• Without Warning



    Directed by: Greydon Clark
    Released by: Scream Factory
    Released on: August 5, 2014
    Cast: Martin Landau, Jack Palance, Neville Brand, Kevin Peter Hall
    Year: 1980
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    The Movie


    Without Warning is a science fiction horror film from director Greydon Clark (Black Shampoo, Satan's Cheerleaders). After its initial theatrical release in 1980, the film had a small VHS release and has been a collector's item among horror and sci-fi fans ever since. Like many low-budget films from its time, Without Warning never made the transition to DVD, that is, until Scream Factory decided to release it on this DVD/Blu-ray combo pack as part of 2014's Summer of Fear lineup.

    Without Warning is notable mainly because of its cast and crew. The movie stars two Academy Award winners, Jack Palance (City Slickers) and Martin Landau (Ed Wood), genre film veterans Neville Brand (Eaten Alive) and Cameron Mitchell (Blood and Black Lace), TV star David Caruso (NYPD Blue, CSI: Miami) and even features Kevin Peter Hall (Predator), the man who would later go on to play the Predator, as the alien invader. The movie was filmed by legendary cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park), and fans of his will note striking similarities between his work on Without Warning and John Carpenter's The Fog, which he also worked on as director of photography that same year. Lastly, the head of Without Warning's alien invader was designed by the master of special makeup effects, Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Michael Jackson's “Thriller”).

    The movie begins with a father and son on a hunting trip, who are quickly killed off by alien frisbees. These living discs fly through the air, and attach themselves to their prey with Lamprey-like teeth and tentacles that bury into the flesh of their victims. The alien frisbees are one of the film's main draws, and one of the things that most seem to remember about Without Warning. After the opening scene, the movie transitions to a setup that will be familiar to fans of the first few Friday the 13th films: a group of teenagers get together for a weekend camping trip at a nearby lake, and are warned by a Harbinger of Impending Doom not to go any further.

    If you think about it, the movie's title makes no sense, because the teens in Without Warning are warned several times not to go to the lake. First they're warned by a Men's Room door whose graffiti reads “No Chance. No Help. No Escape,” and then by a crazy hunter played by Jack Palance. In any case, the teens ignore the warnings and continue heading to the lake. Our protagonists Greg (Chris Nelson) and Sandy (Tarah Nutter) have been set up to spend the weekend together by their friends Tom (David Caruso) and Beth. Once they arrive at the lake, the teens decide to go swimming at the lake, but when Tom and Beth starting getting busy in the water Greg and Sandy go for a walk. Greg tries fixing a broken radio that he brought to the lake for some reason, and picks up some strange static. He and Sandi go back to the beach, but Tom and Beth are nowhere to be found. They go into the woods looking for their missing friends, and discover a cabin in a clearing. They decide to investigate the cabin, and find the partially eaten corpses of their friends.

    After finding their dead friends, Greg and Sandy drive to the nearest location, a roadside bar, to call the police. They try to convince the locals inside the bar about what has happened, but no one believes them except for a retired army vet named Sarge (Martin Landau). He turns out to be a loose cannon though, who is either under the alien's influence or is just overacting to an extreme degree. Most of Without Warning's budget went towards paying Landau and Palance's salaries, and both actors seem to be giving every penny's worth in their performances. Sarge ends up accidentally shooting the local Sheriff, and Jack Palance decides to help the teens in their fight against the alien invader.

    In many ways, Without Warning feels more like a product of the early seventies than the 1980s. The big-headed alien invader belongs to a more innocent time, before H.R. Giger's chest-bursting Xenomorph brought a new level of terror to creatures from space. Even Dean Cundey's camerawork has more of an early 70's look to it than Halloween or The Fog. Some of the Steadicam sequences are reminiscent of Michael Myers POV in Halloween, but the final confrontation with the alien on a foggy, moonlit night is the only scene that really looks like it was shot by Cundey. However, none of this keeps Without Warning from being an enjoyable watch. Far from it. Landau and Palance are at their most unhinged here, and their over-the-top performances are always fun to watch. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Jack Palance runs full tilt while screaming “Alieeeeeeeeeeeen!” at the invader, hoping to draw it away from Sandy.

