Something you should know about me for this month’s installment of Catalog From the Beyond is that as a kid, I was a huge fan of The Two Coreys. I could not get enough from Coreys Feldman or Haim, and of course much of this love springs from The Lost Boys, a pivotal movie in many of our collective horror educations. But I loved anything the Coreys put out, either together or on their own. And while everyone knows about Feldman’s hot streak of ’80s staples, I don’t think Haim gets nearly enough credit for his own contributions. He brought an earnest charm in early work like Silver Bullet and Lucas that later gave way to a mischievous streak in movies such as License to Drive and Dream a Little Dream. We get a dash of both personas in this month’s featured flick, the 1988 monster movie Watchers.
Directed by Jon Hess and loosely based on a novel by Dean Koontz, the film stars Haim as Travis Cornell, who crosses paths with a golden retriever that just escaped a facility that had been using it in a program to psychically link animals to weaponized creatures called Outside Experimental Combat Mammals (OXCOMs, which may be one of the shakiest acronyms I’ve ever seen). With the OXCOM obsessed with killing the dog and anyone in its way, Travis and his mother, Nora (Barbara Williams), find themselves on the run not only from the OXCOM but also from Lem Johnson (Michael Ironside), an agent sent by the National Security Organization to find the lost creatures (I assume the producers must have wanted to avoid pissing off the NSA by name-checking them directly).
There’s one thing we should get out of the way early: Watchers is not a good movie. It took a significant amount of mental gymnastics to put together the above synopsis in a way that wouldn’t make me sound like a crazy person, and I may even be giving myself too much credit in assuming that. If IMDb is to be believed, the wonky screenplay could be due to the fact that original writer Paul Haggis stopped working on the script due to the Writers Guild strike taking place at the time. Producer Damien Lee took over to complete it, and the finished product is such that Haggis asked for his name to be removed and replaced with a pseudonym, Bill Freed. Always a great sign, right?
And make no mistake, this script takes some interesting swings, not the least of which is to feature a canine character with super intelligence. And I don’t mean that he knows how to shake hands or can hold a treat on his nose until he’s given a command to eat it. No, this dog can positively identify Abraham Lincoln and is proficient with word processors. The latter feat is particularly great if for no other reason than I get to picture Emmy-award winning cinematographer Richard Leiterman having to work out the framing for a scene in which a dog uses a keyboard.
So yeah, this is going to be that kind of movie. But as horror fans, we are well aware that just because a movie isn’t any good doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun to watch. In this case, the script is utterly insane, but everyone seems to attack the material with sincerity and gusto. Given that the film comes in part from Roger Corman’s old Concorde Pictures film cooperative, it’s not surprising to see that level of respect given to B-movie schlock. Corman built an empire on giving serious attention (if not much money) to silly movies.
Such is the case in Watchers, a film that in different hands could have been some kind of horror version of a talking dog movie where Bruce Campbell voices the dog who spouts one-liners before taking out bad guys. As much as I now very much want that movie to exist, director Jon Hess isn’t looking to wink to the audience. The premise is ridiculous, but it’s still serious, with real stakes and real gore (even if the effects are a bit spotty).
The performances are just as sincere, starting with Haim. Only a year removed from The Lost Boys, he imbues Travis with the “aw shucks” sensibilities of Sam Emerson while shifting more into a leading man role where he’s given up making an impromptu crucifix with his fingers and has shifted to fending off monsters with Molotov cocktails and getting into knife fights with government agents.
Speaking of government agents, Michael Ironside is always going to ooze menace to any role he’s in, and Watchers is no exception. Now, don’t get me wrong, Lem Johnson isn’t likely to be remembered as on par with Scanners’ Darryl Revok or Total Recall’s Richter, but I appreciate the way Ironside plays calm and polite in a way that hints at a very real threat of physical harm hiding just behind every turn.
If I have any real complaint about the performances, it’s primarily that the women are woefully underused. Barbara Williams is effective as Travis’ mother, Nora, but she’s pretty much relegated to the usual protective mother tropes. And as Travis’ girlfriend, Tracey, actress Lola Sloatman is essentially Princess Peach, as she’s taken away within the first ten minutes of the film and doesn’t come back until she’s rescued in the last ten minutes.
When it comes down to it, if you’re in the mood for a monster movie with Corey Haim, you’re probably going to want to go with The Lost Boys. However, if you’re looking for a pairing for to make it a double feature... well, you’re probably going to want to go with Silver Bullet. But if you can summon the energy for a triple feature, or if you just want to go with a true Corey Haim deep cut, I’d sincerely say you should give Watchers a shot. It’s silly, low-budget fun that knows what it is without trying to make a joke out of it, and it plays like a movie for an audience just hitting the point where they’re ready to transition from PG-13 to R-rated fare. Plus, the dog is pretty damn charming.