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Poor Corey Haim. As you’re no doubt well aware, the former ’80s star, known for his roles in THE LOST BOYS, SILVER BULLET and LICENSE TO DRIVE, passed away a few months ago. Haim had a very public struggle with drugs and alcohol, followed by strings of rehab sleepovers and broken hearts. Though LOST BOYS and BULLET will always remain classics in my book, Haim did a creature feature in 1988 that will always hold a special place, somewhere on my shelf.
The film was called WATCHERS, and it was directed by Jon Hess and based on a novel by Dean Koontz. The script was co-written by future Oscar winner Paul Haggis, who used the pseudonym Bill Freed because he didn’t want his name attached. Not off to a good start. But where this film gets its points is, surprisingly, in the acting category. Michael Ironside is truly out of his mind and off the wall as an NSO agent who may or may not be as crazy as the murderous central creature. He brings a frenetic energy to every scene he’s in, at some points almost seeming like he may just be one of the good guys. He walks away with the movie hands down, but the supporting cast does very well with what they’ve been given. And Corey Haim plays Corey Haim very well, as always. He knows the teenage smartass role inside and out, and although he doesn’t bring anything new to this part, he does show that he had leading-man appeal. The film also wins points in the gore category with some awesomely violent death and injury scenes.
Now, I would like to preface this review by saying that WATCHERS is not a tale about bestiality, no matter how much so it sounds—it’s a heartwarming tale of a boy and his dog. And the boy has a girlfriend anyway. A hot one.
The film opens with a golden retriever escaping from a large research facility, seconds after explosions rock the building. The dog runs off into the forest, but it seems that it wasn’t the only thing that escaped. Before we’re shown anything more, we’re introduced to Ironside as Lem Johnson, who is told by a shady man in a houseboat that the OXCOM (Outside Experimental Combat Mammal) and the GH3 have escaped. He goes on to explain the entire concept of the film, which somehow takes us to the five-minute mark.
What we now know is that the GH3 is the retriever that escaped, and the OXCOM is some sort of wild creature that follows the dog and has the mental capacity of a crazy person. The canine was engineered for the purpose of going into enemy camps and becoming friendly with the soldiers there; the OXCOM would then be sent in to track the dog, killing everything in its path. I.e., the dog is going to find a companion, and put everyone that companion knows in danger. Lem gets partnered with a government agent named Cliff, and they go off to hunt down the OXCOM and GH3.
Hot farm girl Tracey (played by “Lala,” a.k.a. Lala Sloatman, Haim’s one-time girlfriend) then gets surprised in her barn by our leading man, Haim as Travis Cornell, rocking a dirty blond Afro mullet. Things start getting hot and heavy between the two, but it’s interrupted before any skin gets shown by Tracey’s widowed father (interrupted by the dad, not skin he shows…). Travis sneaks off and jumps in his truck while Tracey’s pop questions her; the OXCOM shows up and kills the dad, leaving her in a state of shock while the dog jumps in the back of Travis’ truck. Travis, not knowing what happened at Tracey’s, drives most of the way home before noticing the dog in the back, and an immediately unbreakable bond is forged between the two. Cookies and a candy bar are involved. The dog has Maggie Gyllenhaal eyes which makes it seem like it’s always either tired, sad or both.
Back at Tracey’s farm, the police have shown up and the second in command, lady deputy Porter, believes that because of footprints and the mangled body, a Sasquatch must be involved (patient reader, I’d never lie to you). Porter has the lady version of the dirty blonde Afro mullet. Lem shows up in a lame Toyota SUV with agent Cliff, claiming they are with the NSO, and politely takes over the crime scene.
Travis hides the dog at his place and gives it a place to sleep. In the morning, the news breaks and Travis finds out that Tracey was attacked. He goes with his mother to visit her at the hospital, but finds Cliff guarding an hospital room; Lem shows up, and it becomes clear to Travis that something’s not right. After his mother catches him in his room with Fur Face (Travis’ name for the dog), Travis gives it a bubble bath and the two learn to communicate through single and double barks.
Enter victim number two, a trailer-shacked, weed-growing fisherman. Here’s a valuable lesson for the kids: Never become a fisherman. It’s a gateway to living in a trailer. This is probably the film’s weakest murder, but that’s only because the others are pretty awesome.
