October 5, 2011

Without Warning (1980)

IT’S FUNNY what you remember from your childhood.

A couple of years ago, there was a great website called Cultra Rare Videos, whose owner posted full movies for download – mostly out-of-print VHS or films in the public domain.

It was there I noticed Without Warning, a sci-fi/horror flick from 1980, and my mind immediately went to my grandparents’ house, where I watched it on HBO in their wood-paneled living room.

I remember thinking it was pretty awesome. I was also 11 at the time.

And even though I’ve been burned quite often trying to relive the greatness of movies I saw and loved as a kid (see: The Cat from Outer Space), I downloaded Without Warning, let it sit in my hard drive for two years, then finally re-watched it last week.

With the use of disc-like flying creatures, an alien hunts human prey in a rural lakeside town – including four young adults on a camping trip.


It’s hard to believe it took four screenwriters to come up with this.

The plot and dialogue of Without Warning are by-the-numbers moviemaking for early ‘80s horror: Clueless teens/twentysomethings go out in the country/wilderness, encounter local yokels who warn them of dangers, they pay no attention, proceed to their destination, make out, then get picked off one by one.

Without Warning’s biggest enemy is its pacing. Director Greydon Clark never latches onto a tempo to help build momentum or suspense. Sure, he creates a foreboding atmosphere here and there, but true terror is never achieved. (The most effective element is composer Dan Wyman’s spooky blend of piano tinklings and early ‘80s synth.)

The four lead young actors go through the motions as eventual victims to the alien and his Frisbee face-huggers. But just like the original Friday the 13th (also 1980) features a then-unknown Kevin Bacon, Without Warning has a then-unknown David Caruso (NYPD Blue, CSI: Miami) – who rocks the turn-of-the-‘80s gym shorts like nobody’s business.

In addition to the young foursome, Without Warning offers a two-for-one on eccentric character actors, each bringing their own brand of crazy: Martin Landau as the local nutjob who swears he’s also seen the flying alien critters, and Jack Palance as the local hunter who knows what the alien’s doing (“He came down here for the sport. He wants to get himself a few trophies.”). It’s hard to believe they’d each win Oscars for Best Supporting Actor a few years after slumming here.

Clark relies heavily on POV camerawork, for both the alien and its potential victims. He also pulls the Jaws card by not showing the monster until late in the film. But while Steven Spielberg’s classic does an unbeatable job of cranking up the tension and dread in place of showing the creature, Without Warning’s story and characters just plod along from one scene to the next until the alien is finally revealed in the last 15 minutes.

And even when the alien is finally revealed (in an admittedly cool shot where he’s standing stoically in a field, surrounded by low-hanging fog), he looks like something you’d see in dozens of ’50s B-movie sci-fi flicks: a giant bulbous head with pointy ears and teeth (1957’s Invasion of the Saucer Men comes to mind). He doesn’t do much but stand still and toss his flying creatures at people. I think he growled once.

The flying creatures are an interesting dichotomy: In flight, they look incredibly hokey; you’d swear you could see the strings if you squint. But once they’ve latched on to the one of their victims, the effects are largely impressive for their time: lots of pulsating/suction movements, expandable talons that puncture the victim’s flesh, and a nasty mouth on its underside lined with frantically gnashing teeth.

If you’ve never heard of Without Warning, you’re not missing much – unless you’re morbidly curious to see what cheapo B-sci-fi/horror films from the early ‘80s were like. Contrary to its title, you have been warned.

aka It Came Without Warning, The Warning.

  • Without Warning is basically a blueprint for Predator: A giant alien from another planet comes to hunt humans for sport. In fact, 7’ 2” actor Kevin Peter Hall played each alien in both films.
  • The special effects and makeup designer, Greg Cannom, would win Academy Awards for his work in Dracula, Mrs. Doubtfire, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
  • F Troop’s Larry Storch appears as a doomed scout leader, much like Dick Van Patten’s scout leader from Beware! The Blob.
  • There has never been an official DVD release of Without Warning, due to the rights being sold to companies who then go bankrupt or are in financial turmoil (Orion Pictures, MGM). However, it’s pretty easy to find on YouTube.
Is it suitable for your kids?
Without Warning is rated R and features several scenes of graphic violence: The flying critters drill into victims’ flesh, accompanied by crunchy, gooey sound effects; Sandy and Greg find the bodies of the aliens’ victims in a shack, and two of them have gaping, gooey holes in their heads and eye sockets; Taylor shoots the alien in the arm, and blue alien blood squirts from the wound; Landau’s character accidentally shoots the local sheriff in the gut; and an explosion claims the lives of two key characters. There are also mild profanities here and there, and Tom and Beth make out by the lake.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Unless she has a soft spot for early ‘80s B-horror/sci-fi, I doubt it.

Looking at legs as white as those should come...(puts on sunglasses)...with a warning.

Without Warning
* Director: Greydon Clark
* Screenwriters: Lyn Freeman, Daniel Grodnik, Ben Nett, Steve Mathis
* Stars: Tarah Nutter, Christopher S. Nelson, Jack Palance, Martin Landau, David Caruso, Lynn Theel, Neville Brand
* MPAA Rating: R


Cinema Du Meep said...

How can the day hold not one, but two reviews of movies featuring both Jack Palance and Martin Landau? The earth may explode at any moment. Until then, I will congratulate you on your review. I have a copy of Without Warning somewhere, and I haven't revisited it in ages. It's pretty mediocre and definitely not in the league of other Greydon Clark movies like JOYSTICKS!

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