Without Warning (1980)
It preys on human fear. It feeds on human flesh.
Year of Release: 1980
Also Known As: Alien Warning, It Came Without Warning, The Warning, Alien Shock
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 89 minutes (1:29)
Director: Greydon Clark
Jack Palance ... Joe Taylor
Martin Landau ... Fred 'Sarge' Dobbs
Tarah Nutter ... Sandy
Christopher S. Nelson ... Greg
Lynn Theel ... Beth
David Caruso ... Tom
Neville Brand ... Leo
Sue Ane Langdon ... Aggy
Ralph Meeker ... Dave
Larry Storch ... Scoutmaster
Cameron Mitchell ... Hunter
Kevin Peter Hall ... The Alien
A group of teenagers head out to the lake for a relaxing camping trip in the mountains. They ignore the warnings of the local truck stop owner and head to their destination. Things go terribly wrong when they run into an extraterrestrial who throws deadly discs that suck the blood of their victims. The group heads back to the truck stop for help from the eclectic residents, including a crazy war veteran and a determined hunter.
Without Warning, remindin' us that you can't build a wall around the sky. Folks're sooooooo worried about illegal Mexicans streamin' across the border these days, but an intergalactic Ted Nugent flies down from outer space an starts pitchin' extraterrestrial ravioli monsters that suck your guts out at people's jugulars an nobody gives a damn. Sometimes I think people tend to lose sight of the *real* threat to humanity during election years.
An speakin' of menaces to society, who the heck keeps organizin' parades in the year 2016? Normally I'm all for livin' in the past, but let's get real here; parades've been obsolete since 1948. Nobody under the age of 72 who ain't slippin' on the ice an hittin' their heads on the curb chasin' after a Jolly Rancher finds these things fun. "So don't come then!" these uppity old timers growl atcha when you try askin' why they give a rip, only I don't got no choice. See, this year the city council's hostin' this "be thankful for what you've got" section in the Christmas parade where they're cartin' disadvantaged ugly kids through town so everyone can tear up an talk about how "inspirational" it is that these "courageous" freaks of nature manage to maintain a positive attitude, even though I'm pretty sure this exhibition is in direct violation of the local eyesore ordinance I keep gettin' hassled about just for havin' a coupla vehicles that haven't moved since 1992 parked on my lawn. I mean, is that really somethin' you wanna see while the carp fillets you had for dinner settle in your stomach? Even if you do manage to look away from the main event in time to hold down your critter casserole, then you've got all the people who showed up to line the sidewalks in sub-zero temperatures with snotcicles formin' on their chins grinnin' like idiots, an that's pretty much the end.
Like I was sayin' though, I HAFTA go, cause the other day Apollo was over pawin' at the back door of Mack's Stacks of Manly Snacks beggin' for scraps like he does every Wednesday (normally that's chicken fried steak night, an hardly anyone finishes 'em cause Mack's steaks're approximately the size of a spare tire) an like usual, somebody called up Shanghai Muttley to come haul 'im off to the pound, even though the cook staff loves Apollo. Only problem is that, right now the parkin' lot's froze up like the toilet in a Siberian ranger station, an when Shanghai tried corrallin' Apollo he ended up goin' down an bein' drug all over the lot like a spineless husband at the mall on Black Friday. From the sound of things, the diners enjoyed the show very much, which ended when Apollo escaped after he slung Shanghai into the fry grease container an finally broke free. But apparently, mayor McCheese, or whatever his name is saw the whole thing an asked Mack who the dog belonged to. Evidently, all these ugly kids I was talkin' about're supposed to be gettin' pulled on sleds by dogs cause apparently it's cute or somethin', an they got this one real fat kid that's put three sled dogs in the hospital with life threatenin' muscle strain, so he wants Apollo to haul that fatass around so he won't be the only one in the parade havin' to ride behind a Clydesdale. McCheese gave me the choice of either lettin' 'im borrow Apollo, or payin' the $50 fine for lettin' 'im run around without a leash, an since I don't got that kinda jack I agreed to the terms of the extortion. I'll tell ya somethin' though; if that kid tries eatin' my dog I'm not gonna be held responsible for my actions. If they wanna make the kid feel better about 'imself they aughta be gettin' 'im a Thighmaster for Christmas, not cartin' 'im around like the Queen of England out in public where people hafta look at 'im.
