tree, or what. One thing's for sure, though: she's no longer human in any sense of the word, as her presence is sometimes signified by a soft breeze and she has some pretty frightening powers. She's able to levitate and float through the air like a ghost, control certain objects like Jake's mobile without touching them, command a deadly array of wolves to do her dirty work (she can also seemingly turn into one, if a brief moment after the sacrifice at the beginning is any indication), make all traces of her bloody acts disappear (she messes up in some aspects there, though), and become tree-like herself, with patches of her body looking like bark, moss, and lichen. In this form, she's stronger than a normal human and speaks in an eerie, echoing voice (in fact, her very movements here echo what sounds like yelling voices), but this is also where her attachment to the tree is most pronounced, as she loses sections of her flesh and limbs as Phil chainsaws the tree, appears to become more and more tree-like as the sequence progresses, and ultimately disintegrates after it's destroyed. But even when she's not in this state, Camilla is still clearly a creature of the forest, as she roams the woods near the tree naked, bathes herself in a creek, and relaxes on its roots with the wolves. She made the excuse that she was going out to do some window shopping to Kate but it seems more like she really needed to get out of the house for a while after being in it for so long, which was probably why she took Jake out on that picnic.

One of John Stanley's criticisms towards the movie was, "The characters are so poorly developed, one can never quite get into their emotional states," which I don't agree with. You learn all that you need to know about the Sterlings very early on: they've moved to Los Angeles from Chicago so Phil can get a new job with an advertising agency, they learn that they're going to be parents not long after settling into their house, and after their son is born, they decide to hire a nanny so the two of them can continue working. That's more than enough to make you like and care about, which is helped even further by the characters themselves, especially Phil (Dwier Brown). He's just a typical, working guy who was surprised and elated when he learned he was going to be a dad for the first time and proves to be as loving and caring a father as any kid could possibly hope for after Jake is born (seriously, the scenes with him and Jake are very heartwarming, particularly one where he puts him in his crib and softly tells him, "Good night, buddy. Sweet dreams. Don't let the bed bugs bite,"). Like his wife, he also thinks that they're very lucky to have found Camilla to help in taking care of Jake. But, after she moves in, Phil begins to have disturbing nightmares centered around him being unable to save Jake from something that he doesn't understand. What's more, even though he would never do anything, Camilla's attractiveness isn't lost on him, and when he has a dream where he has sex with Kate, only for her to turn into Camilla, he's quite disturbed by it the next morning. Despite those incidents, he doesn't begin to think there's anything wrong with her until he's contacted by Molly Sheridan and when he meets her, she tells him what happened to her baby. Initially, Phil is skeptical that Camilla could be Diana Julian, since Molly's description of her doesn't quite match Camilla, but you can see his resolve starting to crack when her son, Scott, shows him a pop-up storybook and tells him of a mark on her body, both of which he's seen in his dreams. It really falls apart when Molly tells him that Jake is now the same age that Leah was when she last saw her (the piece of music there makes this whole scene one of the eeriest in the movie for me). Coming back home, and finding no sign of Camilla or Jake, he then bothers to listen to the rambling message Ned Runcie left on their answering message about Camilla and goes over to his house, finding the door open but no one there. By the time he's made it back to his house, Phil has checked up on Camilla's references and connections and finds out that, as was the case with Diana Julian, they're all fake and that she was never recommended by the Guardian Angel agency like she claimed. With that, he pretty much throws her out of the house, but then has to contend with something more serious when Jake becomes seriously ill.

Besides being just a likable guy, what really makes Phil easy to root for is just how devoted he is to his little family. Like I said, he's a wonderful father towards Jake and becomes very concerned when Camilla warns him of the first signs of illness with him, deciding to have the doctor to take a look at him, despite Camilla's writing it off as not that serious. After he's discovered that all of the information Camilla gave him and Kate was false, Phil angrily calls her out on her lying, confronting her with the fact that he knows about Molly Sheridan and what happened before with her baby, and takes Jake out of her arms before angrily throwing all of her stuff into her suitcase. When Jake suddenly becomes ill and has to be taken to the hospital, he never leaves his or Kate's side, and, in a real cheer moment, when Camilla tries to take Jake away, Phil growls, "Take your hands off my baby," takes Jake, and punches her right in the face! This guy will stop at nothing to protect his family, including running through the woods with Jake in his hands, being chased by Camilla and just barely escaping her, or, after having discovered the frightening truth behind her and what happened to all of the other babies, taking a chainsaw to the site and cutting down that tree. The whole time he's sawing it, the tree is doing everything it can to defend itself, from grabbing him with its branches to trying to impale him with its roots, but Phil doesn't stop until he cuts right through the thing and sends it toppling over to the ground, destroying Camilla in the process and ensuring she won't harm them or anyone else ever again. And what better way for it to end than for him to return home and reunite the family he just saved?

As likable a character as Phil is, Kate (Carey Lowell) isn't quite on the same level, but not because she's a nagging, hateful wife or anything of that nature. The problem with her is twofold. One, the film doesn't focus on her as much as it does Phil and so, she's not as well-rounded. We know that she's an interior designer and, like Phil, wants to keep working after having Jake (although, she doesn't want to miss out on really important aspects of his growing up), but that's about it. You still don't want to see her die and she's just as devoted to Jake as her husband, having embraced motherhood as soon as she learned she was pregnant, but there's not as much to her, so Stanley is kind of right there, although I still don't think it's as bad as he makes it out to be. Second, during the third act, there are instances where she's not act as proactive against Camilla as she should be. Even though she's put off by his ranting and raving, when Phil reveals that he's learned all of Camilla's references and recommendations were fake, you'd think she would grow a little more distrusting of her but, instead, she keeps asking Phil why he's acting this way towards her. Shouldn't she be more willing to listen to her own husband rather than somebody she's only known for a couple of weeks? You also learn that she agreed with Camilla that Jake didn't need to see a doctor. Again, shouldn't that have been something she and Phil should've discussed? And later on, when Jake has regained consciousness at the hospital and Camilla is basically attempting to kidnap him, Kate does little more than repeatedly tell her to stop it and to leave Jake alone. It does make you go, "Why don't you do something, lady?!" After that, though, she does begin actively helping her husband in trying to protect her son from Camilla, hitting her full-force with her jeep in the woods and running around the house and fighting with her while Phil is cutting down the tree, but it would've been nicer if she'd been a much stronger character (especially since the year before, Lowell had played one of the most tough-as-nails Bond girls ever in Licence To Kill).

