Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: Without Warning (1980)

You know what's a great movie? Predator. It has a great set-up, with a team of commandos being dropped into a jungle where they end up battling a mysterious threat that ultimately proves to be an alien hunter. Now, this right here? This isn't that film, but it would be easy to see similarities between the two. They're both centered around people trying to survive an alien hunter, they're both products of the 1980s, and they both have an aline played by Kevin Peter Hall. If you aren't familiar with Hall, he was a rather tall man who made a career of playing creatures such as the Predator in both original films, Harry (the Sasquatch) from Harry and the Hendersons, and even the titular monster in Troma's Monster in the Closet.

And let's not forget the legendary Misfits of Science.

But, before all of that he was brought in to play a role in a film that went forgotten for many years. A movie where Jack Palance takes him on in what is credited as the inspiration for the Predator film. Bearing that all in mind, it feels like we should give this movie some attention. I mean, it did get a release on Blu-Ray just this past August from Scream Factory, so it's a great time to spotlight this precursor to one of the most famous sci-fi/horror films of all time. Without further ado, let's go hunting for the plot.

Sweetie, that's not the plot in your hand...
Our movie opens with a father and son spending some bonding time as they hunt in the wilderness, possibly for the same plot I am also in pursuit of. Sadly for them, all they find are some horrible flying barnacle monsters that dig into them and leave me believing that these two aren't the stars of our film. Instead, our actual stars show up some time later and they're four teenagers who are looking to go camping and sexing all alone where none of them know anyone. Jack Palance warns them that being a horny teenager in a horror movie isn't a great idea, but they ignore him and proceed to go set up camp. Meanwhile, a scout leader and his scouts are also in the area. Maybe he'll help fight off the alien creature and his flying barnacles?

Nope. He just dies horribly.
The scouts run away from the alien and the horny teenagers arrive to set up camp finally. After a while, two of them vanish. The other two go looking for their friends and find them in a shack hanging out with some new friends. In case it's not obvious, they're all dead. One quick van ride later, they've successfully avoided the flying barnacles and make it to the local trick stop where Martin Landau channels his inner crazy among the other locals. But, because life have a sense of humour, the mentally ill vet (Landau) is the only person there who actually believes the teens when they tell what has happened. The girl ends up getting spooked when she sees the alien and runs away into the woods where Palance finds her and brings her back.

Did you lose your stupid teenage girl in the woods?
They all talk about the fact that there's a creature hunting people in the woods and, rather than deciding to relocate to the nearest ANY OTHER PLACE BUT THERE, they instead keep talking until the paranoid veteran acts accordingly and shoots the sheriff as he arrives. That should do wonders for how people look at him. Palance takes the teenagers with him and says that he's ran afoul of the alien before too and happens to have a barnacle thing as a trophy that he plops into a pickle jar.

This is going to taste delicious in a month or so.
They all go back to the shack of death and Palance goes inside to see that, yep, it's still full of dead people. They talk about waiting it out so they can get the creature when it returns but Palance gets attacked by a flying barnacle and the teens book it at his advisement, but I would assume they'd have run away anyway. Running away is honestly the only thing these two are good at. They end up finding a cop car and jump inside...but find that good old crazy Landau is driving it. Well, this is a pickle. And no, I don't mean Palance's snack he deposited in that jar earlier. It turns out that he thinks they're aliens, because why not, and he's going to interrogate them regarding their alien plans. The guy plays along long enough to allow them a chance to knock the nutty veteran aside and make a break for it and jump off a bridge.

Damn, my paranoid delusions have been foiled again!
The teens find an abandoned house and let their guard down so, of course, the guy gets killed. The teenage girl runs from the alien and Palance saves her, having survived once more against the power of the flying barnacles. They head once more back to the shack of death and he tells her the alien is hunting people for sport and keeps their bodies as trophies, while the flying barnacles are his highly irregular weapon of choice (because ray guns are so passé). They wait for the alien to arrive but instead our favourite nut-bar shows up instead, leaving Palance to fight him off until the alien shows up and finally kills Landau much later in the film than I expected. Palance shoots at the creature but quickly realizes it's ineffective, so he lures it to the shed and the girl blows it up. In the end, Palance is dead and she's going to need some serious therapy as our film closes.

I JUST WANTED TO GET LAID!
Looking at this film in its entirety, I can easily see how Predator grew out of this. The seeds are definitely there among this movie. The story is rather interesting, giving us an idea that hadn't been done really at this point, and Jack Palance really shined as he balanced coming off as heroic while still seeming obsessed with putting his enemy down. Landau felt rather over the top most of the time though and I honestly felt like he wore out his welcome, as I expected him to die much earlier in the movie. Kevin Peter Hall definitely seemed tall and imposing as the creature, often only appearing in shadow when he did show up. His look as the creature was also quite creepy, looking like a slightly demented version of the classic grey alien.

I'm not really sure about the fishnets over his Flash Gordon bodysuit look though.
Ultimately, it's very clearly a low budget film but also is quite a fun one. It's nowhere near the level of other classic 1980s horror films but it's definitely entertaining enough to overshadow a lot of the low budget films channels like SyFy throw at us. I've heard rather good things about the Scream Factory release and it's special features, which really make buying the movie much more palatable, so I'd say you should check it out. If nothing else it gives you an excuse to watch Predator afterwards to compare the two films in detail. So, until the Yautja welcome me into their race as a powerful warrior mate for Machiko Noguchi, I'll be here pounding away at the mountain of movies I have yet to ramble on about. Later days, bleeders.

Now get outta here!

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