Suffice to say, I ain't lookin' forward to seein' It's a Thunderful Life on ice, but that's prolly not why you're readin' this. You prolly wanna hear about the attack of the flying personal pan pizzas from outer space, an who could blame ya. Basically, what we've got here is Predator in the woods with a budget of $6.75, with Jack Palance an Martin Landau actin' crazier'n a coupla outhouse rats tryin' to outfox the space alien trophy hunter an save Earth from bein' turned into an intergalactic game preserve. This was back before Steven Spielberg decided to make E.T. an show the sensitive side of outer space aliens so we'd all develop diabetes from the sweetness an throw up in our popcorn tubs. So, in honor of those serious filmmakers who had the integrity an good sense to keep makin' their aliens meaner'n an orphanage nun, even in the face of cutesy alien flicks that were startin' to wash ashore like medical waste in New Jersey, I've picked out a few bits of conventional wisdom for those curiosity seekers out there whose tastes haven't yet been corrupted by the "buttugly creature with a heart of gold" phenomenon. First, havin' a three week December shootin' schedule means freezin' your ass off in the big bikini swimmin' scene. Second, just cause you point a sawed off shotgun atcher kids an *think* about pullin' the trigger now an then, it don't mean you don't still love 'em. An third, there is no death with dignity if your final moments are spent tryin' to light a cigarette by slammin' two rocks together.
But there's somethin' about this flick that I've gotta discuss in greater detail, cause it happens in purt'near every horror movie in the history of the world where somebody pulls off the paved road. In this scenario, there's always a cantankerous old geezer/crone/loon of the hick/desert rat/redneck persuasion who warns the know-it-all, dumb-as-dishwater teenagers not to go somewhere. Sometimes it's a cemetery, other times it's a haunted house, or a campground, maybe an abandoned carnival, Michael Jackson's house; doesn't matter what the place is, but the prevailing theme is always that the kids ignore the old crank an end up gettin' turned into kidney pie filling. Now, with that said, we definitely don't wanna go listenin' to senile old people ALL the time, cause let's face it - they've got more control'n they need as it is just by virtue of not havin' to work on election day. So what I'm gonna do right now to try simplifyin' matters, is to prepare a list of phrases that you can print out an carry around at all times, that'll help separate the bullstuff from the kernels of ancestral wisdom. If you hear ANY commentary that begins with any of the following phrases, just go ahead an temporarily shut your brain down, or maybe start thinkin' about what to cook for dinner, or what the most likely cause of your pickup backfirin' might be, cause these phrases never go anywhere good.
1) "When I was your age, we didn't have..." - this is the basic lead-in for a lecture about how you're a spoiled rotten ingrate for wantin' to play Super Mario Brothers instead of listen to 'em tell you about somethin' cute their cat did back in 1965 for the 24th time.
2) "That's not music, that's noise! Why, in my day..." - pretty self explanatory, and one that's been happenin' since "uppity" folks like B.B. King, Elvis, an The Beatles came along.
3) "Now, I'm not a racist, but..." - this comment is always followed by an extremely racist, unsubstantiated remark, an the explanation for why they're not racist for saying racist things. These are practically unavoidable at Thanksgiving, an possibly the reason their kids never call.
4) "Don't you think that outfit is a little too revealing?" - women're gonna get this one for anything less than a turtle neck. If this happens, try changin' the subject immediately by askin' 'er about her friend Myrtle's hip operation.
5) "Boy, if I'd ever done somethin' like that my Pa woulda..." - basically, this means you're a disgrace to the family. An if your parents'd bothered to raise you with any manners instead of allowin' you to find your own way, folks wouldn't hafta shake their head an pray for ya all the time.
6) "You know what the problem with your generation is?" - short answer; it's different than theirs.
7) "I may not have a fancy degree, but I know a thing or two about..." - read: you can't possibly know more about this than I do, because the only experience that matters is LIFE experience, an by virtue of bein' older'n you, I know more'n you.
