The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Without Warning

For many years, 1980's Without Warning was on my wish list of not-on-DVD movies. I'd seen it as a kid, and the film had a huge impact on me. It was one of the first R-rated horror films I saw, and it was both repulsive and fascinating. The repulsion came from images of round, disc-like alien creatures attaching themselves to people's bodies and leeching on them. The fascination came from seeing something previously forbidden, and clearly adult in nature. Without Warning was almost impossible to find for a long time, but it is finally getting released in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from – who else? - the amazing team at Scream Factory, a company devoted to rescuing movies just like this one.

A group of teens (including a pre-fame David Caruso) plan a trip to the lake. They stop for gas at the requisite rundown station operated by the equally-requisite creepy old man, Joe Taylor (Jack Palance). He warns them not to go near the lake. Of course, they don't heed his warning. Once there, they discover that a mysterious alien is stalking the grounds, flinging its deadly bloodsucking discs at anyone it sees. Martin Landau plays Fred “Sarge” Dobbs, a shell-shocked vet who has been trying unsuccessfully to convince local authorities of the alien's existence. Two of the kids, Greg (Christopher Nelson) and Sandy (Tarah Nutter), back his story up, and Joe joins in the fight against the thing.

Without Warning was directed by Greydon Clark, the maker of Joysticks and the undervalued exploitation masterpiece Black Shampoo. Clark and cinematographer Dean Cundey (who later went on to shoot little movies called Back to the Future and Jurassic Park) craft some suitably eerie scenes involving those flying discs, which spin threateningly toward their victims. The shooting style is backed up by solid special effects that make the teeth-ridden little things legitimately creepy. Clark often holds on shots of them digging into human flesh, various colors of ooze seeping out as they do. It's a marvelous shock effect that still maintains a fair percentage of its effectiveness today.

The other key element to Without Warning is the casting. Jack Palance was in what could politely be called a “down phase” of his career when he made the movie. Nonetheless, he seems to be having a ball, investing Joe with a delightful, knowing sense of crankiness. It's hard to say what Palance thought of the project, but he clearly got the semi-humorous tone of it. The actor gives a gloriously unhinged performance that contributes greatly to the fun. So does Martin Landau. Initially, Dobbs appears to be one of those people everyone just thinks is crazy. Then you find out he's right about the alien – but still crazy. Both veteran actors give the material some extra punch.

The other performers don't fare as well, often coming across a little stiff. Without Warning also has a few extremely slow spots, most notably a section during the end of the second act transitioning into the beginning of the third. Several inexplicably long shots – a car driving, Joe wandering through the woods – feel inserted to pad out the running time.

Nevertheless, it's great to have Without Warning finally on Blu-Ray. The movie has an original premise, some awesomely gory effects, and just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humor. Those things make it one of the most interesting early-'80s creature features.

Blu-Ray Features:

Scream Factory's Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack has a really nice assortment of bonus goodies, starting off with commentary from the always entertaining Greydon Clark.

After that come interviews with a few of the key cast and crew members. “Greg & Sandy's Alien Adventures” is a 20-minute interview with Chris Nelson and Tarah Nutter. They share memories of making the film, including working with Martin Landau, who was apparently so Method in his approach to playing a crazy person that no one knew how to take him. Nelson additionally shares an amusing anecdote about a tense on-set moment between Palance and Caruso.

“Producers vs. Aliens” is a 10-minute interview with producer Daniel Grodnick. He explains the film's origins, why it took four people to write it, and his unusual first meeting with Palance. “Hunter's Blood” runs six minutes and presents makeup artist Greg Cannom discussing his work and how the effects were achieved on a low budget. “Independents Day” is all about cinematographer Dean Cundey, who offers memories of achieving Without Warning's visual style.

The original theatrical trailer and a gallery of production stills are here, too.

Once again, Scream Factory has delivered a fine package celebrating a horror movie that deserves to be remembered by genre fans. For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Without Warning is rated R for language and gore. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

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