US Release Date: 03-10-1978
Directed by: John Hough
- Bette Davis, as
- Christopher Lee, as
- Kim Richards, as
- Ike Eisenmann, as
- Jack Soo, as
- Mr. Yokomoto
- Anthony James, as
- Richard Bakalyan, as
- Christian Juttner, as
- Brad Savage, as
- Poindexter Yothers, as
- Jeffrey Jacquet, as
- Denver Pyle as
- Uncle Bene
Christopher Lee, Ike Eisenmann and Bette Davis in Return from Witch Mountain.
After the success of Walt Disney’s Escape to Witch Mountain it was no surprise that a sequel would soon be in the works. It would, however, be three years before Return from Witch Mountain brought the mysterious alien siblings Tia and Tony back to the big screen. As a kid I enjoyed this movie quite a bit but like most movies from childhood it doesn’t live up to my memories of it.
In the opening shot a flying saucer lands on the fifty yard line of the Rose Bowl. It is just Tony and Tia being dropped off by their Uncle Bene (Denver Pyle) for some fun and human culture. They get in a cab with a crabby driver but on the way to their hotel they inadvertently get involved in an adventure.
They cross paths with Christopher Lee and Bette Davis. He is a mad scientist hell bent on world domination and she is a greedy old dowager helping to finance his experiments. He has created a mind control device (an idea straight out of Gilligan’s Island) that he uses to kidnap Tony after witnessing his amazing telepathic abilities. Tia, meanwhile, meets a gang of baby-faced juvenile delinquents being chased by a truant officer (Jack Soo) and together they go in pursuit of her brother.
Both Davis and Lee are slumming it big time. In an interview Davis said she took this part for her grandkids, and also, presumably, for the paycheck as she is top billed. Both she and Lee ham it up every step of the way and in the process manage to add some fun to the otherwise weak script. By this point in her long career she was nearly a caricature of herself. Giving lines like, “I’ve lost all faith in science” her distinctive clipped and carefully enunciated but slightly hoarse reading.
The special effects are laughably primitive by today’s standards. In fact everything about this movie seems quaint and old-fashioned more than thirty years later. This is classic Disney family fare from an earlier era, flawed but still a fun ride.
Bette Davis and Christopher Lee in Return from Witch Mountain
Return from Witch Mountain is by no vague stretch of the imagination, “classic Disney family fare." This is a cheese fest from start to finish. It begins with special effects that were bad in 1978. Remember, Star Wars came out the year before. There is no excuse for these pathetic visuals.
The script is horribly weak. Why does Lee not put a control device on Tia as well when they abduct her? The climax in the nuclear reactor is laughably juvenile. They levitate guards and run about the building as if in an episode of Scooby Doo. The dramatic close ups of Tia and Tony each trying to change the reactor cores temperature are dramatically weak.
At least the dialogue is laughably stupid. When Tia shows up, Davis tells Lee, “It’s his sister. She’s as weird as he is.” My absolute favorite line is when Tia is captured and knocked out, or as Lee proudly states, “I put her in a state of comatose neutralization.”
Whereas the first film was not so dated, this one is obviously so. From the television cop show music to Tia’s gaudy red pantsuit and the bad guy’s bell bottom pants, this show screams late 1970s. My twenty year old watched a few moments of this with me and asked simply, “Why was everyone so ugly in the 70s?”
The best part of the first film was the likability of the brother sister team. Here they have very few scenes together. Ike Eisenmann has barely any dialogue as he spends almost the entire film merely staring, while doing Lee’s and Davis’s bidding.
Speaking of those two old hams, had they played their parts up a bit more this could have possibly become some horrendously campy children’s classic. As it is, it is just a very stale idea quickly thrown together in hopes of capitalizing on the recently re-invigorated science fiction craze.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney Productions (1978)