Review: The Guardian (1990)

DVD review (region 2)
Directed by William Friedkin
Starring Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown, Carey Lowell
Release date 17 October 2011

After moving into a flash new house in California, Phil (Brown) and Kate (Lowell) decide to hire a live-in nanny to look after their baby. They end up with Camilla (Seagrove), a beautiful and charming Englishwoman who seems scarily perfect. But Camilla has a secret – she worships a tree spirit, and plans to present it with the baby as an offering…

William Friedkin’s The Exorcist may be regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made, but the same can hardly be said about The Guardian. Made in 1990, 17 years after the filmmaker’s devilish masterpiece, it’s the truly ludicrous tale of a killer tree and a nanny from hell that’s more likely to induce chuckles than scares. Still, for horror fans with a penchant for the dumber side of the genre, it’s not without a certain charm.

Based on The Nanny by Dan Greenburg (well, in theory: Friedkin admits in the accompanying interview that he never read the novel, while screenwriter Stephen Volk ditched most of its content), the story is powered by pure silliness. It’s essentially your standard psycho slasher, along the lines of the later The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, with a few supernatural touches thrown in (Camilla flying along the street, the tree tearing goons to pieces, sexy visions).

Quite why Camilla wants to sacrifice babies to the tree – or, more accurately, embed babies in the bark – is never entirely clear, but then it’s best not to waste too much brainpower here. Instead, sit back, ignore the dull heroes and focus on the over-the-top pleasures, including a delicious performance from Seagrove, an effectively drawn out sequence involving coyotes and some fun, old-school gore effects. 24’s Xander Berkeley makes a brief appearance as an unconvinced cop, and nabs the movie’s stupidest line – “You seem like decent people. But what you’re saying makes no sense!”

The Guardian may be a failure, but it’s a failure with some interesting talent involved in its inception, and the DVD comes with three terrific interviews that provide much background detail. A garrulous Friedkin recalls how he thought Volk’s original script was pretty lousy, and wanted to refashion it as a contemporary dark fairy tale (note: The Company of Wolves this isn’t). He also tells of how he was inspired by his own bizarre nanny from hell experience.

Volk, meanwhile, gradually reveals the traumatic experience he had on the film. He originally intended it to be a tongue-in-cheek horror that would be directed by Sam Raimi (you can certainly see a lot of The Evil Dead in the killer tree sequences). Instead, he ended up helping extensively re-write it as something that took itself way too seriously, with Friedkin and producer Joe Wizan pulling him in two different directions. He remembers how it took a fair few therapy sessions to help him get over the experience – and it wasn’t until the success of Ghostwatch that he regained his confidence as a screenwriter.

Finally, Seagrove fondly recalls the good and bad experiences of shooting the film – she’s still in awe of Friedkin’s talent, but admits The Guardian can’t exactly be regarded as one of his successes. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 5/10
Silly, though not unenjoyable, horror hokum with some enlightening extras.

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