As I mentioned earlier, one guy who really takes a liking to Camilla as soon as he meets her is Ned Runcie (Brad Hall), Phil and Kate's neighbor and the architect who designed their house. He tries to get her to come over to his house on one of her nights off but she refuses, as she obviously has no interest in him at all, and she politely rebuffs his offer to help her when she's dealing with the nasty cut one of the thugs she ran into earlier that day left on the side of her stomach. He comes by again the following night to bring her some flowers and to again ask her out on a date but just misses her as she leaves to, as she tells Kate, walk into town for some window shopping. Pressed by Kate to go after her, Ned follows Camilla into the woods and discovers her secret, making him a threat that must be eliminated when he's discovered. The wolves under her command follow him back to his house, where he attempts to call the police but fails, but is able to leave a message about what he saw on Phil and Kate's answering message. Ned does everything he can to defend himself, grabbing and loading a rifle and taking shelter down in the basement, but is ultimately attacked and mauled to death by the wolves, with Camilla then using her powers to make all traces of him and bloody fate disappear.

The character of Molly Sheridan (Natalia Nogulich) serves as a vision of how Phil and Kate may end up if Camilla succeeds in her horrific task. When you see her at the beginning of the film, she and her husband, Allan (Gary Swanson), are a lot like them: a picturesque, loving couple who live with their small family in a nice suburban house and who feel they're absolutely luck to have Diana Julian in their lives as their nanny. However, when they leave for a trip one night and have to turn back because Molly forgot her glasses, they learn that their worst fear as parents has come true when Molly discovers that both Diana and baby Leah have disappeared. Molly isn't seen again until much later, when she contacts Phil and has him come over to her house to warn him about who may be minding his infant son. During this scene, she's absolutely broken and on a continuous, fruitless search to learn what happened to Leah. Adding to the sadness is her telling Phil that she wouldn't be able to go on if she felt that Leah was dead, unaware that her beloved baby has been killed in the most horrific way imaginable, and also that Allan is never seen or even mentioned during this bit, so you don't if they're still together and he's simply at work or if what happened destroyed their marriage. She's very desperate to learn if Camilla is Diana, both to learn what happened to Leah and to keep Phil and Kate from going through what she's been through, and borders on hysteria at points, trying to get Phil to admit his clear suspicions that it could be her. Eventually, she gets Phil to agree to arrange a meeting between her and Camilla, which never happens, as she's never seen again after this scene, and warns Phil that Jake is now the same age that Leah was when Diana took her. In the midst of this is her young son, Scott (Jacob Gelman), who's just as sad about what happened to Leah as his mother, and actually gives Phil some clues that something strange is going on when he mentions a certain mark on Diana's abdomen and shows him the pop-up storybook of Hansel & Gretel she gave him, both of which appeared in the strange nightmares he's been having. In fact, the film opens with Scott reading said storybook to Leah, establishing that this in and of itself is meant to be a Grimms' fairy tale.

While they don't have much to do, there are a couple of other notable actors here who have very small supporting roles. Miguel Ferrer appears in a couple of scenes as Ralph Hess, the head of the advertising agency that Phil begins working for in Los Angeles and who, like Ned Runcie, is quite impressed with Camilla when he meets her at a dinner party Phil and Kate have at their house. When Kate mentions that they were going to go with someone else originally, Hess' response is, "She wasn't your first choice? I want to see the first choice. I want her phone number." And before the climax, Xander Berkeley, who's been in many movies but whose most well-known roles are probably as John Connor's stepfather in Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Helen's husband in Candyman, shows up as a not so helpful detective who tells the Sterlings that they found no trace of Camilla at the site where Kate rammed into her with the jeep, nor can they find any information that she existed in the first place. He does offer to have a guard escort them to a motel after talking to them but they decide instead to go back to the house, pack up, and get out of town. Finally, you have Arlene Russell (Theresa Randle), the young woman who Phil and Kate were initially considering hiring but she's killed in a biking accident before she can take the job, making way for Camilla. She's initially reluctant to do the job for as long as Phil and Kate want, as it's not something she wants to do for the rest of her life, but she seems to start coming around when she sees how adorable Jake is. Also, I can't help but wonder if Camilla had something to do with her death, as she does know of her, saying that she recommended her for the job when Phil is confronting her about all of her fake information, and her death seems awfully convenient in allowing her to take it. And maybe I don't know what I'm talking about but that accident, while rough, doesn't look like it should've been fatal.

