Though Star Wars certainly served notice to the wider entertainment industry that SciFi and Fantasy were not only here to stay but also could do big business at the box office, studios and independent outlets were still reasonably slow to change. Putting up something that looked and sounded as good as that revered Luke Skywalker adventure still wasn’t cheap, so – in the meantime – producers preferred retooling stuff they already had ‘in the pipeline’ to appear thematically similar to what took place in that galaxy far, far away as opposed to rushing headfirst into new expenses. As a consequence, audiences were often treated to smaller fare that really only tried to look much bigger in whatever sequences storytellers could afford.
While some of these were interesting diversions, many more of them were – honestly – barely passable fare. Viewers largely tolerated them because they looked on them more like filler – quieter, cheaper films they could use to pass the time between the bigger and better studio releases – so it was easy to watch, laugh, cheer, and forget them instead of making a big deal out of it. Besides, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s saw a bit of an entertainment boom in the home video market; and anything that could possibly ‘make a buck’ off a video rental was given just enough budget to become a reality.
This is precisely why something like Without Warning (1980) – not a particularly good or egregiously bad feature – was probably seen (and forgotten) by more folks than a counterpart today. It flirted with audiences, teasing them about aliens and an invading force in such a way that they couldn’t resist it. Certainly, they couldn’t pass it up, what with the next big, big, big release still six months away; and, thus, it enjoyed whatever modest shelf life it got.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“It’s an alien. It preys on human fear. It feeds on human flesh. It comes with flying, bloodsucking jellyfish. And it’s here! A group of teenagers, a grizzled hunter, and a crazy war veteran wage a life-and-death battle against the insidious invader …”
There’s a bit more, but methinks you get the idea: so long as there have been aliens on film they’ve had their hearts set on invading our precious big blue marble, and Greydon Clark’s Without Warning is just another in a long line of attempts to see the Earth snatched right out from under our feet. However, this time the aliens don’t so much come in droves – there’s only really one of them seen – nor do they bring along any of those fancy-pants laser weapons – all this solo invader has is a seemingly endless supply of frisbee-like suckerfish. Given this would appear to be that dreaded first assault – and it’s taking place in perhaps the smallest of the small towns in anywhere America – I think there’s plenty of time before this great nation will fall to the big-headed oppressor.
What Without Warning lacks in entertainment value it actually makes up for in potential star wattage before and behind the camera. Clark’s backwater epic gathers together an assortment of marquee names – albeit rather late in their respective careers – and tries hard to give each of them a little something to do along the way. Space:1999’s Martin Landau plays the unsettled war veteran who sees aliens everywhere he looks. Screen heavy Neville Brand – who actually got his start acting in training films during World War II – chews a bit of scenery as the hometown barfly who’s ‘had it up to here’ (!!!) with Landau’s antics. Cameron Mitchell – of TV’s The High Chaparral fame – plays a disgruntled hunter who falls prey to the alien’s earliest efforts. And the late, great Jack Palance commands a presence unlike few before him when he warns those pesky teenagers to stay away from the things that go bump in the night … erm … pond.
But why stop there?
Behind the camera is no less a glimpse into some pretty famous names. Special effects and make-up guru Rick Baker (Star Wars, Harry And The Hendersons, and Men In Black) may not have contributed much, but he did build the alien’s signature noggin that plays a huge part in the film’s finale. And perhaps the film looks as good as it does with this release is owed to the fact it was shot by Dean Cundey, a cinematographer whose name is known to Science Fiction and Fantasy fans for his work on such pictures as Escape From New York, Back To The Future, and Jurassic Park. While there may not be all that many high notes in Without Warning, I’d like to think that there’s something to be said for giving these geniuses time to ply their craft, and it shows in the smallest contributions.
Still, Warning’s biggest weakness was and will always remain a fairly routine plot, one that basically shackled itself to a shrinking group of teenagers who slowly fall prey to these deadly spinning critters. They’re given very little to do in this formulaic outing, so much so that I suspect most audiences end up wishing more time was spent with the somewhat over-the-hill crowd of smalltown irregulars. They spoke better, knew how to carry themselves, and banded together over a drink even when times were tough. At least, they had some personality; it may’ve taken them some time to get up out of their chairs and truly raise Hell against the attackers (“I’m fallen on the battlefield, and I can’t get up”), but it possibly would’ve made for greater conflict … as well as better camp than what’s delivered by these young whippersnappers and their short shorts.
How frakking cool is that?
Without Warning (1980) was produced by Heritage Enterprises. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the reliable Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? Wow. It’s honestly a crime for an older, forgotten flick like this to look and sound as good as it does, and I’ve got nothing but praise for this brand new 2K master. It’s fabulous. As for the special features? It’s a surprisingly good collection, including:
- Audio commentary from producer/director Clark;
- Interview with leads Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson;
- Interview with cinematographer Dean Cundey;
- Interview with Co-writer and Co-producer Daniel Grodnik;
- Interview with Make-up Effects creator Greg Cannom;
- Theatrical trailers; and
- Some newly commissioned artwork for the DVD slipcase.
Despite an impressive array of talent before and behind the camera, it’s hard to muster much praise for Without Warning (1980). It really only occasionally uses that B-Movie charm, feeling more like a failed TV Movie-Of-The-Week than it does something our parents would warn us away from, so make the most of what unintended laughs you can find in there. It’s certainly not the first (nor the last) flick Greydon Clark made, but I’ve had more fun with his workmanlike approach in lesser features elsewhere than I did with this.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Without Warning (1980) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.