8) "I read on the internet that..." - usually, this proves whatever you've just said is incorrect, so long as it conformed to their preexisting opinion. You're also gonna wanna get some antivirus protection on their computer too, incidentally.
9) "This country's gone to heck in a hand basket ever since President Roosevelt left the White House!" - I really dunno what this one means exactly, but don't ever ask for clarification on which Roosevelt it was. They hate that.
10) "Don't throw that (random garbage) away!" - really, just let 'em keep it. Whatever it is, it's gonna be the difference between life an death in the near future when whichever political party they hate inevitably regains power.
11) "Ya know, you'll be sorry someday when..." - roughly translated: they made a lot of mistakes, therefore, you must be too, because if you're not also making mistakes it makes them feel stupid, an nobody likes that.
12) "I told you not to marry that worthless..." - yeah, they probably did say that. But they only said it because they heard from Mavis down the block that so-an-so saw your would-be spouse at the drive-in sharin' a Cherry Coke with somebody outside of wedlock before you got together, an that proved without a shadow of a doubt that they were unclean whores. Also, the current marital spat is about who forgot to pick up Timmy from soccer practice an has nothin' to do with any information that brought them to said opinion.
13) "If I had a nickel for every time you..." - right, we know, you'd have change for a quarter. Over the course of 45 years. Don't spend it all in once place.
14) "I already tried that, it doesn't work!" - yeah, but only when you don't do it correctly.
15) "I've been doing (random task that gets more difficult as you age) for 60 years, an I don't need your help!" - no, that's not really true, you do need my help. What you meant to say was, you don't WANT my help.
Any other opening sentence - go ahead an pay attention an decide for yourself on a nag by nag basis, but I think you'll find that this list'll go a long way towards filterin' out the crapola. An for cryin' out loud, if nothin' else, do at least take heed when they tell ya not to visit some specific location, particularly if they live alone in a cabin an look like the Klondike Pizza guy. They've got some kinda sixth sense for that one particular thing. Or maybe they can detect the impendin' fun that always precedes the carnage, I dunno.
The movie begins with Cameron Mitchell havin' to take his son who looks like Magnum T.A. on a huntin' trip in the woods cause the kid was tragically born without the ability to generate testosterone an won't quit sayin' things like: "bein' a man doesn't mean I hafta come out here with a big gun an shoot little animals." This should give you an idea of how pitiful the little weenie is, cause as we all know, that's precisely what makes us big men. But anyway, we've basically got an episode of Brawl in the Family on the horizon until these extraterrestrial ninja stars with teeth like the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi start zingin' through the air, glommin' onto the both of 'em like mutant ticks, an next thing you know we've got Family Splatters drippin' all over the habitat of the endangered Rocky Mountain Scrotum Weasel. Elsewhere, Horatio Caine from CSI: Miami (Tom) is leadin' an expedition into the mountains so he an his friends (Greg, Beth, an Sandy) can root around in their sleepin' bags an make noises like wounded moose, cept when they stop for gas Sandy ends up goin' into the men's room an pretty quick Martin Landau shows up an gives 'er this big lecture about gender identity. Then Tom pumps his own gas an tries beatin' the check, only Sandy's a big shill for Exxon Mobil an refuses to leave without payin', an when they go inside they find a room with more mounted critters than the barn behind Squealer's All Night Pigpen in Squatchdiddle, Arkansas. Course, that ain't half as scary as realizin' the place belongs to Jack Palance, an about that time Jack walks in an starts squintin' at 'em like he's about to go all Dirty Harry an blow 'em from here to Winnemucca. Turns out Jack's an alright guy, he just don't like chunkheaded teenagers fartin' around in his service station an pettin' the dead critters decoratin' his walls is all, an he wants 'em not to go near the lake on account of all the unexploded ordnance he's been stashin' out there for crappie season.