On the way to school, Travis runs into three buddies on bikes—one of whom is Jason Priestly, in one of his first appearances and delivering his few lines with honest conviction. The second has a jean jacket and the same dirty blonde Afro mullet as Travis. The third is the stereotyped stock horror character named “Piggy,” who is obese with glasses and what should be velcro shoes.
Priestly leads this extremely cool ’80s biker pack to the old weed-growing fisherman’s trailer, which is now surrounded by police. The m.o. of the OXCOM is evident, with the eyes missing from the dismembered body. The NSO show up in their same crappy Toyota, and Lem grinds gears with the standard average county sheriff. The sheriff wants answers, Lem operates from someone higher, yada yada yada, Lem owns the situation. The biker crew remind us what decade they’re in by playing with a slingshot, before alienating Piggy and then chasing him. The OXCOM shows up for some eye-gouging and the trio get offed one by one. In a touch of irony, Piggy gets killed last.
Fur Face shows up at the school, warning Travis that danger is coming. The dog then tutors Travis in the complications of basic computer typing (the course is taught by a nerdy Asian man—stereotype number two). Travis aces the assignment and goes home with the dog, narrowly missing the OXCOM, who shows up at the school minutes later and nails stereotype number two. Metal shop teacher hears some screaming and calls the lady deputy. Lady deputy and the sheriff show up with matching shotguns and find the metal shop teach impaled on a coat hook (as was nicely foreshadowed seconds earlier) with the killer’s m.o. still intact. Lady deputy Afro mullet gets killed in the brightly lit boiler room, and the sheriff narrowly escapes the same fate. News crews show up and we hear the scorecard of five deaths and three missing persons, for those who haven’t been keeping track. Honestly, at this point the film almost feels like an exercise in pattern recognition.
Now that news crews are involved, Lem, who I’ll now call Phlegm, decides to put out an “escaped psycho killer” cover story. Sheriff spazzes on Phlegm for getting lady Afro mullet killed. Phlegm takes him to the woods and tells him the Cliffs Notes version of the OXCOM project. Us too. Sheriff is understandably upset, so Phlegm kills him with a driver side window, and then pokes out his eyes. Index and middle, thumb for stability.
Travis hears about all the murders and realizes that whoever is around him will be killed. So he packs a bag with supplies and sneaks out of the house, thinking that him not being there will protect his mother. Travis tries to drive off in a truck from the front line of Henry Ford’s first wave, but pulls over when his mom catches him. She talks him into coming back to the house while the OXCOM dissects their Aussie handyman, who was fixing their dryer.
They come back to the house and see that Aussie handyman has been decapitated beside the dryer he was fixing. For some reason, the OXCOM is now outside the house and trying to break back in, so Travis rushes his mother and Fur Face into the closet in his room. He grabs a rifle and they narrowly escape the OXCOM by breaking through a window in Travis’ closet. Fur Face heroically stays and defends the closet for no reason, and then jumps through the window and hurts its leg. They get in the outdated motor carriage and peel rubber.
Travis, Fur Face and his mother stay at a motel for the night. The NSO guys show up in the morning, knocking politely on the door instead of kicking it in. Travis and Fur Face narrowly escape, but the mother is taken by Phlegm and Cliff. They take her to visit Tracey, hoping to gain the mother’s trust and find out where Travis has gone.
Travis, meanwhile, has fled to their old cabin in the woods. Knowing full well that the OXCOM is going to show up, he hits the general store for supplies. He brings back dog food to Fur Face, who frowns at it. Travis takes inspiration from HOME ALONE, but with a much more deadly series of booby traps set up around the cabin. All of which he knows about because…his dad was in Delta force? Who cares at this point… One of the motion sensors or whatever the hell Travis made goes off, signaling that someone’s around. He peeks out the window and sees the crappy Toyota creeping toward the house. Travis hits the battle stations and a long and violent finale occurs between the OXCOM, Travis/Fur Face and Agent Phlegm. Not to give anything away about the outcome, but it is spelled out that the OXCOM isn’t the only monster in the film, and Travis makes his Delta Force father proud for a tidy conclusion in under 85 minutes.
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