Watchers (1988) / Horror-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for gore, violence, and language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Corey Haim, Michael Ironside, Barbara Williams, Dale Wilson, Lala Sloatman, Jason Priestley (cameo)
Director: Jon Hess
Screenplay: Bill Freed, Damian Lee (based on the novel by Dean R. Koontz)
Review published October 19, 2006
Based somewhat loosely on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, Watchers tells the story of a teenage boy (Haim, The Lost Boys) who takes in a stray Golden Retriever only to discover the dog has the intelligence of a human. It turns out that the dog has escaped a laboratory where a top secret government operation had been underway to create super-soldiers to fight in wars in place of humans. Bad news for the dog and those around it: there is another creature that has escaped the lab, and its mission is to hunt down and kill the dog, along with anything that gets in its way.
Watchers isn't the worst example of low-budget schlock horror that was popular among teen films in the late 1980s, but that doesn't mean it remotely approaches the status of being good either. Oddly, for a gory R-rated thriller, the producers of this film adaptation (Roger Corman is one of them) decide to changed the adult male protagonist from the book into a young teenager, playing quite often as a family film when not in terror mode. Of course, this also makes the film a bit dumbed down for juvenile consumption, but without the hipness and soundtrack that bolstered more popular efforts, Corey Haim's appearance in the film would probably be the only thing that might appeal to anyone interested in teen horror.
As it plays out here, this is a simplistic treatment of an interesting science fiction premise, concentrating more of cheap thrills and mild drama, never delving deep enough for us to gain a rooting interest in what happens within the story. The homicidal experiment gone awry is never shown on screen until the ending, but there just isn't enough intrigue or surprises to provoke the suspense necessary for the film to work. The lighting is barely sufficient, the score is synthy cheese, and the script is barely developed, concentrating more on the cutesy "boy and his dog" aspect of the story, rather than on beefing up the plotline.
Family films and mild horror can coexist (Arachnophobia and Gremlins come to mind), but by stuffing cloying scenes of adorably smart canine activities (the dog plays Scrabble, types with a pencil in its mouth, and barks his answers -- one bark for yes, two for no) in the middle of some adult horror (eye gougings, decapitations, and grisly scenes of bloodshed throughout), the two elements seem to work at odds to one another. Attempts at comic relief and a few scares come off as too goofy to work effectively, making this a film only of interest for drive-in cinema regulars, Haim's staunchest of fans, and those who are insatiably curious after reading the Koontz novel. It's never made abundantly clear why the film is called Watchers, but now that I've viewed it, I wish I hadn't been one.
-- Followed by three sequels: Watchers II (1990), Watchers III (1994), and Watchers Reborn (1998).
©2006 Vince Leo