    Without Warning is essentially an 80s slasher film with an alien killer. The creature's unique arsenal of alien frisbees is a nice change of pace from the typical assortment of knives, axes and hatchets used by your average slasher. Without Warning takes itself more seriously than similar alien invader films, like the ones made by Don Dohler (Nightbeast, The Galaxy Invader), and this lends Without Warning some credibility and reduces a bit of the unintentional camp value it has otherwise. When the alien frisbees attach themselves to their victims, there's a nice amount of blood and pus oozing from the wounds, and the big blue alien looks very cool and not nearly as goofy as you might expect from its old-school design. Scream Factory did a great job with this release, and it's releases of obscure, hard-to-get movies films like Without Warning, The Final Terror and Deadly Eyes that have made this Summer of Fear really special. Even though it's not an official “Collector's Edition,” Scream Factory still loaded their release of Without Warning with extra features. Without Warning isn't exactly a “lost classic,” but it's a long-neglected, offbeat sci-fi horror film that's worth watching.

    Audio/Video/Extras


    Without Warning invades DVD and Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a respectable 1080p HD transfer. Before getting into how the picture looks, it's important to keep in mind that Without Warning was made for about $150'000 dollars, and most of that money went towards the salaries of Jack Palance and Martin Landau. The rest of the money went to pay for the special effects, with Dean Cundey basically agreeing to shoot the movie as a favor to Greydon Clark. All that being said, Cundeys' skilled cinematography and innovative Steadicam usage gave the film some added production value. Consequently, though detail is somewhat soft on this HD transfer, Scream Factory's Blu-ray looks much better than you might expect, and is respectful of the film print it was scanned from. The picture is free of debris and any scratches, the grain structure appears intact, and no attempt seems to have been made to apply DNR to correct the picture in any way. If there is a downside to such a clean HD presentation, it's that it highlights the somewhat crude special effects, especially those involving the alien frisbees. You can see the string piloting the spinning alien discs as they fly through the air. However, they still look pretty cool and the low-budget effects are part of the movie's charm.

    On the audio side, Without Warning features a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation on Blu-ray and Dolby Digital Mono on the DVD version. Again, considering the film's budget and shooting conditions, the DTS-HD Master Audio sounds pretty good, but it is less likely to impress than the film's visuals. Dialogue is clearly audible and free of any distortion. The sound is somewhat flat however, and doesn't offer a lot of depth or dynamic range. The film is noticeably absent of a lot of low-end bass, and the alien's killer frisbees make a screeching sound that is grating to listen to at high volumes. This isn't really a knock against the DTS-HD Master Audio track however, so much as its an issue with the film itself and how it was originally recorded and mastered. Overall, Without Warning looks and sounds as good as it should possibly be expected to. Fans can permanently shelve their VHS copies, as this is without a doubt the definitive release of Without Warning.

    Although it isn't a “Collector's Edition” release, Without Warning is still loaded with Scream Factor extras that longtime fans will appreciate. These special features include: an audio commentary with director/producer Greydon Clark, new interviews with cinematographer Dean Cundey, co-writer/co-producer Daniel Grodnik, special make-up effects creator Greg Cannom, actors Chris Nelson and Tarah Nutter, the theatrical trailer for Without Warning, and trailers for more Scream Factory releases. Greydon Clark's commentary moves at an unhurried pace. He doesn't speak with an overabundant amount of enthusiasm, but he remembers a lot about the making of Without Warning and considers it his favorite and the best of the films he made. For fans who've been waiting decades for a decent release of Without Warning, it's a very welcome commentary.

    Also included with this release are several featurettes from Scream Factory and Red Shirt Pictures. “Greg and Sandy's Alien Adventures” is a 20 minute series of interviews with cast members Chris Nelson (Greg) and Tarah Nutter (Sandy). The actors talk about how they got their start in film and television, and they share their thoughts about the characters they played, and some of the challenges involved with working on a low-budget film. “Producers Vs. Aliens” is an extended interview with co-producer/co-writer Daniel Grodnik, who was also the executive producer of Terror Train in 1980. It's not the most exciting interview, but it's a nice look at the context of Without Warning's production and its relation to Terror Train. This feature is similar to Grodnik's interview on Scream Factory's Terror Train Collector's Edition Blu-ray. “Hunter's Blood” with special make-up effects artist Greg Cannom is a bit rambling and repetitive, and it's too bad they couldn't have got Rick Baker to talk about his work on the alien's head, but it's still nice to have a key member of the effects team included here.

    The Final Word

    Without Warning is exactly the kind of long-neglected obscurity that I'd love to see Scream Factory release more of. Recommended for fans of low-budget slashers, big-headed aliens, and overacting Academy Award-winners.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!