ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 9, 1988
By Steve Newton
When novelist Dean R. Koontz was asked, after reading a screenplay based on his book Watchers, how he thought the film would turn out, he said, “I think they’ve done a good job with the [scary] throat-clutching parts, but the rest of it I’m not sure about.”
Well, Dean, sorry to tell you, but they didn’t do a good job with any of it. Watchers is a real mess, and it’s only a couple of steps up from the dismal Maximum Overdrive, the last Stephen King story to be slaughtered on the screen.
Things don’t even start off well. As the movie opens up, we see an exterior shot of a building at night–but why is the camera shaking ever so slightly? Could it be that the cameraman is trembling in anticipation of a huge explosion that will demolish the place? Probably, because that’s just what happens.
It turns out the building is a top-secret government lab where animals are genetically programmed to become the perfect killing machines in time of war. In the blast that opens this flick, a golden retriever equipped with near-human intelligence and a hybrid creature called Oxcom (Outside Experimental Combat Mammal) are set loose. The Oxcom is after the dog, and so is government agent Lem Johnson (Michael Ironside of Visiting Hours and Scanners), and neither wants to feed it Alpo.
Typical teenager Travis Cornel (Corey Haim) adopts the brainy mutt, and the rest of the film is taken up with him and his mother (B.C. native Barbara Williams of Thief of Hearts) trying to keep “Fur Face” safe from harm. The people who sold fake blood to the Watchers effects crew must be happy, though, because plenty of people get offed in the crossfire.
But even the fright sequences aren’t much to scream about here. Hackneyed horror tricks like the head in the clothes dryer and the body through the window have been done to death by the likes of Jason and Freddy. Ironside does’t evince any of the menace that made his other baddie roles so effective. And the film’s humour–which is essential to offset the terror in a good fright flick–is not funny.
I doubt if even the most starry-eyed Corey Haim fans would chuckle at his phoney one-liners.
About the only decent thing about Watchers is the fact that it was filmed in B.C. at locations in Ladner, Port Coquitlam, Buntzen Lake, the Seymour Watershed, and Lynn Canyon. As such it employed a lot of area talent, including local theatre stars Blu Mankuma, Norman Browning, and Suzanne Ristic. The local settings are interesting, but it’s still not worth $6.50 to see a poster of local pop-rockers Go Four 3 on Corey Haim’s bedroom wall.