Watchers Reborn (1998) — Dog Eat Dog

Matty continues his recent John Carl Buechler binge with a lil’ look at one of the late, great Friday the 13th Part VII wiz’s forgotten sequels.

Roger Corman had little to do with Watchers (1988). Although the film’s director, Jon Hess, had previously tackled a Chile-shot quickie, The Lawless Land (1988), for the exploitation mogul, Corman’s involvement in his latest protege’s sophomore feature was, a day visit to the set notwithstanding, in name only. Corman owned the rights to Dean Koontz’s 1987 source novel and was paid a small fortune by producers Carolco to hand them over in exchange for an executive producer credit. The arrangement would also extend to any prospective sequels. However, when Watchers tanked, further instalments were the last thing on Carolco’s mind. Corman, though, was nonplussed. Despite Watchers’ critical and commercial failure, it did decent enough business on tape to justify Corman cobbling together three straight-to-video follow-ups of his own.

Watchers II (1990) and Watchers 3 (1994) are fun — but, in terms of overall quality, it’s closing chapter WATCHERS REBORN that’s the series standout. While saddled with some extremely hokey moments — such as a wincingly stupid bit involving an ultra-intelligent dog, Einstein, writing his name with gravy, and an ill-fitting stock score culled from Corman’s saucy Body Chemistry quartet — this punchy and surprisingly fidelitous shocker is a ‘rebirth’ in every sense. A deliberate attempt by helmer/FX man John Carl Buechler — a longtime Corman associate and a self-avowed fan of the original novel — to return the franchise to its roots, Watchers Reborn captures the essence of Koontz’s book better than Carolco and Hess did.

Essentially the picture Watchers ‘88 should have been, Watchers Reborn’s greatest asset is the introduction of one of Koontz’s most intriguing narrative strands: the pain and anger felt by the saga’s central monster, The Outsider, which was conspicuous in its absence in preceding entries. A tragic, Mary Shelley-esque creation (fittingly, nods to Frankenstein abound), The Outsider — Einstein’s towering, genetically engineered ‘twin’ — is at once formidable and heartbreaking. They’re attributes even the film’s cheap-looking monster suit can’t blunt.

That said, concerns that the suit is simply a shoddily repurposed fancy dress bear costume are easy to park if you’re willing to meet Watchers Reborn halfway. Designed and assembled by Buechler and his MMI crew, and inhabited by skilled mime Kevin Shaw, The Outsider’s face sculpt is magnificent and, as a whole, the creature evokes pleasing memories of the sorely missed make-up maestro’s superior werewolf-esque work on Cellar Dweller (1987), Demonic Toys (1992), and Project Metalbeast (1995). Just appreciate the concept rather than the execution. Gore is plentiful too. Buechler punctuates several highly effective set pieces with the kind of carnage that his other, more famous sequel, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), was maddeningly shorn of: from plucked eyeballs and spilled innards, to severed limbs and a gruesome neck break.

Cast-wise, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 (1988) and 5 (1989) heroine Lisa Wilcox — as the scientist responsible for Einstein and The Outsider — attacks Sean Dash’s well-shaded script with aplomb; Mark Hamill makes for a capable, if hammy, hero (a disillusioned detective who, for all intents and purposes, is basically Travis Cornell from Koontz’s novel); and Stephen Macht is convincingly ruthless as the film’s real villain, cold-hearted G-Man Lem Johnson (a character present in Koontz’s tome, and a role occupied by Michael Ironside in the first Watchers flick). Lou Rawls, and Buechler regulars Kane Hodder, William Butler and Gary J. Wayton also appear.

Watchers Reborn landed on U.S. cassette on 30th June 1998 via Corman’s New Horizons Home Video. Alas, like its predecessor, Watchers 3, the film remains unreleased here in the U.K.

USA ● 1998 ● Horror ● 92mins

Mark Hamill, Lisa Wilcox, Stephen Macht ● Dir. John Carl Buechler ● Wri. Sean Dash, based upon the novel Watchers by Dean Koontz

2 thoughts on “Watchers Reborn (1998) — Dog Eat Dog

  1. I like how the woman’s hands on her face on the cover art subtly form a ‘W’. Nice touch, intended or not.
    I don’t think that I knew about this third sequel to Watchers. With a director and a cast like that I’d certainly be slipping if I hadn’t known about it at SOME point, even if the Watchers films as a whole are a hole in my movie watching.
    So thanks for the heads-up, I’ll keep an eye out. Heh.


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