The Guardian (1990)

R | 93 mins | Horror | 27 April 1990

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HISTORY

The film opens with the following title card: “For thousands of years a religious order known as the druids worshipped trees, sometimes even sacrificing human beings to them. To these worshippers, every tree has its guardian spirit. Most are aligned with goodness and life, but some embody powers of darkness and evil.” The opening scene is followed by a transitional card—“Three months later”—that introduces the main story.
       End credits give “Special Thanks” to the following: “Six Flags Magic Mountain and Mary McLoughlin; The Newhall Land and Farming Company and Louis Rios; Inspector John Tabak; Captain R. E. Cantrel and the men at Camp 12; County of Los Angeles Fire Department.”
       On 23 Jun 2015, screenwriter Stephen Volk told AFI Catalog that the original director was Sam Raimi, who left the film early to direct his own project, Darkman (1990, see entry).
       Though The Guardian is credited with being “based on” the 1987 book The Nanny by Dan Greenburg, the film and novel are very different. In the novel, the protagonists were Phil and Julie Pressman, the nanny was Luci Redman, and the story took place in New York City. Luci was a vampire-like creature that needed physical love, but she was not a druid and there was no evil tree. In the movie script, the characters became Phil and Kate Sterling and Camilla Grandier, and the location was changed to Los Angeles. According to Stephen Volk, “When I was working with Sam Raimi [on the adaptation], we designed the movie very much as an Omen -esque horror film with set-pieces bordering on parody. Sam is a very funny, ... More Less

The film opens with the following title card: “For thousands of years a religious order known as the druids worshipped trees, sometimes even sacrificing human beings to them. To these worshippers, every tree has its guardian spirit. Most are aligned with goodness and life, but some embody powers of darkness and evil.” The opening scene is followed by a transitional card—“Three months later”—that introduces the main story.
       End credits give “Special Thanks” to the following: “Six Flags Magic Mountain and Mary McLoughlin; The Newhall Land and Farming Company and Louis Rios; Inspector John Tabak; Captain R. E. Cantrel and the men at Camp 12; County of Los Angeles Fire Department.”
       On 23 Jun 2015, screenwriter Stephen Volk told AFI Catalog that the original director was Sam Raimi, who left the film early to direct his own project, Darkman (1990, see entry).
       Though The Guardian is credited with being “based on” the 1987 book The Nanny by Dan Greenburg, the film and novel are very different. In the novel, the protagonists were Phil and Julie Pressman, the nanny was Luci Redman, and the story took place in New York City. Luci was a vampire-like creature that needed physical love, but she was not a druid and there was no evil tree. In the movie script, the characters became Phil and Kate Sterling and Camilla Grandier, and the location was changed to Los Angeles. According to Stephen Volk, “When I was working with Sam Raimi [on the adaptation], we designed the movie very much as an Omen -esque horror film with set-pieces bordering on parody. Sam is a very funny, comedic-minded guy, but Mr. Friedkin is not known for humor in his films, so when [William Friedkin] came on board, I was faced with collaborating with Bill on a page-one rewrite. Everything was up in the air, including who the nanny was and why she did what she did. Both [Raimi and Friedkin] found the back story in the book pretty inadequate. In the Raimi version, my first draft adaptation, she was the incarnation of the biblical Lilith, Adam’s first wife, mythologically a witch and child-stealer. Friedkin preferred that she represented the dark side of hippy/pagan culture and was inspired by the gnarled trees we saw from our office window in Westwood, LA.” The Hebrew term lilith translates as “night hag” or “screech owl,” according to various sources.
       Architect “Ned Runcie” referred to his residential street near the Sterlings’ house as both “Saltair” and “Astral.” In the real Los Angeles, Saltair Avenue is in the Brentwood neighborhood, whereas Astral Drive is in the Hollywood Hills, several miles east of Brentwood. The film was actually shot in Valencia, CA, northwest of Los Angeles, actress Jenny Seagrove told the 24 Jul 1989 DV.
       In early 1989, when various publications, including the 5 Feb 1989 LAT, announced producer Joe Wizan’s new project, The Nanny, they erroneously referred to it as a remake of the 1965 Bette Davis film of the same title (see entry). Within a couple of months, the 21 May 1989 LAT noted that the film had been briefly retitled Carmilla, with an “r,” but by the time principal photography began 19 Jun 1989, the working title was The Guardian, according to the 28 Jul 1989 DV.
