Without Warning (1980 movie) review…

Without Warning (1980 movie) review after the break…

Without Warning (1980 movie) review…

Bad movies, it is said, are simply great stories told poorly. “Without Warning,” a 1980 movie, may not have had a great story but it was most definitely told poorly.

“Without Warning” is about 4 young adults who drive to a lake, looking for recreation but finding only a rising body count as an extraterrestrial hunter stalks and kills people via goo-filled fleshy disks with spikes and tentacles. Eventually, the surviving young adults encounter a crazed gas station owner and an even crazier former military man.

The film is remarkable in it’s inability to captivate on any substantive level. The opening scene, with a hunter and his reluctant adult son, is dreadful – The acting is so ham-fisted you expect to see the seated silhouettes of a man and two robots appear in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, spouting off snarky remarks. You respect neither character in that scene and so their deaths are entirely unremarkable from an emotional perspective.

This film is a product of it’s time and that is not a complement – It is so replete with standard B-movie cliches that one must wonder if the inclusion of so many was meant as a parody or if their inclusion was the byproduct of a stunted production.

This movie tends to be known more for it’s casting then any positive story merit. Jack Palance is woefully miscast as a protagonist, his creepiness never ceasing despite emerging as the leading hero of the movie. Martin Landeau is similarly wasted as a crazed former military man and conspiracy theorist, his scenes bordering on comedy. A young David Caruso makes a brief appearance as one of the young adults who won’t have to worry about social security checks arriving in his mailbox.

So much is utterly deficient with this movie that it would be difficult to list all of the reasons. However, in the interests of completeness and to at least attempt to review this movie fairly, here are just a few examples –

  • The character deaths mean nothing because there was no attempt to build up any emotional currency with them. The hunter, at one point, levels his firearm at his reluctant son from afar. Are we to have any sympathy when the flying fleshy disks get him? His reluctant son (who looks like he was played by a 30-year old) whines like a young teenager – Are we to show any sympathy for him when he is also killed and killed because he symbolically emptied out his shotgun of shells only moments earlier? And I’m not going to mention the scout leader…
  • Jack Palance is so woefully miscast in this movie that it defies imagination. A character arc that starts out as a creepy gasoline station owner never materializes, despite the script demanding that he become the hero. At one point, he enters a country bar while carrying a fainted woman in his arms, simply turning to the young male lead and commenting dryly, “I believe that this is yours.” Not, “Hey, I found a woman in the woods, we need help” or anything like that.
  • A claim by the crazed military man that the alien can morph into a human being is never realized and confuses the audience. I half-expected either the military man or Jack Palance to suddenly morph into the alien hunter at some point which never does. Why make a claim in the movie if it will never be realized? By making such a claim, the audience takes away emotional investment from all of the characters because you’re implying that one of the human characters could be the alien. It turns the movie into “Who’s the alien?” but that never story arc never happens because no one is ever the alien – The alien is the alien.
  • David Caruso and his girlfriend are killed in the movie but there’s no suspense leading up to that revelation – Others are killed on screen (the hunter, his son, the scout leader) but David and his girlfriend are simply missing until found in the shed. Why? There’s no build-up to suspect foul play, they literally “disappear.” Did I watch a cut version of this movie?

This movie has a cult following and, like all cult followings, their appreciation for this movie defies rational logic. Clearly, this movie is not beloved for it’s merits but because the overall product is so dreadful that one can’t help but perform the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment on it.

Is there a great story in this movie? Maybe so. This movie is the spiritual predecessor to “Predator,” a movie that oddly also stars Kevin Peter Hall (in this movie, he also plays an alien). There is a creepiness to finally seeing “something” unnatural at the very end of this movie but all suspense is removed when you actually see the alien itself. Why not leave it in the shadows, especially if it was just going to stand there flinging flesh frisbees? Finally, the movie might have been salvaged had there been a legitimate story arc for both Martin Landau and Jack Palance. Imagine if viewers had to decide which one was crazy and which one was crazy but also was right about the alien hunter? That story arc might’ve had some merit to it.

“Without Warning” should be viewed, simply as a warning as to what can happen to any production. Part of the blame is squarely on the era in which it was made – A time of drive-in movies where it was more important in who was starring and not what they were starring in. However, no forgiveness can be made in the several deficiencies this movie generates.

This film only has merit if you fire it up with a few good friends and try your hand at what Michael Nelson has been making money off of since the early 1990s. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

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