Going back to what I meant when I said that audiences and critics at the time didn't get what William Friedkin was trying to do with this film, it's that everyone assumed it was going to be the true follow-up to The Exorcist, as in another balls-to-the-wall, intense horror film that would absolutely terrify another generation as that movie did. But that's not what The Guardian was meant to be at all; instead, Friedkin's approach was to make a modern Grimms' fairy tale, still creepy and atmospheric, but in a different way from The Exorcist. While that movie was, more or less, a pseudo-documentary about the nature of demonic possession, according to the real-life case that William Peter Blatty dramatized in his novel, I think this was meant to show everyday people having to cope with something truly unbelievable and monstrous coming into their lives. Yes, that does describe The Exorcist as well, but here, it's more like the classic story of Hansel & Gretel, with Camilla as an evil being of the forest like the witch and, while she doesn't literally eat the babies she kidnaps, she's still using them as a means to provide sustenance to her body and sustain her own life. I really like the way Friedkin juxtaposes everything here, as most of the time, you're dealing with real people living very ordinary lives in their suburban homes, working in the big city of Los Angeles, and it feels like the real world... but, unbeknownst to everyone, out in the woods is a frightening, supernatural presence, and one part of it comes into certain unlucky families' lives in order to destroy them. That idea of the world we know and understand lying just on the edge of something that's monstrous and, what's more, has been there for God knows how long (possibly centuries), is a very intriguing and scary one to me.

A common opinion among many people, including some that were involved with the film (particularly Jenny Seagrove), is that the movie would be better if there were no supernatural elements to it and it was just a straightforward thriller about an insane woman who kidnaps the babies she takes care of, like the novel it's based on. The argument is that's a far more relatable fear and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, which came out a couple of years later and was a big hit, is often cited as proving it. I don't disagree with that notion because, yeah, you are more likely to run into an insane woman rather than a Druid who sacrifices babies to a demonic tree, but I think the core idea of both movies is still just as valid and palpable here: you let someone into your home and into your life in order for them to assist you in raising your child when, in reality, they might not be who they seem. So, why not go the extra mile and have said person turn out to be scarier than a simple crazy person could, i.e. not even human?! That's another idea I find to be unsettling: you unknowingly let in someone who might not even be of this Earth, let alone can't be trusted, in order to look after your baby. To me, this simple idea, if executed well, can work no matter how far you go with it. Plus, I'll say right now, while I like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle alright, given the choice, I'd much rather watch The Guardian.

Another thing I love about this movie is how it's dripping with atmosphere, especially in the scenes in the forest and around the tree. Friedkin and cinematographer John A. Alonzo shoot it to look both beautiful and eerie at the same time, including during the day, and at night, it's very dark, with spots of deep blue light here and there, the wind is often blowing, it's a little misty, and you can hear the sounds of the woods all-around. During the third act, when Camilla is chasing Phil and Jake through the woods, you can hear the sounds of distant, howling wolves along with the wind and the way she's shot floating through the treetops after them like a ghost is done in a way where it looks very creepy rather than silly, as it could have. One element that's omnipresent throughout much of the film, even if you don't initially notice it, is this owl, which is the first thing you see after the opening credits and always seems to be around, like in Phil's dreams or at the very end when you see him sitting in the tree outside of the house. Plus, when Phil goes to Ned's house after listening to his message and finds it completely empty, you can hear the distant sounds of the owl hooting before he suddenly flies off right outside the window, startling Phil, and you can also hear him in a couple of scenes in the house during the third act. As you can tell, even the scenes in the suburbs are made to feel very eerie. The opening at the Sheridan house, despite being seemingly ordinary, has an air of something not being quite right, from the way Camilla, in her alias of Diana Julian, is filmed with her face almost always obscured by the darkness or out of focus, from the waist down, and in unsettling shots such as in the wastebasket looking up when she tosses away a bottle or from baby Leah's point of view. The feeling of oncoming dusk outside as Molly and Allan are leaving also hints at the horror that's about to unfold. During the scenes at night at the Sterling house, when Phil has bizarre and disturbing dreams, everything is often lit with that eerie blue light and is very quiet, with Phil sometimes lying in bed and seeing the shadow of a tree outside, as well as that of Camilla in some shots. The way the first dream he has is constructed is very nightmarish in and of itself, with low, distant sounds and sudden loud ones, Phil seeing the storybook on his desk and the tree in his room, Jake lying at the foot of it, and a monstrous wolf lurking in the darkness around the trunk before rearing its head out and snarling, transitioning into a vision of blood streaming down the tree and him running down the creek in the woods, screaming and pounding on an invisible wall to try to get to Jake. The second, on the other hand, starts out sensual and romantic, with him and Kate making love, only to become unsettling when Kate becomes Camilla. And a couple of times in the film, there are small earth tremors that shake the house, which add to the uneasy feeling that something bad's coming.

Not surprisingly, since it's Friedkin, the movie is just simply well-made on a technical level. It's shot very well, as you've probably been able to gather from the images you've seen so far, with a nice, rich color palette, especially in the blue nighttime lighting and the deep blacks, and is the kind of look to modern movies that I like, as it feels far more natural than the digital one we get nowadays (the transfer on the Scream Factory Blu-Ray looks very good). While he doesn't revel in it, Friedkin also puts in some nice camerawork here and there, such as the low-angle shots I mentioned up above, an interesting one that starts upside down and pans and corrects itself when Ned runs down the stairs leading into his basement, and the shot in the hospital room where Kate is looking happily at Jake, who's just come out of his coma, and the camera pans over to reveal Camilla in the background behind the curtain that divides the room. And the camerawork and editing during the climax is very good, as it manages to be chaotic and thrilling but, at the same time, it's not shaky and you can tell what's going on, which is always nice. There's not much else that can be said other than the movie is absolutely solid on a technical level, which I don't think even haters could deny if they'd actually look at it.

