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"The 'stalk' and the 'kill' are familiar to anyone who has ever hunted for sport. IMAGINE, HOWEVER, IF THE HUNTED ARE HUMAN, THE HUNTERS ARE ALIENS FROM ANOTHER GALAXY AND THE HUNTING GROUND IS EARTH ... IMAGINE THAT DEADLY GAME!
Into this life and death struggle comes JACK PALANCE as Taylor - the first to sense a terrifying danger and the first to encounter the 'alien'. Sarge (MARTIN LANDAU) is a Vietnam veteran with an instinct for survival - an instinct that perceives the 'alien' threat to be invincible.
THE WARNING - a petrifying story of 'alien' attack with an horrific climax."
Although it sounds like a cheap rip-off of ALIEN (1979) from the video blurb, this low-budget cheese-fest is hip deep in slasher territory, the set-up, the supporting cast, the frequent use of country and western music, it’s all present and accounted for, and suggests that THE WARNING is a closer relation to films like THE FINAL TERROR (1981) and HUMONGOUS (1982) than GALAXY OF TERROR (1981) or XTRO (1982).
When the first person you see in a movie is Cameron Mitchell, it raises your hopes and then dashes them, all in the same second. Mitchell and his son are out hunting in some backwoods wilderness. Mitchell is clearly a hard, survivalist outwoods guy – that much is clear from his lumberjack shirt and the fact that he has a buzz-cut and isn’t seen without a shotgun the size of a blunderbuss. He’s also obviously unhappy with the way his son’s turned out, replete as he is with porn-star moustache, late 70’s disco-bouffant haircut and clothes straight from an episode of STARSKY & HUTCH. The son is also not best pleased to be out hunting, when clearly he’d rather be dancing, probably on a pair of roller skates, given his get-up. Against this tetchy father-son background, the pair go hunting, Mitchell maintaining that this will make him a man, son bitching about the fact that he doesn’t want to kill things to prove his manhood. After a singularly unsuccessful effort stalking a buck, and when it seems like Mitchell is actually contemplating turning his gun on his own son, a ‘weapon’ flies out of the woods and attaches itself to him, followed by a second, and Mitchell collapses to the ground, dead. We then switch to subjective camera as whatever threw the weapons moves in on the terrified son, all to a soundtrack that sounds like a three year old banging randomly on a Bontempi keyboard.
Cut to a scout group also wandering through the woods. Leading the Scouts is Larry Storch, in a great cameo. Clearly Larry has a tenuous control of the little bastards in his scout group as they’re more intent on causing trouble than listening to Larry whilst he extoles the virtues of being out in the open air (even though is pained expression shows he doesn’t really believe it himself). His compass freaking out (something never explained other than adding an ‘other worldly’ element to our as yet unseen protagonist), Storch becomes the next victim of our subjective killer and his killer frisbees (I kid you not, but we’re ahead of ourselves).
It’s at this point we’re introduced to our main heroes Sandy (Nutter) and Greg (Nelson) who are driving up to the lake with friends (one of which is a very early appearance of CSI:Miami star David Caruso). They stop for fuel at Taylors Garage and meet Taylor himself (a spectacularly crazed performance by Jack Palance) who warns them, in best FRIDAY THE 13TH tradition not to go up into the woods. “There’s lots of hunting accidents up there this time of year” he mugs enthusiatically, and given the fact that his garage looks like an extension to the Bates Motel, so stuffed is it with dead animals, it’s more than likely he’s been involved in a few hunting accidents himself. Our teens are not to be put off however and after swapping ethical opinions on the subject of hunting (“It ain’t about the kill” intones Palance “it’s about the hunt!” – A sentence that almost perfectly sums up the attitude behind WITHOUT WARNING) they pile back into the camper van and drive off into the woods.
After a spot of skinny dipping (except Nutter, who plays the virginial character required for any backwoods slasher movie) Caruso and his woman promptly go missing. Hiking through the woods looking for their missing friends, Sandy and Greg come across a hut in a clearing. Inside they discover the corpses of both their friends, along with Mitchell and Son, and Larry Storch, all with big holes in various parts of their bodies, dripping a fetching shade of yellow slime and strung up like game. As they make this discovery, our unseen assailant dispatches more of his killer frisbees at our teenage heroes who make a bolt for their van under a hail of the weapons. At this point we get a good look at the little buggers, which look like a sort of parasitic jellyfish and are ludicrous when flying through the air but disconcertingly realistic when seen in close-up.
They finally get the van started and head towards the local country and western bar, as you do, populated as it always is, by a collection of past-it Hollywood actors and actresses, including Martin Landau in especially manic form as one of cinema’s first ever crazed Vietnam Veterans. Landau has seen our killer and believes it to be an alien scout for a greater invasion of our planet, but is dismissed by most of the others as a psycho, and not without reason, given the extraordinary nature of his eye-rolling turn. He also thinks that Sandy and Greg are aliens in disguise, for no other reason than it gives them someone else to run away from when the movie goes into overdrive. Needless to say, there is an alien hunting human prey in the backwoods of America and it’s left to Nutter and Palance, the only local who believes her (and no mean hunter himself), to do something about it.
WITHOUT WARNING, as mentioned earlier, shares more in common with the psycho-killer genre than it does with the alien movies of the time. In fact, it fits very nicely alongside other backwood freak killer movies that appeared all over the place in the two years following the box office smash of FRIDAY THE 13TH. It has a final girl, it has a killer represented by subjective camerawork for the most part, it has the backwoods setting, the toothless shit-kicking hayseed warning the kids not to go up into the mountains – everything, in short, you need for a outdoors slasher movie.