Meanwhile, Corporal Agarn from F-Troop is leadin' a troop of boy scouts on a nature hike out where the father an son got turned into buzzard tacos earlier, an after awhile he gets so stressed out by the experience that he hasta send the kids off to find souvenir cow patties for their folks while he tries bangin' some rocks together to light his cigarette so he can teach the kids how the Indians used to do it. Cept before he can get it lit, more of those webbed flyin' boogers come careenin' towards 'im an start suckin' all the life out of 'im until he looks like Mae West just got done with 'im. Then all the kids see whatever it is that hucked the snot saucers at 'im an run away like little sissy chicken babies. While that's goin' on, the teenagers make it to the lake an pair off so Tom an Beth can roll around on the beach in their skivvies gettin' sand in their cracks, only when Greg an Sandy head back to camp nobody's there, an it don't take long before Greg winds 'imself up tighter'n a McDonald's happy meal toy an makes Sandy help 'im look for 'em. This's about the time they find an old huntin' shack that somebody's usin' as cold storage for the corpses of everybody we've seen in the movie up to this point (cept for Jack and Martin), an they go tearin' outta there like imprisoned cats out of a skunk trap. Only thing is, when they make it back to the van Greg don't seem to realize that you've gotta pick your moment when you try the ole "car won't start" routine on your girlfriend, an as if that ain't bad enough, more of them flyin' Eggos with teeth start attackin' the van an makin' out with their windshield until Greg finally gets the rig to crank an drives 'em back to town. Suffice to say, Greg pretty much ruins happy hour when he goes into the bar an starts tellin' Neville Brand an the rest of the bar flies about the bloodsuckin' omelettes from outer space, an while that's goin' on somethin' with a skull the size of an incandescent lighthouse bulb walks up to the van an just about scares Sandy out of 'er top an sends 'er runnin' through the woods til she bumps into Jack. I guess Jack's out scoutin' territory for frog giggin' season or somethin'. Anyway, back inside, Neville ain't buyin' a damn thing Greg's sellin', so he hasta call Martin Landau up outta the pool room to do a sanity comparison cause Martin pulled about 4 years in 'Nam an came back goofier'n a racoon that got grazed by the roadkill truck out on the highway.
Martin's basically here to make everybody else look sane by comparison an show the audience why there's no shame in callin' the PTSD hotline, an he goes on an on about the aliens' plot to invade Hackensack, New Jersey like he's subbin' in for Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM. Then Jack walks in carryin' Sandy like a tuckered out granddaughter after a trip to Grandma's house, an pretty quick all the lights go out an Martin gets so paranoid that he ends up singin' a coupla rounds of "I Shot the Sheriff" when the law finally shows up. Jack is P.O.'d, so he takes the kids an drives back to his gas station to dunk one of the mutant alien starfishes into a jar fulla pickle brine for safe keepin', an then makes 'em show 'im where the night of the living shed is out in the boonies so he can ambush the alien when he comes home to watch Letterman. It's a bad deal though, cause the alien's waitin' for 'em by the time they get there, an he starts pitchin' more of those leprotic lily pads at 'em an Jack ends up takin' one to the knee cap an havin' to slice it off with his Buck knife while the kids run like the high school truancy officer's after 'em. Fortunately, the kids eventually make it back to the highway. Unfortunately, they end up hitchin' a ride with Martin whose mind has gone walkabout back to Danang circa 1969, an he starts makin' like Joe McCarthy an interrogatin' the kids about whether they are or have ever been members of an alien race, an so Greg hasta enable the guy's psychoses an rattle off the invasion plot from War of the Worlds so he won't bayonet their butt cheeks. Then they roll Martin an end up havin' to do cannonballs offa this overpass into the lake so they can go hide out at Daniel Boone's house an steal his flannel shirts to try blendin' in with the local population. By this point, you'd pretty much hafta concede that the kids've had one of the worst days since Custer got too big for his long johns an tried sackin' the Little Big Horn, so Greg tells Sandy to go ahead an catch a few winks while he stands guard. Course, turns out that black coffee's no match for a face suckin' outer space spleen, an when Sandy wakes up an goes to check on 'im she finds 'im dead in the Barcalounger with a glob of Nickelodeon Gak stuck to his face, and an alien the size of Trump Tower hangin' out in the rumpus room. Gonna cut the synopsis off here so the endin' don't get spoiled, but it's a good'n, so getcher self a copy an be sure to check it out.
