Review: Escape to Witch Mountain
Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards, now a reality TV train-wreck) are two orphans placed in a new boarding school after the death of their parents. However, Tony and Tia aren’t like other children and don’t remember much of their past at all. In fact, they have special powers including the ability to read each other’s minds and telekinesis. They try to keep their powers a secret, but one of the kids gets a vision of impending doom for chauffeur Lucas Derenian (Donald Pleasance) and warns him just in time to avoid a fatal accident. Derenian is most intrigued by the children and takes his discovery to employer/millionaire Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland). The duo conspire to bring the children to Bolt, who plans on using the children’s powers for his own unscrupulous advantage. When the kids find out about this, they attempt an escape. Meanwhile, they also have blurry visions of a shipwreck, an old man (Denver Pyle), and a mysterious place called Witch Mountain, connections to their past that they slowly piece together. Eddie Albert turns up as a cranky RV-driving old widower the kids encounter, whilst Lawrence Montaigne (the ‘other’ Canadian from “The Great Escape”) can briefly be seen as essentially another henchman.
Ugly-looking but enjoyable 1975 live-action Disney flick from director John Hough (“Twins of Evil”, “The Legend of Hell House”, “Brass Target”) and screenwriter Robert Malcolm Young (a TV veteran). Based on a novel by Alexander Key, which I haven’t read, the thing that sprung to my mind watching this was that it plays like a kids version of Brian De Palma’s “The Fury”. The plot, and how it slowly reveals itself is really quite irresistible. It’s actually a pretty creepy film, too, if not exactly V.C. Andrews-levels of creepiness. It’s certainly stranger and creepier than the average Disney live-action film for this period. Sure, the ESP between the two kids gets annoying after five minutes, and both the direction by Hough and murky cinematography by Frank Phillips (Disney’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, “The Black Hole”, and “Return From Witch Mountain”) keep it from being a classic. That much is true enough. However, it’s one of the more interesting and unique Disney live-action family flicks from a plot perspective, and I found it a pleasant surprise.
Donald Pleasence is typically excellent in a duplicitous henchman role, and even Ray Milland gives one of his less tedious ‘cranky old man’ roles. It’s not so much that he got worse as an actor in his old age, just less interesting perhaps. I do wish this film focussed a little more on just what his interest in the two orphans was really all about. It’s the one part of the otherwise fascinatingly wacky plot that is a tad lacking for me. Still, you’ve seen him give a lot worse performances than this, in much worse films. Speaking of cranky old men, Eddie Albert probably fares best playing a cranky old man the two kids meet, who proves to be a softy at heart. It’s a bit unfortunate that Denver Pyle only appears fleetingly in this, and mostly in flashbacks. Uncle Jesse deserved better if you ask me (No, not that Uncle Jesse. The other one).
Although the direction (Hough is a ‘journeyman’ to be charitable), FX and photography aren’t much chop, I really enjoyed this and wish I had caught up with it much sooner. It’s weird, interesting, and fairly unique for a kids film. I did think it was weird, though, that the title location is only brought up after more than an hour. That was a bit odd.