[90s Horror Movie Month] The Guardian (1990) by Garrett Collins

90sHorrorMovieMonth

220px-Guardian1990Starring: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown, Carey Lowell, Brad Hall, and Miguel Ferrer.

As fans of the horror genre, we are asked to buy a lot of strange concepts. A man who kills people in their dreams. A bullied teen who happens to have telekinesis. An adopted boy who comes to be the spawn of Satan. Now all of these concepts could have been disastrous had they not been treated with the caring touch they were by their films’ makers. But ask anybody who has watched horror for an extended amount of time and they will most likely tell you A Nightmare on Elm Street, Carrie, and The Omen are fantastic staples in the genre.

Which leads us to The Guardian. Attach a director like William Friedkin to a project and you can be sure that it will be in good hands. However, not even the director of The Exorcist could turn a concept like a killer tree of the Gods into something that could be construed as remotely scary. Promotion posters for the film really played up the fact that not only did we finally have a new horror film from the director of The Exorcist, but it was just as frightening. And truth be told, there are a few moments of genuine tension in The Guardian. The problem is that right when the kills start getting intense, poor line deliveries contribute to an absolute dryness coated on the proceedings. This utter flatness makes me feel the film that The Guardian ended up being wasn’t anywhere near what it set out to be, and studio interference once again reared its ugly head in a decade that was full of compromised filmmaking.

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The film’s plot involves a happy suburb couple who just had a baby. Feeling happiness everywhere they turn but constantly working in order to keep it, they feel a nanny is in order. Amongst the first candidates is Camilla (Seagrove). Pretty but reserved, they hire her on the spot. Little do they know she has intentions of (are you ready?) sacrificing their new tyke to a powerful God encompassed in a tree.

It must be said that originally attached to The Guardian was a director by the name of Sam Raimi. Given Raimi’s reputation for handling weird concepts, I think he could have done something if not scary and nightmare inducing, quirky and watchable, with this concept. In other words, a way of making the film that would not treat the material with the seriousness that it didn’t need. With Friedkin, the film was in the hands of someone who wanted to commendably make a film that registered a similar feeling The Exorcist did. When we meet the family here, it is not dissimilar to how we met Reagan and Chris. The problem is that the material eventually comes full circle. And Friedkin can tease the presence of something scary all he wants. But at the end of the day, the film is about a killer tree.

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Acting is not even a factor in improving the material. The only one who is remotely watchable is Seagrove, as she makes for a different kind of horror movie villain in that her British accent, combined with an almost constant display of nudity, is front and center. Brown and Dwier are laughably bad as the couple living the American Dream. Brown plays the wife like someone who constantly eats air for lunch, and Dwier has a couple pretty bad line deliveries. However, he looks like DeNiro next to how a few victims of The Tree deliver theirs.

I don’t want to make it look like everything is bad here. Friedkin puts an almost constant midnight blue palette onscreen that cakes the film in a perpetually mode of dread. He also stages a nightmare Dwier has about his wife metamorphisizing into Seagrove that is pretty well done. The way a pop-up book prophesizes what is lurking outside is also a decent tease. But decisions like having a character go window shopping at night, exhibiting frogs leaping in slow motion, and a very silly scene in a hospital deems this turkey just that. It really is too bad that the film spiraled like it did and Friedkin disconnected himself from the film’s promotional materials, because I feel in the right hands (like say a 90s era Peter Jackson), this could have been a cheesy but fun reflection on how horror could be silly and scary at the same time. Then again, we are talking about a killer tree that also happens to be a God.

Rating:
StarRating-01-5

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