Children being victimized by evil is always an effective idea, because you're talking about innocence either being defiled or destroyed, but The Guardian takes that notion one step farther by having Camilla's targets be babies who are only a month old. You can't get more innocent than that, making the opening scene, where the Sheridans' adorable infant daughter, Leah, is taken into the woods and absorbed into the tree, becoming one of numerous faces that are seen screaming on its trunk and roots, very upsetting and disturbing. It also doesn't hurt that the Sterlings' baby boy, Jake, is just as precious. Seriously, during the scenes where he's either lying in his crib, cooing and giggling happily as Camilla places the stuffed animals around him, doing the same when she's bathing with him, or babbling and mumbling to Kate when she's sitting there, holding him in her lap, you'd have to be a real cold-hearted person not to crack a smile. The relationship between him and his parents is just as sweet and it really helps you to root for them as they try to keep him safe from this unimaginable evil, often putting their own lives on the line in order to do it. That said, though, it's never explained why he suddenly became ill and fell into a comatose-like state, although I doubt it was Camilla's doing, as she seemed concerned like his parents, though more than likely she wanted him to be healthy before she sacrificed him.

Camilla may be the film's main antagonist but the tree that she worships and sacrifices infants to is just as dangerous as it is creepy. Most of the time, it simply has an unsettling air about it, looking very gnarled and demonic, like something you would see out of a creepy fairy tale, as well as overbearing and foreboding due to its immense size. The screaming faces of its numerous past sacrifices can be seen etched into the bark, as well as the face of an adult woman in one spot and a strange, circular pattern in another, and you can hear the sounds of whispering voices and distant, crying babies in the scenes that take place around it. But its power is not all purely atmospheric. If Camilla or the tree itself is threatened, it doesn't hesitate to go into defensive mood and attack. It can ensnare you with its branches and vines, rip you apart with them, literally devour you with an enormous opening in its trunk that's akin to a mouth with huge teeth, as happens to one of the thugs who make the mistake of harassing Camilla, and impale you with big, spiked roots it can jut out of the ground, as well as send a pack of vicious wolves after you. All of these weapons that the tree has are some very well-done effects and I like that, while the tree itself was built by the effects crew, they took it over to the actual location in Valencia instead of shooting all those scenes in a studio in order to give it more of a feeling of realism. But I think what's most interesting is that we have a horror film about an evil tree that Sam Raimi was originally attached to but this idea, and everything else that's supernatural, came about only after he left the project!

Both the physical and makeup effects in the film, the latter courtesy of Matthew Mungle, are top notch all-around, save for a couple of moments when the camera lingers on a dummy person or creature a few seconds longer than it probably should. In regards to the latter, there's plenty of blood to be found here, with the aftermath of the biking accident that kills Arlene Russell, Camilla getting badly cut across her side by one of the thugs, with the three of them then getting eviscerated in gruesome ways (one gets pulled in and eaten by the tree, another devoured by wolves after his head is smashed off, and the last gets his right leg ripped off, impaled through the torso by one of the roots, and finally set on fire), and all of the blood and nasty injuries that Ned Rancie sustains before he ultimately gets mauled to death by the wolves in his basement. But, interestingly, the bloodiest scene in the movie has nothing to do with violence against people but, rather, when Phil cuts the tree down with a chainsaw during the climax. Blood from its victims gushes out of the wounds he inflicts on it (jets filled with the stuff were built into the tree) and, when things really get going, it's spraying and gushing out of everywhere, completely covering him. Again, evil trees, chainsaws, and lots of blood? Sounds right up Raimi's alley! At the same time, as she chases Kate through the house, trying to get Jake, Camilla's attachment to the tree is revealed when pieces of her skin start flying off with every cut that Phil makes on it, culminating with her leg detaching from her body after he severs a large branch and blood spraying out of it, all over the floor and the camera.

Speaking of Camilla, another way her connection with the tree is personified is through interesting makeup that's applied to various parts of Jenny Seagrove's body, although it varies from scene to scene. When you first see her changing as Ned watches, it looks as if her entire body is becoming tree bark, with the camera focusing on her head as it changes, but later when he finds her sitting on the hearth in his living room as the wolves stalk him through the house, she just looks kind of ashen. The most extensive makeup Seagrove had to endure is during the climax, when big patches of her body, including the parts they had to cover up in order to avoid getting in trouble with the rating, look like they're made of tree bark with moss and lichen attached to them. It's definitely a strikingly memorable look and when you see it in close-up when the various spots are flaying off, it does stand up to scrutiny.

In addition to the tree itself and its various means of defense, other physical effects, like the shots of Camilla floating through the trees when she's chasing Phil as he runs through the woods, carrying Jake, and the animatronic wolf that you see in the first nightmare scene that Phil has, look just as good, especially the latter, which is genuinely creepy in the way it's shot and how it moves. Speaking of which, you have to admire them for using real wolves for a good number of scenes, rather than just using huskies or similar dogs like they could have because I'm sure those things are hard to deal with. There are some moments that are done in a pretty simple and primitive way, like when baby Leah disappears from Diana Julian's hands when she sacrifices her and when the one remaining thug is set on fire, which were clearly just done with a simple cut rather than any elaborate matting or optical effects, but since they probably couldn't afford or had the means to do anything else, it's excusable. Speaking of the opticals, there are some old-fashioned dissolves used to show Camilla slowly becoming bark and when she covers up all traces of Ned's death that are also pretty dated but they're onscreen for a few seconds, so it's not that distracting.

