Thursday, August 12, 2010


In the comments a while back, someone asked me if I was going to cover The Cat From Outer Space here; and you know - I might. As a kid in the Seventies, I saw a lot of Disney films.

Often in the summer, on nights that my dad worked the dusk-til-dawn shift at the mill, my mom would pack my sister and I, along with a paper grocery bag filled with home-popped (in oil) popcorn, into the car and take us to the Augusta Drive-In (which wasn't actually in Augusta, but Manchester) to Disney double-features. These were almost always comprised of an animated re-release backed by one of their live-action comedies or adventures. My younger sister would invariably fall asleep shortly after the second movie began, but I was a film buff even then, and I never did (much to my mom's frustration, I'm sure). Among the many flicks I made myself stay awake to watch on those late summer evenings were most of the Love Bugs, Island At The Top of the World, The Incredible Journey, The Shaggy D.A., 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea... and the original Witch Mountain movies.

They may not have been as exciting as the other sci-fi stuff I loved from television, like Star Trek and Space: 1999... but they were sci-fi, so I wanted to see them. And if they were short on laser battles, at least there was a flying saucer. For a few seconds.

When Disney released Race To Witch Mountain (which I actually rather enjoyed) to theaters last year the studio found itself required to re-release the Seventies Witch Mountain films on DVD as part of their (very blandly packaged) "Walt Disney Family Classics" line.

If you never saw these perennial Disney favorites before, here’s the basics: two blond pre-teen orphans with mysterious mental abilities (including telepathy and telekinesis) - Tony (Ike Eisenmann, who also starred in the 70s sci-fi series The Fantastic Journey with Roddy mcDowell) and Tia (Kim Richards, Tuff Turf) - search for the truth about their origins while trying to elude various Terran criminals intent on exploiting the kids’ psionic powers.

In the first film, Escape To Witch Mountain (1975), millionaire Ray Milland (Sire Uri in the Battlestar Galactica pilot) is after the kids, while in the second, 1978's Return From Witch Mountain, Christopher Lee and Bette Davis have their greedy hearts set on controlling Tony’s TK talents.

As directed by journeyman John Hough, both films feature primitive special effects and a certain flat, TV look, yet the stories and characters are still quite engaging, both for nostalgic adults and young children. A few years ago, I loaned the movies to my young niece and nephew, and, despite being raised on today’s flashy CGI-heavy fantasy flicks and video games, they loved the movies, watching them so many times my sister begged me to take the discs back.

Both films have been released on DVD before, first in bonus-laden special editions back in the dawn of the DVD era, and then as a bare-bones double feature disc in 2006. These new releases include all the extras from the original release, plus all new pop-up trivia subtitles. Both films are presented in their original 1.75:1 theatrical aspect ratios and are anamorphic. Both films include commentary tracks, behind the scenes featurettes, music video montages, and other Disney-styled features. Of special interest to readers of this blog is a video montage of "Disney Sci-Fi."

My favorite extra is on the Return disc, an interview with Christopher Lee promoting the film in Italy, where we see the veteran screen heavy demonstrating his mastery of Italian! It’s a great bit, once again confirming just how friggin' cool Lee is.

If you haven’t got these wonderful family adventure flicks already, you certainly should. They're hokey, but that's part of the charm - at least if you saw them as a kid. If you don't have that nostalgic affection for them, you may find it tough going. But when I'm in the right mood, they're fun to re-visit.


  1. I too am a chld of the seventies! I love the old Disney movies like the ones you mentioned, the Love Bug series was a favorite! I have tried to get my two boys to watch them but...they think that they are boring. I am hoping when they get a little older, I can try again. Those were kid-friendly, fun, movies to watch.

  2. This just reminded me of the huge crush I had on Kim Richards when we were kids back then! (check out the old TV series "Hello Larry" and you'll see what I mean!).

    I still love the first movie, but unfortunately the sequel doesn't really stand up with time.

  3. I also saw the original Escape to Witch Mountain (as well as Logan's Run) at a drive-in. I guess my Gen-X childhood wasn't so unique after all.

    The Drive-In was by far the most magical place for kids to see movies in the 70s, aside from the tinny sound and the mosquitoes (prior to broadcasting the soundtrack over AM).

  4. Yes, let me say that I too saw Escape to Witch Mountain at the drive in. Possibly on a double bill with The Boatnicks, or Candleshoe. I don't have the Witch Mountain films on DVD but they are on my to-buy list.

  5. I LOVE these movies!! Did you know there was a third that was never released on tape/DVD? I haven't seen it, sadly, but I'm really curious.
    Have you seen the remake, Race to Witch Mountain?
    And have you seen Christopher Lee in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings?

  6. remake with the rock sucks they missed it up the orignal was the best

  7. I also saw Escape to witch mountain as a child in the 70s. I remember that day clearly, it was at a theater in panorama city, ca. I thiught it was the most amazing movie I ever saw. I wanted to be Tony Malone,so I can have special powers.

  8. ESCAPE ranks among the very best child-empowerment motion pictures of all time and it's also a pretty decent, entertaining and (mildly) provocative family adventure, however RETURN and RACE were literally both rather atrocious compared to the charm, innocence and sensitivity of the first picture. On a side note, I feel rather sad about what has become of Kim Richards (with that whole ridiculous Beverly Hills Wives reality TV thing she & her sister Kyle are on.) I myself succumbed rather early in life to alcohol and amphetamines and continue to imbibe to this very day, but poor Kim, who really was so adorable as a little girl (and even as a young woman, i.e. TUFF TURF, anybody?!?) but she seems to have literally `lost all her marbles, as well as common sense and sense of decency and self-respect.) But, alas, I digress>