William Friedkin’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, The Friedkin Connection, is unique in its gen­re because he freely admits up front that he’s going to cov­er what he wants to include in the book and will leave the rest on the cut­ting floor. For exam­ple, he doesn’t dis­cuss his mar­riage to Jeanne Moreau or his first post–Cruising film, Deal Of The Century. He also omits The Guardian, a 1990 effort that rep­re­sent­ed his first hor­ror film since The Exorcist. It would be hard to say it works — it’s too weird and dis­joint­ed to be the com­mer­cial effort it wants to be — but it’s an unfor­get­tably weird foot­note in Friedkin’s career.

Guardian-adLoosely adapt­ed from the Dan Greenburg nov­el The Nanny, The Guardian focus­es on Phil (Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell) a young yup­pie cou­ple expect­ing their first child. Their lifestyle demands that Kate keep work­ing so they look for a nan­ny and ulti­mate­ly set­tle on the poised, love­ly Camilla (Jenny Seagrove). Everything seems great but they don’t know that Camilla is the lat­est incar­na­tion of an ancient Druid who reg­u­lar­ly sac­ri­fices infants to a tree-god she wor­ships(!). Camilla starts to bump off any­one who inter­fer­es with her plan as Phil and Kate come to real­ize what they are deal­ing with, set­ting the stage for a bat­tle between par­ents-to-be and ancient mag­ic.

If that sounds strange to you, rest assured that the fin­ished film lives up to its poten­tial for strange­ness. Simply put, The Guardian is the kind of mis­fire that occurs when the wrong film­mak­er is paired with the wrong mate­ri­al. This film was orig­i­nal­ly a project for Sam Raimi, who might have been able to infuse it with the sort of whiz-bang, comic book approach that would have made it tongue-in-cheek fun. Friedkin’s approach is dead­ly seri­ous, pil­ing on art­sy style and seri­ous dra­mat­ics in a po-faced man­ner that only makes its bor­der­line-sil­ly con­cept tip over into ludi­crous camp. By the time it reach­es its finale, which involves a bat­tle with an angry tree and a wood nymph try­ing to steal a baby, you’ll either be in shock or laugh­ing.

However, if you can accept that The Guardian real­ly doesn’t work in its intend­ed way, it’s an intrigu­ing odd­i­ty. Friedkin’s direc­tion gives it an inten­si­ty and vig­or that car­ries it along, even when the sto­ry goes hay­wire. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy by old pro John Alonzo is gor­geous and he and Friedkin man­age some fun set­pieces, the best being a bit where a nosy neigh­bor (Brad Hall) is cor­nered in his sGuardian-01tylish home by super­nat­u­ral­ly-con­trolled wolves. The film also boasts a strong cast: Brown and Lowell do pro­fes­sion­al work in under­writ­ten roles and Seagrove has an allur­ing, mys­te­ri­ous qual­i­ty that almost makes her bizarre char­ac­ter fly. Elsewhere, pros like Miguel Ferrer and Natalija Nogulich pop up in too-brief sup­port­ing roles.

In short, The Guardian isn’t a good William Friedkin film but it’s an inter­est­ing exam­ple of what hap­pens when a dis­tinc­tive artist tries to tread water in a com­mer­cial for­mat. Results from that kind of sit­u­a­tion almost always go awry — and The Guardian spins out in a fas­ci­nat­ing­ly eccen­tric way.