NEW YORK — I DON'T spend a lot of time watching horror movies, much less reviewing them. But the things don't seem to go away - there's always a new crop, a new style, a new trend - and you can't just ignore things that don't go away. Supernatural thrillers have a long and sometimes distinguished history, too. Pictures like the original ``Dracula'' and ``Frankenstein'' are genuine classics, and there's always the chance that somebody will come along and revitalize the horror scene, making it important again - the way George A. Romero almost did with ``Night of the Living Dead'' back in the '60s.
Still, I must admit I rarely see a horror film with much to recommend it. There's certainly little to praise in ``The Guardian,'' which relies so heavily on clich'es that you feel more deja-vu'd than scared.
The main character is - well, a babysitter; only ``guardian'' makes a classier title. She's not an ordinary babysitter, though. She's a leftover Druid from ancient time, and instead of caring for children, she sacrifices them to a tree-god out in the woods. This gives her eternal life, as long as she can keep up the payments - I mean sacrifices - and she says it gives the babies eternal life, too. But somehow this doesn't impress the parents she works for, and most of the movie is about a rip-snorting battle between her and her latest employers, a very worried mom and dad.
``The Guardian'' was directed by William Friedkin, who used to be an interesting filmmaker. He started his career with such noteworthy pictures as ``The Birthday Party,'' from a Harold Pinter play, and ``The French Connection,'' a rather crude but hugely popular drama that strongly connected with early-'70s audiences.
He went on to make epics like ``Sorcerer,'' badly underrated, and ``The Exorcist,'' badly overrated but definitely one of the grandaddies of today's horror movies. It was a gigantic hit in 1973, and ever since Mr. Friedkin has been trying different genres in his attempt to make another smash just as big - with results like ``The Brink's Job'' and ``Deal of the Century,'' which seemed to impress hardly anyone, and ``To Live and Die in L.A.,'' which some critics liked better than I did.
In his new movie he tries to re-create ``The Exorcist'' on its own horror-movie turf. But as bad as ``The Exorcist'' was, in my opinion, ``The Guardian'' is even worse. The plot is crazy; the characters are ordinary, except the guardian herself, who simply doesn't make sense; and the violence is unbelievable - really unbelievable, as well as unbelievably stupid. I enjoyed seeing Jenny Seagrove again (she was the mermaid in ``Local Hero'' a few years ago) but I wish it could have been in better circumstances. ``The Guardian'' is a dud.