Watchers

Watchers comes to us out of a reliable sci-fi tradition: the scientific experiment gone awry. In this case, the scientific experiment is government-funded, which means we get to hiss not only at the monster but also the military-industrial complex.

The monster is called an Oxcom, short for Outside Experimental Combat Mammal. He’s ugly, he’s mean, and he kills anything that gets in his way. He is programmed to follow a golden retriever who has some sort of homing device. When the top-secret lab at which these beasts are kept is rocked by an explosion, they both escape.

The pooch, for his part, trundles off to find the first sympathetic human he can land. It turns out to be a teenager (Corey Haim, from License to Drive) who lives with his mom (Barbara Williams) somewhere in Washington. The kid recognizes quickly that “Furface,” as he dubs the animal, is smarter than your average dog. In fact, Furface has been fortified with human brain tissue, which means he can go to the fridge and pull out the wieners if you ask him to.

When the Oxcom begins chewing up the locals, the police are stymied (“This has sasquatch written all over it,” muses one). But then a peculiar federal agent (played by the wonderfully creepy character actor Michael Ironside) shows up to take command of the investigation, except that he doesn’t seem too concerned about the victims.

This movie, which as far as I can tell contains no “watchers” of any kind, is standard B-picture fare; the executive producer is Roger Corman, who has produced scores of these things during his long career, often providing early low-budget work for Hollywood’s up-and-coming talents. Watchers is typical, as Corman hands the director’s reins to a promising ex-film student, Jon Hess, who does a creditable job.

The plot, taken from a novel by Dean R. Koontz, has its shaky moments (the monster conveniently waits until the kid and the dog have left wherever they are to launch his attacks). But Hess directs with some intelligence, and Ironside provides the human menace. Ironside has a great scene in which he tells a local sheriff the reason for the Oxcom project, which was to create a killing device that would remove the need for nuclear weapons. He smiles sappily at the prospect of peace on earth, and then he bashes the sheriff’s head in.

First published in The Herald, December 1988

It is a movie. According to IMDb, Paul Haggis wrote an adaptation of the novel, and is credited as Bill Freed because his work was re-written by someone else. Are there actual watchers in it? Maybe a fan out there can correct me.

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