       For a scene in which Kate Sterling delivers her baby, the production hired cameraman Louis Schwartzberg to film an actual birth at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, CA, the 22 Sep 1989 Back Stage reported. The actors were filmed later on a set duplicating the delivery room.
       Seven months into the production, William Friedkin fired the special effects team that built the original hydraulic tree and shut down the set for three weeks while a replacement crew “built a new tree from scratch,” he told the 19 Nov 1989 LAT. Friedkin promised he would still finish the film within its $10 million budget.”
       According to an American Humane Society review of the film’s handling of animals, a society representative was present during the training and filming of several wolves. During a wolf pack attack, the wolves were “really playing a game with their trainer, who was a photo double for [Brad Hall]. In another scene where wolves feast on a body, “it was really a mannequin that had been stuffed with meat from a supermarket. The wolves never connected with it being a person and had great fun finding the stuffing.” Sounds of the wolves “growling, snarling, howling, etc., were added in post-production.”
       The film premiered as the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival’s opening night selection on 19 Apr 1990, the 23 Apr 1990 HR and 25 Apr 1990 Var reported. Reviews were generally unfavorable. Nonetheless, the film grossed over $5.6 million during its first three days of release, according to a studio advertisement in the 3 May 1990 HR.
       The 28 May 1994 Globe and Mail of Toronto, Canada, noted that Universal Pictures released The Guardian to television networks in a “completely restructured” form. Friedkin’s name was removed and replaced by the common Hollywood alias, Alan Smithee.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Back Stage
22 Sep 1989.
---
Daily Variety
24 Jul 1989
p. 2
Daily Variety
28 Jul 1989
p. 14
Globe and Mail (Toronto)
28 May 1994
p. 11
Hollywood Reporter
23 Apr 1990
p. 4, 24
Hollywood Reporter
3 May 1990.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Feb 1989
Calendar, p. 31
Los Angeles Times
21 May 1989
Calendar, p. 30
Los Angeles Times
19 Nov 1989
Calendar, p. 20
Los Angeles Times
27 Apr 1990
Section F, p. 4
New York Times
27 Apr 1990
p. 12
Publishers Weekly
14 Aug 1987.
---
Variety
25 Apr 1990
p. 29
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Joe Wizan Production
A William Friedkin Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Co-prod
Co-prod
Co-prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Gaffer
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept coord
Storyboards
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Sculptor
Set dec
Lead person
Lead person
Swing gang
Swing gang
Const coord
Const foreman
Standby painter
Asst props
Asst sculptor
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Costumer
MUSIC
Mus
Mus mixer
Piano backgrounds
SOUND
Sd eff
Supv re-rec mixer
Eff mixer
Sd mixer
Spec sd eff
Sd eff rec
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
ADR ed
2d ADR ed
Sd eff asst
Sd eff asst
Sd eff asst
Foley
Foley
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Title & opt des
Titles & opt eff
MAKEUP
Spec make-up eff
Key make-up
Make-up artist
Key hair stylist
Asst spec make-up eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Loc mgr
Addl casting
Asst loc mgr
Scr supv
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Prod coord
Prod secy
Asst to Mr. Wizan
Asst to Mr. Friedkin
Studio teacher
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Animal trainer
Animal trainer
Animal trainer
Animal trainer
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Nanny by Dan Greenburg (New York, 1987).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Palau," music by Not Drowning, Waving, lyrics by David Bridie, performed by Not Drowning, Waving, courtesy of Mighty Boy Records
"While The City Sleeps," written and performed by Roger Eno, courtesy of Opal Records
"Wide Open Road," written by David McComb, performed by The Triffids, courtesy of Rough Trade Records
+
SONGS
"Palau," music by Not Drowning, Waving, lyrics by David Bridie, performed by Not Drowning, Waving, courtesy of Mighty Boy Records
"While The City Sleeps," written and performed by Roger Eno, courtesy of Opal Records
"Wide Open Road," written by David McComb, performed by The Triffids, courtesy of Rough Trade Records
"Waltz For Debby," written by Bill Evans and Gene Lees, performed by Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, courtesy of Fantasy, Inc.