Following the opening credits, the first thing you see is that owl looking straight at the camera and it cuts to an establishing shot of the Sheridan household. Inside, while Scott reads the story of Hansel & Gretel, Diana Julian is carrying a used diaper upstairs, where Molly and Allan are getting ready to leave on their trip (Molly actually packs the Stephen King book, It, in with her luggage). Scott continues reading, as Diana drops Leah's empty bottle into a nearby wastebasket and the parents say goodbye to their children. Diana is seen watching from a chair in the darkness as they leave and, after they head out and drive away, she walks into the kids' bedroom and actually pulls the cover over Scott before walking over to Leah's crib, taking the helpless infant out. At that moment, as they head down the road, Molly tells Allan that she forgot her glasses and they turn around back to the house. Pulling up, Molly rushes in as quickly but quietly as she can and snatches her glass from where she left them. Before heading downstairs, she decides to look in on the children. Opening the door, she sees Scott sleeping soundly, but when she walks over to the crib, she sees that Leah is nowhere to be seen. The full moon rises into the sky and Diana walks through the woods with Leah in her arms, arriving at the tree, as Molly comes rushing out of the house and frantically yells at Allan about what's happened. Diana holds the crying infant up into the air, chanting, "The blood of the child is pure now. In death, it gives you life." Within an instant, Leah vanishes from her hands, her face now ingrained in the bark of the tree, which wolves gather around as Diana proclaims, "The cycle is complete. Begin another." As she says this, the camera pans down to reveal her reflection in a pool of water, which then changes into that of a snarling wolf.

After that, time is spend on establishing the characters of Phil and Kate Sterling, their moving to Los Angeles, the birth of Jake (which includes footage of a real birth), and their trying to find a suitable sitter for him. Arlene Russell and Camilla are then introduced, both of whom take to Jake when they meet him, the latter showing knowledge about the importance of breastfeeding and how baby blood cells change after the first four weeks of life. As they try to decide on which to choose, the choice is made for them when Arlene is out riding her bike, hits a pothole, and is thrown a nearby hill, landing in some plants on the bottom. Camilla then moves in and presents Jake with three stuffed animals (some of which were seen around Leah earlier). That night, Phil is seen unable to sleep, and after glancing up at the shadow of a tree branch on the ceiling, as well as apparently seeing that of a person standing outside as well, he glances over at the clock on the nightstand and sees that it's 2:05 in the morning. He's then seen sitting at his desk, working on some designs while listening to the radio, when a slight tremor shakes the house for a few seconds. As the DJ, who felt it as well, talks about checking it, Phil checks on Kate, who's still asleep, and then heads upstairs to check on Jake. At first, he panics when he finds the baby's not in his crib but relaxes when he learns he's in the bathtub with Camilla.. After he puts Jake to bed following the bath, and glances at Camilla standing naked outside the tub, drying off (she notices him looking), Phil heads back downstairs and makes himself a root beer float before getting back to work. However, he ends up falling asleep at his desk, and then opens his eyes to see a Hansel and Gretel storybook sitting there. He opens it to a pop-up of a creepy-looking tree, and looks over at the window to see the very tree sitting in front of it. Jake is laying at the foot of it, crying, and Phil sees the head of an almost demonic wolf, with red eyes, in the darkness behind his son. The thing rears its head out and snarls, and blood is seen trickling down the trunk, which horrifies Phil. In a cut, Phil is racing through a creek towards the tree and pounds on an invisible wall keeping him from reaching it, all while an owl in the tree watches him and flies off with a loud sound. Phil bolts up awake and, realizing it was just a dream, turns out the nearby lamp and decides to head to bed.

The next day, Camilla is out in a field with Jake, telling him that it'll soon be time to go to the sacred forest, when three guys who are clearly trouble show up. One of them, after guzzling down a beer and belching, asks her if the purse next to her is hers, and their leader approaches from the side. Camilla stands up, holding Jake, as the one rifles through her purse and takes what he finds. Turning down an "offer" for them to walk her home, Camilla warns them to keep away, but the leader says, "You warn me? You don't fucking warn me, bitch. I warn you," and pulls out a large knife. With that Camilla, takes off into the woods with Jake, the three punks in hot pursuit, and the chase leads through them to a spot where she's apparently lost them. Creeping through the brush, trying to find her, they realize they're somewhere they've never been before and they soon come upon the monstrous tree. Amazed at what they're seeing, they walk up to its base, continuing to look for Camilla, when the leader hears something to his left and sees her duck down in an opening around the base. Smiling evilly, he pulls Camilla out and throws her to the ground, preparing to have some "fun." He grabs her by the back of the head and punches her in the face before tossing her to the side, while one of the other punks finds where she head Jake. Camilla yells for him to leave the baby alone, when the leader pulls his knife out and shows her the blade before using it to inch her shirt up her torso. He gives her a nasty slash across the side of her stomach, which proves to have been a big mistake, as the tree suddenly bends down towards them, prompting him to duck away. A branch swings by and smashes one punk's head clean off, while another is grabbed by some vines and pulled towards the trunk. The leader tries to run for it but a vine grabs his leg and pulls him back, doing so hard enough to rip his right leg completely off, as the second punk is literally devoured by a mouth-like gap in the tree and the third's decapitated body is eaten by a pack of wolves. Camilla watches the carnage from her spot on a branch with Jake, as the leader is impaled through the torso by a huge, pointed root before his body is instantly engulfed in flames.

