The Nanny From Hell — Friedkin’s THE GUARDIAN (1990)

Scream Factory released The Guardian on Blu-ray on January 19.

“A William Friedkin Film”

That’s the attention-grabbing heading on the cover of this new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory. I’d actually never heard of this one when the screener showed up, but a horror film from Friedkin? Yes, please, and thank you.

Turns out this was a little-loved film on its release, but I really enjoyed it. The story speaks to primal parental fears, and the second half gets pretty wild.

To summarize, the film, loosely based on Dan Greenburg’s boringly-titled novel The Nanny, tells the story of Phil and Kate (Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell), a prosperous couple who hires on a nanny to watch their newborn child. Things seem to go swimmingly with Camilla (Jenny Seagrave), their talented and seemingly perfect hire, but it turns out she’s a Druid and serial kidnapper who steals away children to sacrifice them to a evil spirit which inhabits a huge, gnarled tree in the nearby woods. Who knew? In Friedkin’s hands, the story is treated like a modern Grimm’s fairy tale.

One might expect an attractive Yuppie couple to be presented as unlikable victims of their own hubris, or somehow at fault for their problems from putting their child in another’s care, but the story doesn’t treat them in this fashion. Our protagonists aren’t monsters. Their wealth is incidental to the plot — this is a pair of young lovers whose child is at risk, and the film doesn’t set out to punish them for being successful or for enlisting a helper. On the one hand, that’s a pretty refreshing approach for a film to take, but at the same time it’s interesting to think of the compelling drama that could have been inherent to making them more tragically flawed characters.

Similarly, there’s some sexual tension between Phil and the nanny — it’s alluded to a few times, but Phil never gives in to his fleshly temptations. Again, this is great for establishing him as the hero that he needs to be for the story Friedkin is telling, but there’s also a darker and more gut-wrenching cautionary tale that could have been, right beneath the surface.

As a new Dad with a baby girl of my own, I’m admittedly right in tune with the wavelength The Guardian is hitting on. These are the values I’m entrusted with: Protect and provide for your child. Be faithful to your wife. Keep your chainsaw handy.

The film’s finale gets downright weird and shockingly amazing with an inspired sequence in which Phil revs up a chainsaw and just straight out attacks the ancient, evil tree that’s at the root of the conflict. And when I say “inspired”, I mean “inspired by The Evil Dead“. That may be a bit presumptuous — maybe those films were or were not a direct inspiration on Friedkin, but even if he didn’t intend such an homage, I’m guessing the effects team and editors were certainly fans. Actor Dwier Brown looks a bit Bruce Campbelly and evil trees are already Evil Dead fare to begin with. Then a combination of fast editing, evocative imagery, and cathartic gore makes this a finish to remember.

The Package

The Guardian comes packed with pretty generous features, especially for a film that wasn’t well received on its initial release.

Special Features and Extras

The first few features are in HD and are new (or newly in HD) to this Scream Factory edition.

“A Happy Coincidence” With Actor Dwier Brown (21:56)
 Dwier’s memories of the film include the story of a humorous (in hindsight) interaction with Friedkin that he believes got him the job.

“From Strasberg to The Guardian” with Gary Swanson (10:10)
 Swanson only had a small role in the film as the father of an abducted child, but he gets a great interview recounting his experiences on the film as well as a quick rundown of his career as an actor on Vice Squad and more.

“A Mother’s Journey” with Natalija Nogulich (11:33)
 Natalija’s recounts being a fan of Friedkin and then enjoying the experience of working with him.

“Scoring The Guardian” with Composer Jack Hues (6:40)
 One of the more interesting features. Jack Hues, coming off of his time with New Wave group Wang Chung, relished the opportunity to score a film unlike his typical work, and knocked it out of the park — the score is incredible.

Tree Woman: The Effects of The Guardian with Matthew Mungle (13:07)
 Makeup/Effects artist Mungle describes the considerable effects work in making the film and working with Friedkin. He also is pretty honest with his thoughts on how the film turned out.

The remaining features are SD-sourced and presumably from previous home video editions. Some of the quality is a bit poor.

Return To The Genre with Director/Co-writer William Friedkin (17:25)
 Friedkin describes the amazing personal experience with attracted him to the story, and his desire to create a modern old-fashioned fairy tale. He also takes a moment to recount some of his favorite horror movies.

The Nanny: An Interview With Jenny Seagrave (13:19)
 Seagrave, who comes from a theater background, describes her decision to do the film and the fun of working on it — even though she’s not a fan of horror.

Don’t Go In The Woods: An Interview With Steven Volk (21:00)
 Co-writer Steven Volk describes his inspirations for the script and the rather tumultuous experience from page to film, which was originally linked to Sam Raimi before the project moved to Friedkin. Friedkin was unhappy with the original drafts and ended up rewriting a lot of it himself.

Theatrical Trailer (1:34)

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 The Guardian [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

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