Home Video Hovel: The Guardian, by Alexander Miller
I was hoping that The Guardian would turn out to be another wrongfully slandered William Friedkin film, that this title would be another entry in the subset of maligned movies from the director like Sorcerer and To Live and Die in L.A., both of which have recently enjoyed a renaissance after they came out on Blu-Ray. William Friedkin is obviously no slouch, and his scattershot career is something of a sub-genre unto itself of erratic brilliance. Hailed as the directors return to the horror genre The Guardian earned some passionate dismissal from critics and audiences alike upon its release but has since developed a cult following. If David Cronenberg is the leading name in developing the body horror genre then Friedkin was at the precipice to capitalize on the potential “Enviro Shocker” market. Honestly, though, The Guardian feels like cues were taken from Rosemary’s Baby, The Nanny and The Evil Dead. While it strives to attain the same accolades as these films the final product is a fragmented schizoid. At this point in time mainstream horror was edging away from slasher fare and more towards the informal “stranger danger” territory with features such as Pacific Heights, When a Stranger Calls, Fatal Attraction, and Dead Calm. This influence is employed with the supernatural as a Druidian sorceress played by Jenny Seagrove assumes the form of the perfect nanny who seduces an insipid young couple into taking care of their newborn. It just so happens that she has an air of mystery and a history of sacrificing babies to her titular tree god. This outlandish premise admittedly sounds dumb, but if you take the bait The Guardian is bizarre enough to enjoy as a b-movie oddity; despite being a big studio project. Despite the requisite level of earthy horror and gore, the main problem running through the heart of this movie is an identity crisis that severely sabotages any chance of this movie being more than jangled misfire.
A recurring problem for Friedkin at this time was that he kept directing (what felt like) other people’s movies. To Live and Die in L.A. and its high-tech cops and robbers storyline sounds like the best Michael Mann film he never made. Cruising (a film I don’t think anyone should have made) was sought after by Brian DePalma (no surprise there) and was initially a project for Paul Morrissey until Friedkin took over. And The Guardian was tailored as a vehicle for Sam Raimi, which is more than obvious during the finale when Dwier Brown is chainsawing his way through blood gushing tree limbs. Friedkin’s script changes upset production and the imbalance is evident throughout; some scenes work, others do not. The more persuasive psychological moments don’t have the foreground to stand on, nor the follow through to establish any relevance. Therefore, the slingshot into showy special effects and ostentatious bloodletting might be entertaining in the superficial sense, but fails doesn’t reach any new heights or bear the mark of anything highly original. History has shown us that Friedkin can direct a solid horror film; it just needs to be in his hands from the project’s inception. Having said that The Guardian isn’t all that bad; there’s a unique and earthy eeriness throughout, highlighted by steely blue day for night cinematography. The bloody midsection and finale will satiate the thirst of any gorehound and a man-eating tree covered with engravings of babies’ faces is a creepy image as well as being an interesting set-piece.
The pulsating score by Jack Hues feels like a combination of Peter Gabriel’s The Last Temptation of Christ score and Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack for Sorcerer. Here it works quite well. One hallmark of what I look for with a new movie is the desire to be surprised by something I haven’t seen before, while it falls into a few genre pitfalls this film is undeniably unique. The Guardian shows the efforts of an otherwise talented director losing control of what was already a strange conceit. However, this disjointed production bears fruit; creepy imagery and imaginative death scenes can trump the otherwise silly premise. The key to this film is discarding any desire for serious cinema and just reveling in some bizarro horror. This is an unintentionally good/bad movie that fits right in alongside other great oddities from the Scream Factory canon. The picture looks great and (as is the case with troubled productions) the bonus features are fascinating, including interviews with cast, crew and director.