That night, at a dinner party the Sterlings throw (which is when you get that shot of Camilla's face framed behind some candles she's lit), Ned Runcie meets Camilla when she greets him at the door and he's instantly taken with her, as are their other guests. At some point after dinner, Ned is coming out of the bathroom, when he hears the sound of her moaning in pain in her bedroom. Cutting inside, it's revealed that she's removing a large wad of gauze from the cut she got on her stomach, along with a bit of dried, bloody skin. When he gets no response after knocking and asking if she's okay, Ned steps in and asks what's wrong. Reapplying the gauze and pulling her shirt back down, Camilla insists that it's nothing but a little accident. She tells him that she's going to see a doctor in Westwood the next day and politely declines an offer by him to drive her. Ned finally leaves and Camilla tries to compose herself from the pain; later, when everyone's heading out, Ned invites her to come to his house on one of her nights off but, again, she declines. After the party's over, Phil is having trouble getting Jake to go to sleep, when Camilla steps in the doorway and the mobile above the crib starts turning and playing by itself. He gives Jake to her and she puts him to bed, although Phil is clearly not sure what just happened. In the next scene, after taking a pill, Phil gets into bed with Kate, who's already asleep, and looks up at the ceiling, again seeing the shadow of a tree branch outside and that of a person who appears to be a woman with long, flowing hair. Instead of reacting to this, Phil falls asleep (is it me or does the shadow of his face on the pillow next to him look like the silhouette of Abraham Lincoln?) and, following an out-of-focus shot of reeds in front of sparkling water, Kate's hand drifts across his chest, down his torso, and slides his pajama pants off. When she trails her hand back up his leg, he rolls over onto her and the two of them start kissing and having sex. For a bit, it's nice and sensuous, with Kate ending up on top, but things start to turn sinister when Phil notices an odd mark below her left breast and, when he looks up at her face, he sees that he's now having sex with Camilla. Horrified at this, Phil bolts up awake, waking Kate, who asks him what's wrong. He doesn't say anything but she gets the hint that it's nothing and they both go back to sleep, but the next morning, he's rather uncomfortable around Camilla. He picks Jake up and kisses him goodbye before heading off to work; once he's gone, Camilla whispers to Jake, "Can you feel it, Jake? In a few days, your blood is pure."

That night, while it's windy and misty, Camilla gets dressed up in a nice, sexy outfit and says that she's going to walk into to town to check out some shops. Right after she leaves, Ned arrives with flowers for her and plans to take her to see a band he's heard about. He also mentions the injury on Camilla's side he saw the previous night and asks if she went to see her doctor, which Kate knew nothing about. However, since he just missed her, she encourages him to go after Camilla and, after some prodding, he heads back outside and gets in his pickup truck. Driving down the road, he sees her up ahead and pulls over to the side, watching her walk off into a nearby field... somehow getting around a fence with barbwire strewn along the top. Calling for her but not getting her attention, he climbs over the top of the fence and follows her path through the field, seeing her disappear into the woods. He walks after her into the depths of the forest, at one point getting scared by a bird that flies past him, and ends up at the stream, seeing her reenter the woods on the other side of it. Calling for her, he chases after her and finds the tree. Hiding around the brush in front of it, he sees her dress hanging from another tree and looks over to see her standing in the stream nearby, naked and enjoying some water falling on her from a small fall that appears to be back there. Ned looks away to try to process what he's seeing and, when he looks back, Camilla has disappeared in that short instance. He then sees her sitting on one of the tree's large roots at its base and she's joined by some wolves. She takes some water that's streaming out of an opening on the tree and pours it over her abdomen, onto the wound, before laying back and allowing the tree's vines to reach down and caress her body gently. She appears to actually fuse with it, the flesh on her face becoming like tree bark, a sight that utterly terrifies Ned. He's then spotted by one of the wolves, which snarls at him, and he immediately runs for it, stumbling and falling over himself as he races out of the woods, across the field, and back to the fence, badly cutting his hands on the barbwire as he climbs over it.

Instead of taking the truck, Ned runs back to his house, puts a chair up against the front door once he's inside, and pours himself a drink to try to calm his nerves. He then grabs his phone and attempts to make a call, unaware of the wolves that are roaming outside the window behind him, when he hears the sound of a creaking door. Seeing that a door in the back is hanging open, he runs and shuts it, spotting a wolf in a tree out in the yard, watching him. Running back to the phone, he calls the police and, after giving them his name and address, he tells them that there are "coyotes" in his yard (probably figuring they wouldn't believe him if he said wolves). The dispatcher clearly doesn't believe him and he has to do some convincing to get them to take it seriously, all while the "coyotes" are prowling back and forth outside the windows behind him. Just as he's convincing them to send someone, he realizes he's been cut off and slams the phone down. Running to his bedroom and closing an outside door there, he heads back to the phone and this time calls the Sterling house. Since Kate's asleep and Phil seems to be working late, he gets the answering machine and leaves them a message, barely able to tell them what he saw and warns them not to let Camilla back in their house. Before he can complete his message, he sees that the wolves are getting more aggressive in trying to get inside, running up at and onto his back doors, and prompting him to take cover in his bedroom, where he grabs a shotgun off a mantel. He searches the drawers for some bullets but can't find any and is about to run back out the door, when he hears the sound of growling behind him. Turning around, he's a snarling wolf standing on his bed, and when he backs up against the door, another one begins to break and bite its way through on the other side. Ned scrambles through an opening in the glass in the back and into another part of the house, hearing the sounds of the wolves snarling and trying to get in the house. Edging his way along the wall, towards the living room, he peeks around the corner and sees Camilla sitting on the hearth there, naked. She tells him, "You shouldn't have followed me," and he runs back and through the door to the stairs that lead down into the basement. Running to the left-hand corner of the room, he finally finds some shells in the drawers and loads his shotgun before ducking down, waiting for Camilla's inevitable descent. Seeing the door atop the stairs open, he points the barrel of his gun there and warns, "You come down here, I'll blow you away." Nothing happens, however, until he hears something on the other side of the basement. After several seconds of complete silence, the wolves rush in and completely overwhelm and maul Ned to death, biting him in the neck, slashing him across the face, and ripping his hand off. Upstairs, Camilla makes the blood Ned left on his phone disappear, while the wolves drag his body away and the pool of blood left behind does the same.

