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Watchers (1988)

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Score: 5/10

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date: December 2nd, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jon Hess Actors: Michael Ironside, Lala, Corey Haim, Colleen Winton, Duncan Fraser, Barbara Williams

F

aulty wiring in a room with cleaning supplies causes a massive explosion at the Banodine Laboratory, where contaminated research animals are supposed to have been destroyed. Limited reports on the classified research company, routinely employed by the National Security Organization (NSO) in the past, state that the detonation poses no threat to the public. Nevertheless, top-notch cleanup man and government agent Lem Johnson (Michael Ironside) is immediately deployed to track down a secretly escaped, highly intelligent golden retriever – and the genetically mutated monster that is now hunting it.

With a mere 72 hours before the experimental military combat mammal (dubbed an OXCOM) kills the dog and anything near it, Lem begins his extensive search in the outlying area. When Bill Keeshan (Dale Wilson) is attacked in his barn, authorities rush to the aftermath. Local deputy Porter (Colleen Winter) strangely suspects a sasquatch, after seeing freakish footprints around the crime scene and noting that the victim’s eyeballs were ripped from his head. Keeshan’s daughter Tracey (Lala), having witnessed the assault, is taken to the hospital for observation – and placed under heavy NSO security. Her boyfriend Travis Cornell (Corey Haim) is anxious to find out what happened to Tracey, and incidentally discovers the missing golden retriever (nicknaming it “Furface”) in the process.

The dog is essentially a homing device; the creature is a search and destroy missile. And with that flimsy premise, the film wastes no time jumping straight into the action. Within minutes a vicious skirmish results in death, and further ambushes swiftly follow (including the slaughtering of several innocent teenagers, one played by Jason Priestley, and handyman Ted Hockney, played by Norman Browning), all resulting in a ghastly ocular obsession that finds corpses sans peepers. Scattered scientific jargon gives more precise explanations for the symbiotic relationship between pooch and mutant, but ultimately, “Watchers” is just another B-grade ‘80s monster movie. There’s blood and violence, but it isn’t exceptional, and although moderate suspense is generated from the hunt for the killer (with dimly lit buildings and shadowy corridors), none of it is pulse-pounding (though the investigation of a school after hours has a satisfactorily horrific atmosphere to it).

With Roger Corman serving as executive producer, the film had considerable potential to be downright cheesy (this is helped by a scene in which Furface communicates with Scrabble tiles and mismatched music). But with a consistently serious tone, sudden moments of grisliness, Michael Ironside’s convincingly nasty villain, and Sandy the dog actor hitting all her cues, it’s a routinely competent thriller (highlighted by a cleverly ferocious mirror scene). Wisely, the yeti creature is kept obscured for the majority of the picture, heightening the anticipation of its reveal and decreasing the phoniness of its man-in-a-suit construction. Being based on the novel by Dean R. Koontz (whose work also inspired adaptations of “Demon Seed,” “Phantoms,” and “Hideaway”) should have given it a leg up on the creativity front, but in truth, the survivalist kicks are trumped by monster movie clichés.

– Mike Massie

 



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