Saturday, August 2, 2014

WITHOUT WARNING (1980) Blu-ray Review

Without Warning (1980) d. Greydon Clark (USA)

Despite the emphatic warnings of the local gas station attendant (Jack Palance), a quartet of hormonal teens head out to the ol’ swimming hole for a weekend getaway and find themselves in the middle an extraterrestrial’s private hunting preserve. The result is a don’t-go-in-the-woods thriller that swaps out the requisite blade-swinging psycho with a melon-headed space alien given to flinging blood-sucking parasites at myriad hapless victims (including a young David Caruso in his second screen appearance, sporting some wicked short shorts).

Often cited as a predecessor to 1987’s high-tech blockbuster Predator (for which 7’2” Kevin Peter Hall played the alien hunter, which he does here as well. Talk about your typecasting!), Without Warning remains an undeniably entertaining slice of cheese for lovers of low-grade monster flicks. To be fair, the makeup and effects work (by a young Greg Cannom, with uncredited alien design work by Rick Baker) are memorable and occasionally even impressive, especially considering producer/director Clark’s budgetary constraints.

Equally noteworthy are cinematographer Dean Cundey’s contributions, spinning atmosphere from a few well-placed instruments and a roving Steadicam serving as the creature’s roving POV. (Fresh off the success of Halloween and The Fog with John Carpenter, Cundey was poised to move on to bigger and better things, but decided to do the film as a favor to Clark, with whom he had worked on four previous projects, including Black Shampoo and Satan’s Cheerleaders.)

But where the film really delivers the goods is in the lower-tier celebrity cameo department, serving up such memorable mugs as Cameron Mitchell and Larry Storch as two of the alien’s early victims, and Ralph Meeker, Sue Ann Langdon, and Neville Brand as occupants of a secluded dive tavern.

Headliners Palance and Martin Landau (as an unbalanced, alien-obsessed Vietnam vet) are given much more screen time to joust in their own private scenery-chewing grudge match, and their full-throttle turns prove as engaging as any number of mini-pizza projectiles. (The two future Oscar-winners would team up again for Jack Sholder’s 1982 hydra-headed slasher flick, Alone in the Dark.)

As the young protagonists, Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson are likeable enough, even if their thin performances pale alongside such esteemed veterans. In fact, the film’s biggest stumble is the 10-minute sequence late in the film where Nutter and Nelson wander around a deserted house; with no real scares or stars, the prolonged suspenseless sequence kills the narrative momentum right when it should be revving towards the finish line. Luckily, towering intergalactic interlopers and hair-trigger character actors eventually show up to save us from slumber.

Due to complications with distribution rights, Without Warning has remained unavailable on home video for over 30 years, its legacy kept alive by the enterprising horror faithful who recorded it off HBO back in the day. But, at long last, Shout! Factory has stepped up to the plate with a gorgeous hi-def DVD/BR combo loaded with supplemental features deserving of a much-beloved cult classic.

In addition to Clark’s dulcet-toned audio commentary, filled with unceasing praise for his legendary cast and crew, we are treated to individual retrospective interviews – courtesy of Michael Felsher’s classy Red Shirt Pictures – with Nelson and Nutter, Cundey, Cannom, and co-producer Daniel Grodnik (who exec-produced Terror Train the same year). All speak fondly of the film, admitting to the hardships presented by the low budget, such as shooting exteriors in December, but remain pleased with the final results.

Hey kids, like my van?

It's Caruso! Run!!!!

Recently praised by Rue Morgue’s John Bowen as “a cheap-ass backwoods puny humans-versus-aliens [movie] that might make a good double bill with Don Dohler’s Nightbeast”(hell, yes, that’s praise – what’s your problem?), Without Warning is a fun little practical effect monster pic guaranteed to please. Look for it on Blu-ray and DVD August 5 from Shout! Factory, where it can be pre-ordered HERE:

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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