Without Warning

Director: Greydon Clark
Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Cameron Mitchell

Several weeks ago, I had a very interesting experience. I got onto a bus a few steps from my apartment building and traveled a couple of miles west to the neighborhood next to my city's downtown core in order to go to a wholesaler that sells in bulk my favorite chocolate chip cookies (the President's Choice brand, if you must know.) After buying a big box of them, I walked to a bus stop where I could get a bus back to downtown. As I was waiting, I happened to look to the right of where I was standing, and I saw something unexpected. In front of my eyes, no more than a ten second brisk walk away, two deer were slowly crossing the road. From the look in their eyes, they were showing no fear and were treating the entire situation casually. As I was watching them, two thoughts came into my mind. The first and most obvious though was that what I was experiencing was kind of magical, seeing two untamed creatures up close. When you live and work in a big city as I do, such experiences are quite rare. But as I said, there was another thought that went through my mind at the same time. That thought was, "Boy, even for deer, those two animals are very stupid." I should explain that the neighborhood that I was in is a dense mix of suburban homes and commercial development, very large in size and far away from what could be considered wilderness. It didn't take long to figure that those deer would have had to have left their wilderness home, crossed a major highway, and walked a number of miles through the properties of various businesses and private residents to get where I was standing at that very moment. How they didn't get hit by a car or suffered some other unnatural injury along the way was a miracle. Why they would brave walking through man's territory, I cannot say.

I must admit that when I was thinking that thought at the time, I felt very superior to those two deer. But as I got on the bus and started my journey home, I realized that apart from writing movie reviews, I was an imperfect animal. I remembered some dumb stuff that I did in my past that made me wince just thinking about it. But I took some comfort when I also realized that man as a whole is not a perfect species. Even though man is much smarter than any other species of animal on this planet, we humans have very often found that we don't realize often enough that with great power - our intellect over that of any other Earth species - there comes great responsibility. For example, there is the act of hunting another species. I guess it could be argued that even though it's been proven that man can survive on a diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains alone, we do have the right to hunt another species for meat. After all, there are thousands of animals that hunt other animals for food. But what about hunting another species of animal for purposes other than for food? Well, I guess it could be argued that we humans have the right to do so, seeing that there are a few species of animals (like the anaconda) that hunt and kill other animals just for the enjoyment of it. But on the other hand, with our intellect and power of reason, can we really justify it? It's a tough question. I remember once reading a Christian youth magazine that had a reader ask the question as to if it was okay for people to hunt and kill animals for reasons other than food. I remember the biblical scholar who answered the question wrote a long and tortured response where he more or less admitted that he didn't know the answer, and copped out by saying we should ask God for guidance.

If you do think that humans have the right to hunt animals for sport, another question comes up, that question being: Does that mean that creatures who are of a higher life form and intellect than mere humans have the right to hunt us? I don't know how to answer that myself, though Without WarningI am sure that it would at least cause hunters who are human to pause for a little bit as they consider that question. Anyway, this idea of a higher species hunting humans is one that has been used in movies several times, most famously the Predator movies. But seven years before the original Predator made the idea popular, the low budget movie Without Warning - which used the same idea - was released. When I heard some reports that claimed some ideas from this movie were later used in Predator, it got me curious enough to pick up the Blu-Ray when by chance I stumbled upon it. The events of the movie take place in what appears to be the southern California countryside. In the opening of the movie, a hunter (Mitchell, Raw Force) and his adult son (Darby Hinton, Malibu Express) are attacked by bizarre-looking small creatures that glide through the air. A short time later, four teenagers, consisting of couple Tom (David Caruso, CSI: Miami) and Beth (Lynn Thell, Humanoids From The Deep) as well as couple Greg (Christopher Nelson, Roller Boogie) and Sandy (Tarah Nutter), are making a trip from the city to explore the countryside. Once in the wilderness, the two couples separate. After some time has passed without the sight of Tom and Beth, Greg and Sandy search for them. Eventually, Greg and Sandy find their friends dead and strung up in a shack. In short notice, they are attacked by those strange gliding creatures that were seen in the first scene, but Greg and Sandy manage to escape. But once they get into town, they discover that no one believes their story. That is, except for the loony ex-soldier "Sarge" (Landau, Sweet Revenge) and Taylor (Palance, Scarface Killer), a gung ho hunter who seems to have knowledge as to what is going on but won't tell what he knows. Greg and Sandy eventually learn that whatever killed their friends may not in fact be as dangerous as Sarge and Taylor!