Early the next morning, Phil comes out of the bathroom and is about to head upstairs, when he notices the message light on his answering machine. Listening to them, he gets a distraught message from Molly Sheridan telling him that she needs to speak with him about something urgent and gives him her number, before heading into the message Ned left. But, just as he starts listening to it, Camilla, who's been upstairs eavesdropping, tells him to come up and look at Jake. When he does, he notices that the baby is a little on the pale side and, while she doesn't think it's serious, tells her to call the doctor. He then visits Molly Sheridan, who tells him about Diana Julian, about how she's learned other people's children have fallen prey to her, and that she believes that Camilla is her. Phil is initially skeptical, especially when Molly's description of Diana doesn't quite match Camilla, but when Scott mentions the mark on her stomach, which Phil saw in his dream, his skepticism begins to crack. It cracks even more so when Scott shows him the storybook Diana gave him, which he also saw in his dream, and he agrees to arrange a meeting between Molly and Camilla to see if it is her. Frightened when she mentions that Jake is the same age that Leah was before she was taken, Phil heads back home to find no sign of his son or Camilla, and when he searches every part of it, he then listens to Ned's message, replaying it when he hears him mention her in it. He tries to call him but gets a busy signal, so he rushes over to his house, finding the front door wide open but no sign of him at all. He does, however, find a hole in the bedroom door and the phone hanging off the hook in the kitchen. The scene ends with him hanging up and getting startled when a bird flies off right outside the window. He races back to his house and, when he comes through the door, he hears Camilla talking to Jake, telling him, "It's time, Jake. Don't be afraid." Phil immediately confronts her about where she was and is not happy when she says she took Jake to the zoo rather than to the doctor like he wanted. When Kate comes in and asks what's going on, Phil plays them Ned's message, but Camilla denies any knowledge of what's going on. He tells her to get out and, taking Jake from her and giving her to Kate, he tells her that he talked with Molly Sheridan, has learned that every single number, person, and location she had in her references doesn't exist, and that the Guardian Angel agency has a Camilla Grandier in their employ but didn't recommend her for the job. Camilla tries to save face by saying that Arlene Russell was a friend of hers and was the one who told her about the job but Phil doesn't buy it, and when she declines to meet Molly Sheridan, he officially fires her and starts packing her suitcase. He's interrupted, though, when Kate comes in with Jake and tells him something's wrong.

After Jake is taken to the hospital, where he slips into a coma-like state that the doctor can't diagnosis, he tells them that they'd better keep him there overnight so they can run some tests. Later, Jake is attached to various monitors inside a small, plastic chamber, as Kate says a prayer asking God to make him better. Her prayers appear to have been heard, as Jake suddenly awakens, much to his parents' relief. Phil heads out of the room to find the doctor, leaving Kate in there alone with Jake... or at least she thinks she is, until she turns around and sees Camilla standing in the middle of the drapes that separate the two halves of the room. Camilla says he needs her and she needs him, before she walks over to the chamber and, ignoring Kate's telling her to stop, opens it, removes the suction discs that attach to the wires to him, and takes him. But, when she tries to walk out the door, she runs into a very angry Phil, who growls, "Get your hands off my baby!" as he takes his son and whacks her right in the face, sending her crashing into a tray behind her. With Jake in tow, Phil and Kate run out of the room and escape the hospital, driving through town and back to their house in their jeep. Arriving, they attempt to go in the house but, when they open the door, a growling and snapping wolf inside prompts them to slam it shut. Another wolf shows up at the gate leading to the front door and they're forced to run along the side of the house, into the pool area, as the wolf jumps the gate and chases them. Holding Jake in his arms, Phil has Kate get on the other side of the fence, closing the door right before the wolf reaches her. Kate tells Phil to run for it, saying that she'll meet him at the entrance to the woods, and he takes off as she manages to get inside the house. Phil carries Jake through the woods, which are filled with the sounds of the wind and wolves howling, as Kate creeps around inside the house, trying to be quiet in order to avoid the wolf that's inside. Managing to get an extra set of keys for the jeep without being attacked (I'm guessing because they dropped the set they had in the chaos moments before), she gets back outside and, with no wolves in sight, runs through the gate and hops in the vehicle. Phil continues making his way through the woods, seeing that he's being stalked by Camilla, while the jeep is swarmed by the wolves, who climb all over it and threaten to break through the windshield before she finally manages to start it up and pull out of the driveway, running over one of them. Phil continues trying to escape Camilla when, while Kate runs the jeep right through the fence and into the field leading to the woods, she lifts up into the air and floats after him. Driving the jeep through the rough terrain, Kate catches up to Phil, although they're separated by thick brush between them, as he's chased by the Camilla to the foot of the tree. Grabbing a branch as she floats by it, Camilla prepares to attack but Kate speeds right at her, slamming into her and sending her flying off to the side. After checking to see if she's dead, which she appears to be, Phil sees the faces of the babies of the tree and looks up at it.

After talking to a detective at the police station, who tells them that they didn't find Camilla's corpse at the site and that there's no record of her ever existing, as well as not believing the more fantastical parts of the story, the Sterlings decide to go back to the house, pack up, and get out, although they clearly don't know what they'll do after that. And this is where the TV version ends, using one last shot of Camilla by the tree before going to the ending credits. Given how bloody the real ending is, I can guess why they edited that version the way they did but, not knowing about it at the time, imagine how floored I was when I first watched Boogeymen: The Killer Compilation and saw what I'm about to talk about. (I can vaguely remember the TV version having other scenes that aren't in the theatrical version, like Camilla accusing Phil of hitting on her to make Kate disbelieve him even more and a shot of her watching them sleep from outside their window, but that was so long ago that I can't be sure if my memory's 100% accurate.) Arriving back at the house, Phil decides to take care of things himself and grabs the chainsaw and walks towards the site where the tree is, while Kate waits in the house with Jake. Sitting in the bedroom with her baby, Kate gets an uneasy feeling and becomes frightened when she hears the sound of the mobile in the room across from her. Walking to it with Jake in her arms, she swings the door opens but finds nothing in there and breathes a sigh of relief, only to turn around and see Camilla, in her half-tree form, standing in a darkened corner. Approaching them, she says that she needs Jake before his blood changes and chases them out of the bedroom and into the upper level of the living room. Kate throws a vase at her but misses and runs into the nursery and shuts the door. Meanwhile, Phil arrives at the tree, which clearly knows that he's there, as the wood can be heard creaking and the sounds of crying babies intensifies. He tries to start the saw but he gets knocked to the ground by a branch, dropping it. Undeterred, he grabs it, gets back up, and saws right into the trunk, yelling as blood gushes out of the bark and covers him, only to get smacked back down by another branch. The tree then actually bends down towards him and he just barely misses getting impaled by one of the thorny roots, when a vine grabs his leg and squeezes, threatening to break it. After some struggling, he grabs the saw, which is by him, and takes it right to the vine.

