There was a time when Walt Disney wasn’t just tween sitcoms, singing kitchenware, and princesses. It was a period from the 1970’s to the 1980’ when Disney didn’t have Marvel or Star Wars for the heavy duty film making, they took it upon themselves to come up with some intense flicks of their own.
THE BLACK HOLE (1979)
A science fiction film almost as dark and brooding as any put out by James Cameron or Paul Anderson, this movie has some punch to it.
We start of with a group of explorer - the crew of the USS Palomino performing routine work on their ship. Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster), First Officer Lieutenant Charlie Pizer (Joseph Bottoms) , journalist Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine), ESP-sensitive scientist Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux), the expedition's civilian leader Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins) and the robot V.I.N.CENT (voiced by Roddy McDowall), make up the crew.
They come upon a vessel that had long thought to be lost, the USS Cygnus.Where they find it is hanging at the edge of a massive black hole. Arriving onboard, the crew meets up with Dr. Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell), who turns out to be charming, arrogant, and somewhat insane.
As the story progresses, we find out a horrific fate has befallen the crew of the ship and that Kate’s father was killed by Dr. Reinhardt. Aided by a devilishly red, evil robot named Maximillian, Reinhardt attempts to kill the crew of the Palomino, and try to breach the secrets of the black hole. Disaster, death, surreal visions of heaven and hell, and travel in another dimension are all part of this Disney sci-fi epic.
Wizard ? Check. Old, flesh-eating dragon ? Check. Lottery to determine sacrifice to dragon ? Check. A Walt Disney movie ? Yep.
Peter MacNicol plays Galen Bradwarden, the young apprentice to sorcerer Ulrich, played by Sir Ralph Richardson. Setting the tone for the movie, a disbelieving soldier, who came to ask for Ulrich’s assistance with a dragon, is given the chance to stab the wizard at Ulrich’s own request. After the wizard dies, the group leaves and their is little hope for the people terrorized by the ancient beast.
This fantasy film wove a tale of sacrifice, sorcery, magically charmed lances, and paganism versus Christianity, all within the movie. The special effects were produced by George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic, and the visuals for the magic wielded in the film and the massive flying dragon are some of the studio's best non-Star Wars work.
Deftly directed by Ron Howard, dark, dreary, and with a hint of romance, it's no surprise this film has a cult following.
THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980)
Starring Bette Davis and David McCallum , this dark tale centers around the disappearance of a young girl . A family consisting of a mom(Helen Curtis), dad (McCallum) and two daughters, move into a manor. The owner of the residence (Davis) finds that one of the daughters, Jan, bears an uncanny resemblance to her daughter, Karen, who disappeared inside a church near the village thirty years prior. Finding a connection to the lost girl through a seance, the daughters seek to find out what happened to the missing girl. When Jan’s sister, Ellie, becomes possessed the final pieces fall together to bring the missing girl back. This twisted tale from the House of Mouse involves dimensional transference, alien abduction, and a girl trapped in a mirror. All scary enough on their own but when done by Disney , it adds a whole new dimension to the home of Goofy and Donald.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983)
Do carnivals scare you ? How about carousels or funhouse mirrors ? Ever have a buddy completely opposite to you, you can’t stand each other sometimes, but you have to have your town together ? This is the heart of his Disney film. Starring Jason Robards as a town librarian and father to one of our young heroes, this was definitely not one for the very young. The villain Mr. Dark, (sounds like a swell guy), sets up a quite extravagant carnival in a matter of minutes, and his freaks and oddities go throughout the town searching for souls to steal. Filled with heavy atmosphere, childhood fears, and a demonic carnival master, this film is not for the little ones.
So, now you know about some of the live action movies that Disney produced and how bright, shiny, and funny was not always the norm for them, and that Miley Cyrus was not always the darkness hiding out at Disneyland.