Alrighty, there ya have it, Kevin Peter Hall playin' the Predator before it was cool, and definitely a text book example of why having a budget matters. Matter of fact, the budget on this flick was only $150,000 or there abouts, which doesn't sound *that* pitiful when you consider The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was made for less than half that, but in reality half of the 150K went to Martin Landau and Jack Palance so, realistically, the budget was about $75,000. Now, normally I'd never say this, but the 75K that went to Landau and Palance was actually money well spent, because they prop this movie up way more than you'd ever think possible. I'm not real clear on where this "yeah, it's a bad movie, but I liked it" attitude that some reviewers seem to have comes from, because with the exception of the special effects (which, to be fair, are abysmal at times) there's absolutely nothing wrong with this movie at all on a technical level. This flick punches well above its weight when you factor in its pitiful budget, and I find it bizarre that it took so long for a decent home video release to finally come out, when I've got absolute garbage titles on my wish list that I can't afford because they were released in 1999 and only sold 8 copies. And just in case the budgetary restrictions aren't enough to win over the stuck up yuppies out there - the entire movie was shot over the course of three weeks, during the month of December. Now granted, it was December in California, but you try goin' swimmin' in a mountain lake in December sometime and see how well it turns out. What I'm trying to say here is this crew pulled off a hell of a feat when you consider everything that was going against them, and even though their concept wasn't able to reach its maximum potential due to said obstacles, we might never have gotten Predator if not for this humble little picture. And sure, Predator's a significantly better movie, but is it really 100x better? Because that's literally the budgetary difference between the two movies. Without Warning was made for $150,000 and Predator was made for $15,000,000. I'll grant that the plot is a little bit choppy, and a lot of the dialog looks to have been written by somebody who had somehow never actually been a teenager, but the problems really are pretty minimal. And I suppose that, if it'd been me, I probably would've put the opening attack sequence that occurs after the credits *before* the credits, just because that kinda structuring gives the movie a more traditional feel and reassures the audience that you're not some kinda rogue "arteest" who's tryin' to do something unique, but I still say Greydon Clark (who directed two movies that got eviscerated by the Mystery Science Theater crew) did an admirable job of throwing this thing together.
Now comes the moment where I try substantiating all the "crazy" things I just claimed, so let's probe this alien and find out whether he's got the right stuff, or just bullstuff lodged in his corn-chute. The plot, as previously mentioned, is essentially Predator in rural America. And even though there isn't a lot of time spent building up between plot developments, the writing does manage to consciously drop in little references and suggestions that make you question what's going to happen next, based upon the suspected hints the writers are dropping. Funny enough, many of said devices don't go anywhere, but the story is coherent enough, and professional enough, to give the impression that there's more going on than meets the eye. The acting is definitely the high point. Both Jack Palance and Martin Landau are superb in bringing two completely unique brands of insanity to a flick that would've been fair, but still substandard, without their presences. One does tend to wonder if the movie would have been better had the two characters pooled their collective lunacy and worked together. Even so, those two guys single-handedly save this movie from mediocrity, with the primary cast being simply adequate and, to some degree, bailed out by the standout performances given by Palance and Landau. You've also got other entertaining performances given by veteran character actors, including Cameron Mitchell as the jerkoff hunter in the opening sequence, Neville Brand as a the lead barfly, and Larry Storch as the wimp cub scout leader, so again, Clark manages again to do a great deal with very little money.