Back at the house, Camilla begins smashing her way through the painted wood of the nursery door, as Kate desperately tries to open up the large window behind her. Seeing that she's not going to be able to in time, she ducks into the bathroom in the corner, as Camilla steps inside the room and focuses on that door. As Phil continues sawing through the vine around his leg, yelling as the tree itself continues bending down towards him, Camilla chases Kate down into the lower part of the living room. Phil finally cuts completely through the vine and rushes towards the tree, cutting into a carving on its base and causing blood to spew out of it as well as a face elsewhere, as Kate hits Camilla with a lamp. A piece of flesh flays off the left side of Camilla's face and Kate runs for the stairs but she grabs her leg, causing her to fall and drop Jake on one of the steps. Blood continues to flow as Phil saws into an enormous branch, as Camilla drags Kate down the steps, away from Jake, but when another part of the tree gets sawed into, flesh flays off of the backside of her left arm, causing her to stop. Another rips off the right side of her face, and even though she manages to grab Kate and throw her into the wall, a piece of her side comes off from the damage Phil continues to inflict. Undeterred, Camilla closes in on the helpless Jake, when Phil completely saws off the large branch he's been cutting into, sending blood pouring and causing Camilla's right leg to snap off completely. She screams in absolute agony, and as Phil runs out of the way of the tree, which comes crashing down and basically explodes, Kate rushes Camilla and pushes her out the window at the top of the first row of stairs, sending her tumbling down to the ground, she disintegrates into dirt, dust, and pieces of tree bark. Dazed and covered in blood, Phil staggers away from the tree, back to his home, where Kate picks up Jake, comforting him and telling him that he's now safe. Phil arrives and rejoins his family, looking out the smashed window Camilla fell through, with the camera panning up to show that same owl sitting on a branch. Definitely a much more satisfying ending when compared to the TV version, which, like I said, left Camilla alive and ready to sacrifice more babies to the tree.

Jack Hues, who was part of the group, Wang Chung, had worked with William Friedkin before on To Live and Die in L.A. and Friedkin brought him back to score The Guardian since he liked the work he did during their first collaboration. Hues is interviewed on the Scream Factory Blu-Ray but he barely says anything about how he came up with the music for the movie, which disappointed me because I really like this score. There are some parts of it that I don't think work, like the more rhythmic parts of the music that plays during the ending credits, but for the most, it's very effective in being either creepy and atmospheric or fast-paced and thrilling. It's most notable piece is this eerie melody that you first hear at the beginning when Molly and Allan Sheridan are leaving on their trip and is heard a number of times throughout the film in various forms, like an electronic version when you first hear it, a distant piano version when Ned follows Camilla into the woods, and the quiet but incredibly foreboding one when Phil sees the storybook Diana Julian gave to Scott. Seriously, that latter one has a low, creepy sound in the background accompanying the melody being played very softly on some piano keys and the way they come together is very bone-chilling. That's how a lot of the really creepy moments are scored: with low and soft but unsettling sounds, as well as the sudden sounds of Jake's mobile playing (such as during the climax before Camilla attacks), rather than with traditional music for the most part. You also hear some random, short, high-pitched string sounds when there's no other music at some points and the soundtrack is often filled with disembodied voices, the sounds of the howling wolves and that hooting owl, and almost demonic-sounding, electronic and synthesizer noises. The more fast-paced parts of the score are actually not used much during the chase and attack scenes (which usually have no music at all) but rather, for the credits, the opening having a very frantic piece and the ending going through several different, similarly-paced themes, and scenes like when Phil and Kate escape the hospital with Jake, the music there working well enough for what it has to do. And finally, while it doesn't get much of a chance to do so, the score does accentuate the other types of scenes here, like the romantic ones between Phil and Kate and the sweet moments between them and their baby, namely this very heartwarming one you hear when Phil puts Jake to bed after Camilla has bathed him. Overall, it's a great, underrated score for a movie that is itself very underrated.

More than likely, The Guardian will never go from being a little known cult film to a generally well-respected and beloved movie like so many others have and, while I don't think it's quite as good as many of them, I still feel it doesn't deserve the crap it continues to get because it is good in a number of ways. It's well-made and shot, the performances by the actors are quite strong for the most part, it has atmosphere and eeriness to spare, memorably creepy scenes and images, impressive makeup and mechanical effects, as well as handling of real wolves, an effective music score, and, overall, does a great job at creating a modern day Grimms' fairy tale. There are flaws, like the weaknesses of Kate Sterling as a character, the characters sometimes making dumb decisions, some aspects of the story not being as clear as they could have, and some effects that are a tad dated and don't hold up well, but for the most part, I find this to be a pretty solid, effective, entertaining little horror flick that got the shaft back in 1990 because of the unfair expectations that it would be on the same level as The Exorcist. Don't go into it expecting that; just try to enjoy and appreciate it for what it is and I think you'll be surprised at how good it is.

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