Of course, if you have carefully read the first three paragraphs of this movie review, you have determined what exactly the threat is in Without Warning. And with the idea of that threat in mind, you probably have the same pressing question as those particular readers who either casually read those first three paragraphs, or simply skipped ahead to this part of the review when I actually analyze the movie. That question being, "How does the alien come across?" Well, to put it bluntly, the alien in Without Warning comes across as a big disappointment. The main problem with its depiction is that there is not that much depiction of it at all. It probably comes as no surprise that for the longest time we don't get to see anything of the alien except for a couple of scenes showing its shadow - that's to be kind of expected for a movie of this nature. But we don't actually get our first real glimpse of the alien until eighty-five percent or so of the movie has passed - and then it's just a couple of blink and you'll miss it shots. At it turns out, the alien only has one scene of real substance to be showcased, that being the very last scene of the movie. Needless to say, this reluctance to show the alien involved in any sort of action makes it a kind of boring extraterrestrial. Though we do see that it's hunting humans, we never learn exactly why. For food? For sport? As a warm-up exercise for a planned invasion of Earth with his fellow aliens? It's never answered. Adding to the disappointment is that the alien is never shown to express any kind of personality. It never speaks, nor does it show emotion of any kind. The alien hunters in the Predator movies, though also suffering to a degree by some of those aforementioned handicaps, all the same were a lot more colorful than this particular alien.

You are probably next wondering about the look of the alien in Without Warning. Things are a little better in this department. We never get a truly clear look at it, either because of quick editing or low lighting used. But what we do get to see of it doesn't look too bad for what was a really low budget. It looks kind of intriguing, and thanks to being played by seven foot tall actor Kevin Peter Hall (who went on to play the alien hunter in Predator), it also looks intimidating. It's certainly a special effect that looks better than the others in the movie. About the only other special effects in the movie are the small flying creatures the alien flings at humans instead of using a gun. While you don't see (usually) the wires manipulating these things as they fly through the air, they have a cheesy latex look that makes them look unreal. And when they land on human prey, the blood and pus they produce is equally unconvincing. That's one reason why it's kind of hard to believe that even by 1980 standards, the movie was awarded an "R" rating. Another reason its given rating is hard to understand is due to the flat way Greydon Clark (Skinheads) directs almost all of the movie. Clearly it was a mistake to shoot the movie in southern California, because this countryside looks dry, dismal, and harder to convey a hidden horror that, say, northern California could have done. But even if the location had been changed for the better, the movie would still have suffered from Clark's passionless direction of moments that should have been horrific. When various characters are attacked by the alien's small flying creatures, there is a surprising matter-of-fact feeling - that is, if the moment doesn't instead come across as flat and clunky. Clark seems really bored with these moments instead of finding inspiration to go wild.

Actually, there is one moment in Without Warning that's directed fairly well, the confrontation of the alien in the final scene. It has some genuine atmosphere as well as some suspense and a little jolt (I liked the alien's sudden appearance in this scene.) Had the rest of the movie been directed with the skill of this sequence, it's possible I could have overlooked not only the aforementioned problems, but additional problems as well. I could go on for quite a bit about those additional problems (such as some blatant and considerable padding), but I'll just stick with the main one I had, that being the human characters in the movie. For starters, they are not that well written. The four youth characters are poorly introduced, revealing almost nothing about themselves before they start their journey to the countryside, and revealing almost nothing else afterwards. The characters of "Sarge" and Taylor, on the other hand, seem to know something about the alien menace - Taylor is shown to have a big scar on his arm from a past encounter - but what exactly they know is so vague it left me asking a lot of pointed questions that are never answered. As for how the cast deals with their poorly written parts, the actors playing the four youths actually manage to build some charm and likeability despite their lack of material. Landau and Palance, on the other hand, look and appear severely out of it. I know that their characters were written to be unbalanced to a degree, but they make their characters so crazy that they seemed to have forgotten to give the characters a palatable edge so that the audience would not be totally repulsed by them. By now, I hope I've managed to give you a good idea that Without Warning has a lot more negative attributes than good. I don't want readers, who may decide to watch this movie despite what I've said, to subsequently e-mail me to say that my critique had the title attribute.

(Posted July 8, 2021)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD / Blu-Ray combo pack)

See also: Evil Aliens, Hunter's Blood, Lifeform