"Incidental Groove," written, performed, and produced by Joseph A. White, Stephen Sea, and Roy Blumenfeld."
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Nanny
Carmilla
Release Date:
27 April 1990
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 19 April 1990
Los Angeles and New York openings: 27 April 1990
Production Date:
began 19 June 1989
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
10 August 1990
Copyright Number:
PA479398
Physical Properties:
Sound
Spectral Recording® Dolby Stereo SR™ in selected theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed with Panavision® Cameras & Lenses
Duration(in mins):
93
Length(in feet):
8,360
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30115
SYNOPSIS

An owl sits on a tree limb outside the Los Angeles, California, house of Allan and Molly Sheridan, who have hired a nanny, Diana Julian, to look after their son, Scotty, and infant daughter, Leah. Diana Julian gives Scotty a Hansel and Gretel children’s book with a cardboard pop-up tree inside. When the parents leave the house, Diana takes Leah into a nearby forest and offers her as a sacrifice to a strange, gnarled tree. The infant disappears and reappears as a carved figure in the bark. Three months later, illustrator Phil Sterling and his pregnant wife, Kate, move to Los Angeles where he gets a job with the Krasno/Lee advertising agency. Phil and Kate rent a modernist house in a hilly, wooded neighborhood. Kate, an interior decorator, recognizes the house from its appearance in Architectural Digest magazine, and is impressed when Ned Runcie, the architect who lives nearby, visits to repair a few things. When Kate has a baby boy, Jake, she calls Guardian Angels, a “childcare agency,” and interviews several nannies. Phil likes Camilla Grandier, a young British woman who believes in the importance of breast feeding, especially during the first four weeks of an infant’s life, before its blood cells change. On the other hand, Kate prefers Arlene Russell, an African American night student at a nearby college. However, when Arlene is killed in a bicycle accident, Camilla gets the job. She arrives at the house with three stuffed animals for Jake, including an owl. At night, Phil Sterling sees the shadow of a tree above his head, along with the shadow of a ... +


An owl sits on a tree limb outside the Los Angeles, California, house of Allan and Molly Sheridan, who have hired a nanny, Diana Julian, to look after their son, Scotty, and infant daughter, Leah. Diana Julian gives Scotty a Hansel and Gretel children’s book with a cardboard pop-up tree inside. When the parents leave the house, Diana takes Leah into a nearby forest and offers her as a sacrifice to a strange, gnarled tree. The infant disappears and reappears as a carved figure in the bark. Three months later, illustrator Phil Sterling and his pregnant wife, Kate, move to Los Angeles where he gets a job with the Krasno/Lee advertising agency. Phil and Kate rent a modernist house in a hilly, wooded neighborhood. Kate, an interior decorator, recognizes the house from its appearance in Architectural Digest magazine, and is impressed when Ned Runcie, the architect who lives nearby, visits to repair a few things. When Kate has a baby boy, Jake, she calls Guardian Angels, a “childcare agency,” and interviews several nannies. Phil likes Camilla Grandier, a young British woman who believes in the importance of breast feeding, especially during the first four weeks of an infant’s life, before its blood cells change. On the other hand, Kate prefers Arlene Russell, an African American night student at a nearby college. However, when Arlene is killed in a bicycle accident, Camilla gets the job. She arrives at the house with three stuffed animals for Jake, including an owl. At night, Phil Sterling sees the shadow of a tree above his head, along with the shadow of a woman’s head. Later, as he sketches storyboards for an advertising campaign, a small earthquake rattles the house. Checking the nursery, Phil finds Camilla nude in the bathtub, playing with Jake. Camilla does not try to hide her nakedness. Phil returns to his drawing board and dozes off. Waking, he sees a children’s book called Hansel and Gretel, and when it opens, a tree pops up. Suddenly, Phil sees a real tree in the room, with an owl sitting on a bare, twisted limb and Jake lying beneath, crying, under the protection of a bear-like animal. As Phil runs to rescue Jake, he awakens from his dream. Later, Camilla lies with Jake on a blanket in the forest. Three young hoodlums surround her. One steals her purse, and as another pulls a knife, Camilla grabs the baby and runs. She takes refuge inside the gnarled tree, but one of the thugs pulls her out, cuts her stomach with his knife, and prepares to rape