And as such, it’s actually pretty good. It’s obviously made on a small budget, as there is a lot of tight close-ups and a distinct scarcity of decadent Hollywood chutzpah, like sets for example, or complicated cinematography or complicated editing. It also contains two turns, in the shape of Landau and Palance, that almost defy belief. In fact, both would reprise their dribbling loon roles in Jack Sholder’s more accomplished ALONE IN THE DARK (1982) a couple of years later, but to deliberate comic effect. In WITHOUT WARNING both mug so enthusiastically that it’s almost impossible to imagine how both would end up winning oscars just a few years later. Cameron Mitchell is always a presence (make of that what you will) and the roles of Neville Brand and Ralph Meeker (in his last screen role) are shamefully confined to a single scene, set in the aforementioned country and western bar. Nelson and Nutter are pretty anonymous as the hero and heroine, in fact Nutter becomes more and more annoying as the movie goes on, not really the traditional strong female presence at the end. Reliant on Palance for much of the movie, she comes across more as a simpering victim than anything else.
The movie isn’t a gorefest by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have some interesting special effects work. The Killer, as you’ve already guessed from the video blurb, is indeed not of this earth. Hints of it’s appearance are given in the first half of the movie usually through the use of shadow, but it's on-screen introduction half way through the movie is a genuine shock (albeit one using the old standby of a swinging lamp used in PSYCHO (1960) and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1978), among many others). From this point until the last 10 minutes, the creature is oddly effective – a sort of dome-headed throwback to 1950’s sci-fi films, but created using 1970’s make-up techniques. It’s only when the creature gets it’s big close-up at the end that the effects don’t hold up that well. The parasite frisbee things it uses as weapons are extremely cheesy when seen being thrown through the air (best way I can describe them is looking like hairy microwave pizzas), but are much more effective in close up. Kudos to fledgling effects supervisor Greg Cannom for working such a good job on what must have been a paper-round budget.
Throw in the typical synth score from former John Carpenter associate Dan Wyman (and synth character, our bug-eyed bad-guy sounds like a cross between an elephant and the warm-up to a Yes concert) and the backwoods setting and what you’ve got there is a very serviceable little backwoods killer movie with a twist.
Alongside Cannom, who would become an oscar-winning make-up artist, WITHOUT WARNING is also blessed with excellent cinematography for such a low-budget movie, director of photography Dean Cundey shot the movie between THE FOG (1979) and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981). A graduate of Roger Corman’s New World Studios (where, in common with other technicians like Joe Dante, Rob Bottin and James Cameron, he became a master of trades as diverse as mechanical effects and film editing), Cundey’s name turns up on a remarkable number of big budget Hollywood efforts (THE THING (1982), JURASSIC PARK (1993), WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988)), respected genre items (HALLOWEEN (1978), HALLOWEEN II (1981), and PSYCHO 2 (1983)) as well as some extraordinary no-budget exploitation flicks (ILSA _ HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS (1975), BLACK SHAMPOO (1975) and THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)). At one point, he was the favoured cinematographer of Greydon Clark, Matt Cimber, Don Edmonds and John Carpenter, all at the same time. His reputation for being able to light and focus scenes in difficult locations quickly, probably lead to many of these gigs and the films on which he’s worked, low or high budget, usually look beautifully photographed. WITHOUT WARNING is no different – in many ways it’s a typical low-budget slasher movie, but it is blessed with very impressive cinematography which makes the movie look bigger-budgeted than it probably was.
Director Clark started off as an actor and as one of Al Adamson’s regulars (he’s in films like SATAN'S SADISTS (1967) with another genre actor turned director John ‘Bud’ Cardos – whose best film is the eco-variant NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD themed MUTANT (1984)) clearly learned a thing or two about making low-budget movies cheap and quick. Clark has worked as a director on the fringes of the horror and exploitation movie genres since the 1970’s, and is responsible for movies as diverse as LAMADA - THE FORBIDDEN DANCE (1990), PORKIES rip-off JOY STICKS (1983), SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS (1977) and SKINHEADS (1989). It fair to say that I’ve not gone out of my way to see all Groovy Greydon’s movies, but I have seen JOY STICKS, SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS, THE RETURN (1980) and THE UNINVITED (1986) and WITHOUT WARNING is by some margin the best of the crop. Cheese is in ample supply, from the comic flying frisbees on wires, to the see-it-to-believe-it turns of Landau (complete with ‘Nam flashbacks) and Palance, to the sub-goth wardrobe of our outer space Elmer Fudd through to the OTT synth score. There’s probably more in there to find, but that’s something you’ll have to do.
WITHOUT WARNING is one of the many hundreds of low-budget horror movies released in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that seems to have faded away into obscurity. In fact, aside from the acting, which is at times criminal, and the lack of any gore to speak of, it’s actually a pretty well made backwoods slasher film, with a fresh angle. Yes it’s silly and yes it’s cheap, but its also lively, imaginative in places and contains a couple decent scares. Lets face it, if bug-eyed outer space goths with a taste for backwoods hillbillies doesn’t get you running for the local video store, you’re probably looking at the wrong site.
BODYCOUNT 9 female:1 / male:7 / androgynous alien thing: 11) Man attacked by flying parasites to numerous parts of the body