Although Disney's 1970s Witch Mountain films were tremendously popular with preteen girls, they have been largely overlooked in historical scholarship on gender, film, and second-wave feminism. To help extend and shed new light on the history of girls on film during the women's liberation era, this article explores how Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and Return from Witch Mountain (1978) negotiate ideas about youthful female independence, power, and sexuality. Though on the surface these films appear to fit Disney's model of “innocent” entertainment, close analysis reveals patterns common to the era's horror films made for adults—especially preoccupations with, and attempts to control, female sexuality. The specific mode of regulation applied to the preteen heroine depended on her age and maturity level. Thus, kindhearted male characters anxiously try to safeguard ten-year-old Tia (Kim Richard)'s innocent sexuality in Escape, while villainous characters viciously try to terminate it in the sequel. This shift, I argue, is tied to Tia's entrance into adolescence and the attendant horror produced by the intermingling of puberty and supernatural power. The films’ attempts to contain Tia's emerging sexuality speak to diffuse cultural anxieties surrounding female empowerment during the rise of women's liberation; yet, in showcasing girlhood strength and agency, they also offer pleasurable possibilities for youthful female identification. An analysis of the films’ gendered tensions not only illuminates how adult creators envisioned girls in the 1970s, but also suggests how girls growing up at the time might have experienced competing discourses about liberation.
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