her. The tree lashes out and kills all three punks with its limbs and roots. Later, Camilla cooks and serves a dinner party Phil and Kate host for ad agency owner Gail Krasno, her assistant Ralph Hess, and Ned Runcie. Afterward, Camilla goes to her room to tend to her stomach wound, which has developed a scab that looks like wood. Hearing Camilla moan, Ned knocks, opens the door, and asks if anything is wrong. She assures him she is fine. That night, Phil sees the same shadows on the ceiling over his bed. He again falls asleep, and wakes up feeling hands on his body. He makes love to Kate, but when he opens his eyes, Camilla’s ecstatic face hovers above him. He jerks awake and finds Kate sleeping peacefully. Elsewhere, Camilla rocks Jake in her arms and assures him that in a few days his blood will be pure. Later, Camilla tells Kate she is going for a walk. After she leaves, Ned arrives looking for her, and Kate sends him in Camilla’s direction. Ned calls the nanny’s name, but Camilla ignores him. He continues into the forest, where he sees Camilla nude in the branches of a barren tree. When Camilla turns into wood, Ned flees through the forest, but wolves follow him home. His telephone call to 911 leads nowhere, because the emergency operator thinks Ned is seeing coyotes, a common sight in the hills, instead of wolves. Ned telephones Phil and leaves a message, warning him not to let Camilla back into his house. When he hangs up, he sees Camilla, nude. She tells him he should not have followed her. Ned seeks safety in his basement, but wolves kill him. Phil arrives home and sees two messages on his answering machine. The first is from Molly Sheridan, who got his telephone number from Guardian Angels. She gives her telephone number and claims she must speak to him. The second message is from Ned, but when Camilla calls out to Phil from upstairs, he turns it off after a few words. Camilla informs Phil that Jake is sick, and he tells her to telephone Dr. Klein in the morning. The following day, Phil drives to Molly Sheridan’s house. She explains that Diana Julian was her baby Leah’s nanny, but after several weeks Diana and Leah disappeared. Diana’s Guardian Angels references turned out to be bogus. A private detective unearthed the nanny agency’s client list, which is how she found Phil. Molly describes Diana, but other than her youth and British accent, she does not fully match Camilla. When Phil sees a copy of Hansel and Gretel, Molly informs him that Diana gave it to Scotty. Molly asks Phil to set up a situation where she can see Camilla without being seen, because she does not want to tip her off. When Phil returns home, Camilla and Jake are gone. He returns to the answering machine, hears Ned’s message, and hurries to Ned’s house. The doors are open and the telephone is off the hook, but Phil does not go into the basement. Returning home, he finds Camilla with Jake and shouts at her. He is angry that she did not take Jake to Dr. Klein’s. After playing back Ned’s message for both Camilla and Kate, he orders the nanny to leave the house, because nobody at Guardian Angels knows who she is. Suddenly, Jake becomes motionless and will not awaken. Phil and Kate rush him to Dr. Klein, who gives the infant a few tests and keeps him in the hospital for observation. Phil and Kate go to the baby’s hospital room and find Camilla there. They grab Jake, run to Phil’s car, and drive away. Arriving home, they are divided by a pack of wolves. Kate runs into the house, while Phil, holding Jake, escapes into the woods. Kate evades several wolves, gets into the family four-wheel-drive Jeep, and searches for Phil. He runs through a stream and into a forest, as Camilla floats in the air behind him. At the gnarled tree, Camilla tries to take Jake from Phil, but Kate runs her down with the Jeep and rescues her husband and child. At the police station, a detective disbelieves their story, especially Phil’s insistence that Camilla floated in the air. The officer searched the woods behind the house, saw a tree with “carvings” in it, and did not find Camilla’s body. Returning home, Phil gets a chainsaw and walks into the woods. Camilla arrives at the house, naked and dark, with bark growing on her skin, demanding the baby from Kate before its blood changes. Phil saws the thick roots and limbs of the tree, as it tries to fend him off. Kate fights with Camilla. As Phil’s chainsaw hacks away pieces of the tree, Camilla feels the pain. Blood gushes from the tree bark. As the tree falls, Kate pushes Camilla through a window, and the nanny combusts in a ball of flame. Phil returns home and embraces Kate and the baby. Outside, an owl sits on the limb of a tree. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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