Here's who matters and why: Jack Palance (Batman, Cyborg 2, Solar Crisis, Gor I & II, Alone in the Dark, Hawk the Slayer, The Shape of Things to Come, Dracula 1974, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Torture Garden), Martin Landau (Sleepy Hollow, The X-Files, Ed Wood, The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, Alone in the Dark 1982, The Return 1980, The Being, Meteor, The Fall of the House of Usher, Alien Attack, Journey Through the Black Sun, The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre), Christopher S. Nelson (The Assassination Game), Cameron Mitchell (Jack-O, Demon Cop, Memorial Valley Massacre, Trapped Alive, Space Mutiny, Mutant War, Terror Night, From a Whisper to a Scream, The Tomb, Night Train to Terror, Blood Link, Frankenstein Island, The Demon 1981, Captive, The Silent Scream, Supersonic Man, Screamers, The Swamp, The Toolbox Murders, Haunts, Nightmare in Wax, Island of the Damned, Blood and Black Lace, Flight to Mars), Neville Brand (Evils of the Night, The Return, The Ninth Configuration, Eaten Alive 1976, Psychic Killer, Killdozer), Sue Ann Langdon (Zapped I & II), Ralph Meeker (The Food of the Gods, The Alpha Incident, The Dead Don't Die, The Night Stalker), Larry Storch (Sweet 16), Lynn Theel (Humanoids from the Deep), David Caruso (Session 9), Jeffrey Sudzin (Remote Control, The Wraith), Darby Hinton (They Crawl, Stargames, The Return), Kevin Peter Hall (Highway to Hell, Predator I & II, Harry and the Hendersons, Monster in the Closet, Mazes and Monsters, One Dark Night, Prophecy). We've also got some unfortunate mainstream performances for you creeps out there who have an unhealthy fascination with flicks like Grease, so for those of you with strong stomachs, here's a list of all the casting credits that allegedly contain socially redeeming content. Jack Palance was Curly in City Slickers, as well as Alex Bronkov on the TV series Bronk, and Jack Wilson in Shane. Cameron Mitchell played Buck Cannon on The High Chaparral, Neville Brand would be best known as Reese Bennett on Laredo, Sue Ann Langdom was Lillian Nuvo on Arnie, and Larry Storch was, of course, Corporal Agarn on F-Troop, as well as Phineas Whooper on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. Additionally, David Caruso is likely to be typecast from here on out after having played Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami, despite playing Detective John Kelly on NYPD prior to that role, Darby Hinton had previously starred as Israel Boone on Daniel Boone, and perhaps the biggest turncoat of all, Ralph Meeker's shameful mainstream credits consist of: Sergeant Steve Dekker on Not for Hire, General Marcus Craig on Major Dad, Dr. Arthur Donnelly on Santa Barbara, and Chief Fletcher Daniels on Hill Street Blues.
The special effects are unquestionably the low point, and that's due entirely to the flying outer space pancakes that twirl on strings and slide down zip lines in an attempt to depict authentic travel through the air. I have no idea why these shots even made it into the movie. All they hadda do was show some close shots of the objects leaving the alien's hand and maybe attach some velcro or something to show them latching onto the victims after being thrown from a short distance. If those shots had been cut, the movie's score would literally improve by 5%, because they're absolutely atrocious. That said, the shots of the crud creatures pulsating and sucking the goo outta their victims aren't too bad, and the subsequent shots of the creatures' wounds after detaching themselves from the corpses are at least okay. The alien isn't too bad either, although the rest of the movie is good enough that I think they did the right thing by not showing it until the last ten minutes. Certainly, even with a giant inside the suit, it wouldn't have looked good had they tried performing any action sequences. So even though there are some decent effects, the bad ones are bad enough to cause the flick to fail on this particular metric. The shooting locations are pretty good, with the movie having been shot around Malibu, California, including the Malibu State Park. Dean Cundey, the cinematographer, went on to have an extremely prolific career, having worked on titles like Jurassic Park, the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Apollo 13, though he'd also done a lot of classic genre titles (Halloween I - III, The Thing, The Fog, Escape from New York, Psycho II, Warning sign, etc) before anyone was willing to let him do do anything their mothers might see. So not only are the shooting locations well scouted and pleasing to the eye, but Clark even had a talented cinematographer on hand to convey the fact. In addition to the outdoor shots, there's also a nifty small town rustic bar, a pitiful hole-in-the-wall gas station, and an abandoned house that all help to boost the atmosphere of the flick. And lastly, we've got the soundtrack. Don't expect a chink in the armor here either, because Dan Wyman's composition is tense, catchy, and atmospherically aligned to all the scenes in the movie over which it plays. It's got the same feel to it as a coupla John Carpenter flicks (The Thing, and Halloween III), and features a lot of electronic style music that was popular at the time in both horror and science fiction titles. So basically, it's another victory on a technical level for the movie's score. Overall, Without Warning is an underrated gem of a movie, with enough positives on the technical front to make up for the one lapse in quality, and a great deal of entertainment value besides when rated entirely upon personal enjoyment. Definitely worth a watch, so check it out.