Without Warning (1980)

JULY 29, 2010


A couple of friends recently suggested Without Warning to me (due to its Predator-esque setup, around the time where I was making my “Predator(s) is not a horror movie!” case), and I had heard of it a few times over the years, mainly in regards to its early appearance by professional hip-holder David Caruso, who I assumed had a bigger role in the film than he actually did (he’s dead by the end of the first act). I also heard it wasn’t very good, but as the credits rolled, I figured it would at least be a lot of fun. I mean come on! Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Cameron Mitchell, Caruso, Ralph Meeker, Neville Brand, and Larry Storch – there’s no way this movie could be boring!

This movie is boring. It starts off OK enough, with some little alien things (that look like the result of a mating between Alien facehuggers and starfish) flying around and killing folks like Mitchell, but then it just falls apart after they find Caruso’s body (poor sod doesn’t even get a death scene). The alien Frisbees all but completely disappear until the closing reel, as we instead follow two incredibly awful leads as they seek shelter at a local diner, which gets Landau and Palance all riled up. Their antics keep the film from being a complete waste, but it’s simply not enough to elevate the movie into the realm of fun B movies. With this cast and this premise, I should never be looking at the time remaining display.

I also got baffled by the film on more than one occasion, which isn’t a good thing when the premise is simply “An alien is in the woods killing folks”. Early on, the heroine sees something written on a bathroom wall and gets all paranoid, demanding Landau explain what it means and telling her friends about it. Now, if it was a direct threat against her or one of her friends, fine, but it’s just like “No chance, no escape” or something. For all she knows it was just the brainstorming of future No Retreat, No Surrender screenwriter Keith Strandberg. I can’t ever imagine a scenario where I’d be THIS troubled by some crap on a dirty bathroom wall. Maybe in the sequel she can discover that “Eddie” most definitely does not provide the “good time” he promised via pen knife scratchings on the toilet paper dispenser.

More infuriating is the lack of boy scout kills. We see a troop wandering around the woods, and their leader (Storch) gets offed shortly after Mitchell, but the kids just disappear after seeing the alien (we don’t, however – they save this shocker of a moment until the end of the movie). They could have at least come to the diner. And that’s another confusing plot strand - the folks in the diner act like they are trapped there, but when someone needs an ambulance, they have no trouble calling for one, and it shows up and takes care of the guy without incident. Why the fuck don’t they all just leave? You got a bunch of folks claiming that there’s a killer in the woods, and no one seems to doubt them, yet they all just chill in the diner, even when all the lights go out. Also, the extras are particularly awful – even when Landau accidentally shoots a cop, none of them can be bothered to move or even react. Palance and Landau are the only ones that bother to try to resolve the situation. Landau takes the cop car and begins accusing our two heroes of being aliens, and I can’t say I blame him. It would certainly explain their inability to emote:

Palance, on the other hand, suddenly becomes the most pro-active gas station owner in cinematic and possibly real-world history. He goes back to his store, where we discover he has one of the starhugger things in a pickle jar. He also has some explosives and a nice rifle. All the types of things you want to keep around a gas station. Anyway, he takes an alien thing to the leg, but it doesn’t kill him. In one of the film’s best gore moments (which are all pretty much limited to the damage these things do), he takes a knife to the thing, which makes blood bubbles and shoots pus and other liquids all over the place. It’s awesome, and it’s probably where the bulk of the budget went.

It certainly didn’t go toward location scouting. What an ugly movie. At first I was all excited, because it was shot by Dean Cundey, but not even a genius like him could make this stuff look nice. Director Greydon Clark seemingly went out of his way to shoot his opus in the least scenic woods of all time. Everything looks like it was bulldozed for a golf course that was never actually built.

The pacing is just awful, too. I mentioned the time remaining display – sometimes I checked it just to make sure that there really was only 10 minutes left, because I was watching the type of scenes that had no business being in the final reel of an alien killer movie. Our two heroes find a cabin, and there’s a goddamn cat scare! 10 minutes left of a movie about a murderer alien, and I’m watching a guy scream at a surprised cat. Then they make coffee, play with the lights, find fresh clothes... it’s as ill-conceived a third act as I can recall.

And then, we finally see the alien, at which point I cheered. Not that it’s a great looking monster – in fact it’s the polar opposite. It looks like something that might be placed outside a 3rd rate Halloween store; just a really generic alien head and big robe – all it was missing was a sign saying “50% End of Season Sale!”. I was amazed to discover that a guy was actually in the suit (and what a guy – Kevin Peter Hall himself!), because it just fucking STOOD THERE in just about every shot it was in. But it provided the goofy lunacy that I was hoping the film would be packed to the brim with, so I was delighted to see it. Especially when Palance pulls a Harry Stamper (18 years before the man existed!) and sacrifices himself by sitting on top of an explosive, while holding onto the alien’s leg to keep it from getting away (yeah, because it’s such a frisky alien). He also yells “Alien! ALIENNNNNN!!!!” as he runs toward it, no doubt thinking to himself “Only eleven more years til City Slickers...”. It’s a delightful moment, and for 3 minutes, I had the batshit silly monster movie I had hoped Without Warning would be.

But... you know. The rest of it.

What say you?

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  1. The movie may not be very good but at least it made you mention "No Retreat, No Surrender".

  2. I actually enjoyed the flick when I watched it, but all your complaints are valid and made me think why I even liked it in the first place haha.

  3. I have good memories of this film, though admittedly I saw it about 15 or 20 years ago, so perhaps my memories are bit...foggy.

    I hope to see it again, then again, I do so at the risk or ruining some pretty decent memories.

  4. this one scared the hell out of me when i was a kid. but, of course, i was a kid. the image of the swinging lamp when she finds her never-to-be boyfriend dead stuck in my head for the last 32 years. i just watched it again. probably shouldn't have. the movie in my kid brain was better. i also remembered palance screaming "AAAAALLIIEEEENNN!!!" as he weaved towards it. and i learned that people are really just hard shells filled with beige pus that leaks out when you puncture them, even long after death.

  5. Heh. Man, for a working TARDIS! i paid to see this back when it first came out and as me and the guys I hung out with had rather odd senses of humor, we loved this, dull parts and all. Then again, we DID also pay to see The Dark, an even worse flick and years later, The Hidden II, still one of the worst genre films I can think of in terms of how bad it was compared to the original...

  6. Movies are not cartoons. If you need an explosion every 10 seconds then stick to super hero movies. This movie is well paced, extremely cool and vintage and is miles above today's overblown crap.


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