A handsome young couple finds the perfect live-in babysitter to look after their newborn child. It seems like a fairy tale, until ancient, supernatural forces turn the couple's dream into a nightmare. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
William Friedkin enjoyed a minor critical renaissance in the late 2000s/early 2010s with movies like Bug (2006) and Killer Joe (2011) and renewed public interest in his career has sparked curiosity concerning some of his, shall we say, less successful projects. His first major early box office flop, The Sorcerer (1977), and his one-time Razzie nominee, Cruising (1980), have both been very positively re-evaluated, bringing them in-line with The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973) according to some fans, so why not take a look at his supposed objective failures with new eyes? This brings us to The Guardian (1990), Friedkin’s return to the horror genre 17 years after the release of The Exorcist. Unfortunately, what was designed as a triumphant rebound from obscurity floundered through a very difficult production process. No stranger to controversy or cursed productions, Friedkin was brought onto the film after Sam Raimi dropped out to make Darkman (1990) and he immediately began making drastic changes. If you’re thinking “Wait, Sam Raimi and William Friedkin have very different creative instincts and personalities,” you’d be correct. Apparently, what was originally intended to be a slightly satirical adaptation of noted humorist Dan Greenburg’s novel The Nanny (pub. 1987), was awkwardly bent and twisted into a typically Friedkin-esque psycho-drama. Herein lies the film’s biggest issue – Greenburg’s story is silly and probably would’ve worked better in the context of a movie that acknowledged its silliness.
In an effort to (apparently?) overcome the absurdity, Friedkin and co-screenwriter Stephen Volk (who may not be to blame, because he had been on the film since the Raimi days) awkwardly try to inject a sense of everyday realism. They emphasize the matter-of-fact doldrums of raising children and working paycheck-to-paycheck jobs with bumbling expositional dialogue and boring non-events that accidentally highlight the goofiness of the ‘evil nanny in the employ of a killer tree’ part of the story. For example, one scene exists exclusively so that the protagonist couple, played by Jenny Seagrove and Dwier Brown, can complain that they’re both working too hard to keep the house and need a nanny to watch the kids. There’s no emotion behind the discussion, which is strange enough, but then the scene ends with the camera zooming into a phonebook ad for a nanny service and, instead of that being the end of it, Seagrove reads the contents of the ad aloud before Friedkin finally cuts. In terms of technical direction, Friedkin’s wilder sensibilities crop up every once in a while in the form of dreamy slow motion, foggy sets, and fisheye camera angles, but he’s also clearly holding himself back in favor of a music video meets daytime soap opera aesthetic. The whole thing is so off-putting, detached, and bizarre that it’s almost interesting. Genre differences aside, it’s kind of like The Phantom Menace (1999). Both films are driven by stiff performances, stilted dialogue, and boilerplate story beats that dull their impact, yet these problems clearly aren’t the results of lazy filmmaking. Ultimately, there is a sort of confusing beauty to all this nonsense and the balls-to-the-wall climax is worth the price of admission, but it’s so Raimi-esque that one can’t help but wonder how much better it might’ve been with Sammy at the helm.
Despite the developing cult of interest behind the film, The Guardian never had an official DVD release in North America. And, though there were anamorphic versions available in the UK, Germany, and Australia, no one from any territory released a Blu-ray until now. I assume that Scream Factory’s 1080p transfer was taken from a new scan altogether, because it is presented in the OAR of 1.85:1, instead of 1.78:1, like the old DVDs (I also can’t verify if it aired on television in HD). That said, this is a pretty disappointing transfer. Grain levels can be thick and noisy, contrast levels are over-cranked, and there are cases of notable print damage (including some chemical stains and flecks of white). The damage is negligible, I suppose, but the noisy grain creates issues in color consistency (otherwise, vibrancy is an upgrade over DVD versions). The heavy contrast/gamma balance is the biggest hurdle here, though, and probably the most easily avoided. Despite occasionally tightening textures, the super black shadows are crushed so hard that loads of detail go missing and the highlights are brightened to the point of blooming. It’s genuinely impossible to discern anything during some of the nighttime sequences and fiddling with the TV’s brightness settings didn’t help. I suppose it’s possible that this is what Friedkin wanted the movie to look like – this is the guy that chose to darken and overcool The French Connection for its Blu-ray debut, after all.
The original stereo-surround soundtrack has been preserved in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. This is a particularly strong track for Scream Factory, specifically when it comes to the clarity and punch of Jack Hues’ progressive keyboard and symphonic score. The surrealistic dream and horror sequences exhibit wonderful depth and clarity, even at high volume levels. Though clean, dialogue tracks and some of the incidental sound effects are ‘off’ or at least disjointed, like an alternate language dub track. It’s possible that there was some kind of issue during the production of this Blu-ray, but the slightly echoey quality sort of works with the movie’s dopey, detached feel.
A Happy Coincidence (22:00, HD) – During this brand new interview, actor Dwier Brown pleasantly rambles about Friedkin’s best and worst habits, the technical aspects of the special effects scenes, and admits that he didn’t really like the script.
From Strasburg To The Guardian (10:10, HD) – Another new actor interview, this time with Gary Swanson (who only appears in the prologue). He excitedly recalls his work with Friedkin, his early part in Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad, and working on his first big Hollywood film.
A Mother's Journey (11:30, HD) – The last of the new cast interviews features actress Natalija Nogulich (another prologue-only cast member), who’s stories about meeting Friedkin are oddly similar to Swanson’s and Brown’s (she also mostly worked in theater).
Scoring The Guardian (6:40, HD) – Composer Jack Hues discusses his score in yet another new interview.
Tree Woman: The Effects of The Guardian (13:10, HD) Makeup effects artist Matthew Mungle talks about his work on the film in the last of the Scream Factory exclusive extras.
Return To The Genre (17:30, SD) – This interview with Friedkin was taken from Second Sight’s UK DVD. He dismisses the early script, says he never read the book, recalls personal experiences with nannies, casting, and various production difficulties. Unfortunately, it seems that Scream wasn’t able to get the rights to Friedkin's commentary that appeared on the Australian and German discs.
The Nanny (13:20, SD) – Another Second Sight interview and another stage-to-film story with actress Jenny Seagrove. She’s the first cast member to really talk about the continuously changing script.
Don't Go Into The Woods (21:00, SD) – Co-writer Stephen Volk finishes up the Second Sight interviews with a lengthy chat about his career and The Guardian’s problematic screenplay. He’s the only interviewee that talks about Sam Raimi’s contributions.
The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.