The Anchor Bay DVD release was originally going to be a two-disc set, with both the famous original 100 minute cut that test audiences saw (Anchor Bay found the footage that was thought destroyed, and was going to re-edit it as close as possible to the preview version) and the theatrical 84 minute cut. Unfortunately Disney did not allow Anchor Bay to have the original cut, and only let them use the two "alternate endings" which now appear on the DVD. This explains why director John Hough referring to the movie as being finally edited the way he intended (the commentary was recorded before Anchor Bay had to drop the two-disc idea), when it actually isn't. The alternate endings, however, do provide the majority of the missing footage from the 1981 preview, save some small scenes/changes. Hough explains that "his" ending is a combination of the two alternate endings and the film's current ending.
In the Anchor Bay DVD commentary, John Hough states that Bette Davis wanted to play both Mrs. Aylwood in the present and thirty years ago. The crew shot scenes with her wearing makeup to appear younger, but she was clearly older than the character the script called for. After the cast and crew saw the dailies, Hough told Davis in private that the scene just didn't work; no one would believe her as a woman in her forties. To her credit, Davis looked Hough in the eye and said, "You're Goddamned right."
The house that Mr. Keller / John Keller (Ian Bannen) lives in previously also portrayed "Hill House" in the original version of The Haunting (1963) directed by Robert Wise from the novel by Shirley Jackson. The real life building is called "Ettington Park Manor" and is situated in Ettington Park in Warwickshire, England, UK.
The original version ran 100 minutes. This was with the short ending that didn't include the explanatory "Other World Sequence" (which wasn't finished at the time of the film's initial release). After the original ending didn't work, the filmmakers re-cut it, adding the special effects sequence in which the viewer sees the other world that the victim was trapped in. This ending still didn't fare well with the critics, so Vincent McEveety was brought in (director John Hough was unavailable) to tweak the film and shoot an entirely new ending and opening credits sequence.
Director John Hough's audio-commentary states that Brian Clemens wrote the version of the screenplay he was most interested in directing but the Disney Studios decided that this version was much too dark and hired Rosemary Anne Sisson to lighten it up in a re-write.
Second Disney Studios film featuring an English manor mansion and filmed in the English counties of Warwickshire and Buckinghamshire in just a few years after Candleshoe (1977) which had debuted about three years earlier. "Candleshoe" refers to an 16th Century English Tudor stately home and country estate where most of the action in that movie takes place as with the English mansions played by both St. Hubert's Manor and Ettington Park Manor in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
Lynn-Holly Johnson replaced Diane Lane in the role of Jan Curtis. The 4th June 1979 edition of show-business trade paper 'The Hollywood Reporter' and the 11th July 1979 edition of show-business trade paper 'Variety' both reported actress Lane would be appearing in this picture as Jan Curtis but in the end Johnson played the part.
Diane Lane was publicized as going to be appearing in this first released in 1980 picture portraying Jan Curtis. Lane did not appear in the film in the end with the part being portrayed instead by Lynn-Holly Johnson. Lane however was seen in another theatrical feature film first released that year called Touched by Love (1980) where she played a character called "Karen". Ironically, "Karen" is the same name of a significant character in The Watcher in the Woods (1980), whose anagram name spelled backwards is "NAREK", with this functioning as a significant story element in The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
The acquisition of the film rights to authoress Florence Engel Randall's novel "A Watcher in the Woods" (1976) by Walt Disney Productions was announced in the 21st November 1978 edition of show-business trade paper 'The Hollywood Reporter'.
This motion picture from Walt Disney Productions was initially intended to be a tele-feature made for television according to the 13th September 1979 edition of show-business trade paper 'The Hollywood Reporter'.
About one week into production filming on this picture, circa late August - early September 1981, the Disney Studio had re-thinked the project, and changed the type of film from being a made-for-television tele-movie to a theatrical feature film cinema movie.
Special effects sequences were shot not in England but at the Disney Studios in Burbank in Hollywood, California, USA. Actress Bette Davis during the northern hemisphere winter of 1980, shot her re-shoots and additional photography in California as well.
After this film, skater-actress Lynn-Holly Johnson appeared in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only (1981) where she had a supporting role as ice-skater Bibi Dahl. Prior to Ice Castles (1978), Johnson had both skating and acting experience which contributed to her getting the lead role in Ice Castles (1978). Johnson had previously appeared in TV commercials and in stage productions such as "The Miracle Worker".
The movie notably featured two English mansions: "St. Hubert's Manor" which is located at St. Huberts Lane, Gerrard's Cross, Buckinghamshire, England, UK and "Ettington Park Manor" which is situated at Ettington Park, Warwickshire, England, UK.
The 20th October 1981 edition of 'The New York Times' and the 25th October 1981 edition of 'The Los Angeles Times' both reported Harrison Ellenshaw being hired as a special effects fxpert to shoot additional special effects for the movie at a reported cost to the Disney Studios of an estimate approximate US $1 million.
The movie in its initial American release in April 1980 had its season canceled by the Disney Studios in May 1980. This was so the movie's ending, which had been the subject of much criticism by film critics and public audiences, could be re-worked, with re-shoots, new special effects, and additional photography conducted.
The re-issue theatrical re-release of the Disney Studios classic movie Mary Poppins (1964) was brought forward nearly a year early from its scheduled release date of Easter 1981 to fill the gap left by The Watcher in the Woods (1980) being pulled from theaters in May 1980 after the film having just opened in April that year.
Starring as Mrs. Aylwood in this Disney Studios film was veteran actress Bette Davis, who had just recently co-starred in another cinema movie for Walt Disney Productions, as Letha in Return from Witch Mountain (1978).
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The word "NAREK" was both an anagram of "KAREN" and that word spelled backwards. The character of Karen Aylwood was portrayed by both Katharine Levy as well as an uncredited actress in the 1981 re-cut version.