Saturday, February 18, 2012

It Preys On Human Fear. It Feeds On Human Flesh.

Without Warning(1980)
Director: Greydon Clark
Cast: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Tarah Nutter

For years I read about this early 80s oddity in my horror and sci-fi guides as a lead inspiration for the cheezeball classic of my youth, Predator(1987). The film certainly sounded interesting, with it's hunter alien(played by the same man who played the Predator, the late Kevin Peter Hall), it's veteran cast(Jack Palance and Martin Landau) and goofy premise. It languished in obscurity and I was never able to quite track this one down, until recently. It was then that I discovered why it was so obscure!

This film begins as nonsensically as possible, with a duo of "hunters" that include "macho man" Cameron Mitchell, who appeared in far too many of this disasters, and his wimpy mustached son. Cameron is so disgusted by his son's lack of enthusiasm for hunting that he actually contemplates shooting his own son! This made me think that this was going to be a tongue in cheek affair, until Cameron and mustache are dispatched by some disgusting flying parasitic pizzas(i'm not making this up!) and one realizes this is a serious movie.

Meanwhile, the typical group of annoying, horny teens arrive to campout for the weekend(including a young David Caruso!) and they also typically ignore the warnings of the town crazy(Martin Landau), a former soldier who believes that aliens are out to get him. Well, the kids learn that out the hard way, as the alien takes out two of the four(including a young David Caruso!) and house the dead in an old shack, along with the "hunters" and a misplaced scout leader. The remaining couple run for help and find no one(this was low budget, so I guess they couldn't afford any police), and instead Martin Landau goes crazy and shoots the Sheriff, which causes him to get locked up in a police car(they coudl afford that) and Jack Palance, who is a big hunter, decides to help the kids.

Well, the alien is pretty tough, so Jack Palance realizes he's in for a fight and has to cut off those damn parasitic pizza pies with his own knife as he engages the alien with his trusty rifle(a rare World War Two Johnson rifle!) and the boy(Christopher Nelson) gets killed, leaving only the girl(Tarah Nutter) and crazy Landau(who escaped) and Jack to fight the freakishly tall alien. Landau bites it pretty fast, but Jack is able to shoot the alien and rig enough dynamite in his shack to blow him to pieces. In one of the finest moments of his stellar career, Palance runs into the shack, screaming, as the girl drops the plunger and Jack and the alien go up in smoke.

Without Warning is a bad movie, no question. The potential of the plot, detailing an alien hunting human quarry for sport, is just squandered. None of the tension and "cat and mouse games" that are required to make this a first class thriller are apparent. The design of the alien is effective and interesting, but is shown far too little. The make-up is gruesome, but after awhile, the flying pizza-thing gets kind of old. The film also feels a tad more tame than it should have been and never really seems to come to life.
Part of the problem is poor writing, particularly in the case of Landau, who gets to chew the scenery as a standard crazy shell-shocked nutcase, who does very little to move the plot forward. Palance has a potentially interesting part as a big game hunter, but little of the symbolism inherent in his character, is lost on the filmmakers. Similarily, the young actors are not very interesting(a problem found in most 80s horror films), while other actors are just wasted(like Cameron Mitchell and Ralph Meeker, who appears in his last and most thankless role, as a man at the bar!)

For those expecting Predator-like thrills, prepare to be disapointed. It's unbelievable that the makers of this picture actually tried to sue the filmmakers of the latter, considering very little of this film has any resemblance to Predator! Even for those mildly interested, there are better low budget baddies out there from this period(paging Scared to Death(1981)...) and outside of the hamfisted acting of a few veterans and the cool monster make-up, there is just very little reason to explore this film. You've been warned.

1 comment:

  1. My dad took me to see this when it first came out. One of my first rater R movies. Loved it as a kid although it was a little tough to see Larry Storch mauled by the alien bloodsucker.