Produced and directed by drive-in filmmaker extraordinaire Greydon Clark, WITHOUT WARNING has been one of the most sought-out cult movies since it never had a video release in its own country (that is until now). The film, the cast of which includes a future TV sensation and two future Oscar winners, finally makes its U.S. home entertainment debut with Scream Factory’s Blu-ray/DVD combo.
Somewhere in the mountains, a gung-ho hunter (Cameron Mitchell, NIGHTMARE IN WAX) and his uninterested son (Darby Hinton, HI-RIDERS) are attacked by strange, jellyfish-shaped creatures which glide like saucers and puncture their victims with retractable red tentacles. Nearby, a middle-aged Cub Scout leader (Larry Storch, “F Troop”) finds himself separated from his mischievous troop (who apparently encounter an unseen being before running like hell), knocking on the abandoned Winnebago for help; the same creatures also make a meal out of him. In the meantime, two courting young couples – Tom (a pre-fame David Caruso, KING OF NEW YORK) and Beth (Lynn Theel, the actress who spawned the humanoid baby at the conclusion of HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP) and Sandy (Tarah Nutter, CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER) and Greg (Christopher S. Nelson, ROLLER BOOGIE) – plan to go for a little outing in their bright yellow van to the same location where these strange occurrences happen to be taking place. When the more promiscuous pairing of Tom and Beth takes off for some frolicking, there is soon no trace of them, making Sandy and Greg very worried.
Then Sandy and Greg discover something horrible; a modest-sized water department wooden shack with human victims hanging on the walls like slabs of meat. The jellyfish creatures again spin into action, yet the couple is able to get away in their van (which of course takes more than a few tries to start), knocking one of the critters off the windshield with the handy wiper blades. In town, they enter a local honky tonk looking for help, encountering a bar full of characters. Two of these locals – Sarge (Martin Landau, ED WOOD), an army veteran with fanatical alien conspiracies which now have a ring of truth to them and Taylor (Jack Palance, TORTURE GARDEN) a tough-as-nails game hunter who tackles the jellyfish creatures with his trusty blade, scraping them off his person as if they were glued-on rubber pancakes. Both men are nutters, but Taylor turns out to be the more helpful and heroic of the two, helping the youngsters and protecting them from the dangerous and trigger-happy Sarge. Flinging the jellyfish creatures at people like a fleshy frisbee weapon, this turns out to be the handiwork of a giant extraterrestrial being (Kevin Peter Hall, HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS) who hunts earthlings down for sport, hanging their remains on the wall like trophies!
Greydon Clark had been a young protégé of exploitation filmmaking legend Al Adamson, starring in and doing crew work on such efforts as SATAN’S SADISTS, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN and HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS. From that learning experience, he began to mount his own independent directorial efforts by the early 1970s, all shoestring affairs which catered to the drive-ins, yet Clark was able to employ such notable thespians as John Carradine, Aldo Ray, John Ireland, Yvonne DeCarlo, Peter Lawford and Jim Backus. WITHOUT WARNING takes the promise of a low budget exploitation film with an all-star cast to a fascinating level, with both the pre-Oscar Palance and Landau doing what they do best (playing unhinged characters almost as frightening and intimidating as the alien menace) and they are actually given generous screen time and utilized to full advantage. Aside from Mitchell and Storch (who have memorable cameos but were probably on the set for about a day), Hollywood character actor royalty Neville Brand (EATEN ALIVE) and Ralph Meeker (FOOD OF THE GODS) are present as intoxicated saloon patrons, basically acting from the seat of their barstools, but the whole concept of the both of them present in a bar with Palance and Landau is quite a sight to behold. Another veteran of film and television, Sue Anne Langdon (who around the same time was unforgettable in Charles B. Pierce’s THE EVICTORS), plays the perky barmaid who takes care of our scared young friends and keeps the beer-guzzling old timers under control.
WITHOUT WARNING’s globular-headed alien (played by Hall, the late 6’6” actor who would a few years later play a similar role in Fox’s big budget PREDATOR) is charmingly old fashioned, recalling “The Outer Limits” TV series and the spinning jellyfish disc thingies (their wires are clearly visible when in flight) is a great concept thought up by the director himself (though similar to the parasitic pests found in the “Operation – Annihilate!” episode of the original “Star Trek” series). In fact, the whole show is essentially like a 1950s science fiction movie, and the R-rating is due primarily for the bloody attacks (good special effects of the sharp red tentacles piercing human flesh), as there’s no nudity, but the violence is on a level that could likely be shown on basic cable today without any censorship. With only natural locations and the famous Paramount Ranch to shoot in, Clark does a nice job of building up tension (as well as building up a traditional 1980s horror movie body count), leaving the alien in the shadows and out of sight until the flashy climax. With its impressive cast and retro style (retro in that the film itself harkens back to 1950s sci-fi and that its oozing special effects are of the organic kind in the days before modern CGI was the norm), WITHOUT WARNING is now perfectly ripe for rediscovery on Blu-ray.
Before now, WITHOUT WARNING had never been available on home video in the US. As Clark states in the commentary, the film was originally sold to American International Pictures (AIP) right before the company was purchased by Filmways, Inc. who eventually released it after is sat on the shelf for a while. After its theatrical release, it showed up on HBO and after that, on “The CBS Late Movie” in edited form. More recently, MGM remastered the film in HD and it showed up on the now-defunct Monsters HD channel where only a handful got to see it. After numerous requests on outlets such as Facebook, Shout! Factory saw fit to license the film from MGM, as it’s perfect for their Scream Factory arm. The Blu-ray gives us WITHOUT WARNING in 1080p High-Definition and in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and while there’s no hiding the film’s low budget, guerilla style of filmmaking, the quality looks terrific. The transfer is virtually blemish-free, with well saturated and nicely balanced colors and textures are sharp throughout (even in the many low-lit night scenes which have considerable shadow detail). Grain is never too harsh or problematic, and the 2.0 DTS-HD Master audio is clear, with no noticeable hiss or other noise. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. The standard DVD included is taken from the same HD master (1.85:1 anamorphic and mono audio). Note that the restored version of the film presented here runs close to 97 minutes (theatrical prints ran 89 minutes).
Greydon Clark goes solo for a full audio commentary for this, his seventh film as a director, and he mentions that the entire budget for the film was $150,000 (half of that going to the salaries of Palance and Landau) and that the tight shooting schedule was three weeks (starting in December of 1979), and that it was shot entirely in the Los Angeles area. Clark remembers everything about the production, the cast and their characters and what he wanted to achieve behind the camera and is glad that his longer “director’s cut” is presented in the transfer (he points out several scenes that were removed from the theatrical version). Interestingly enough, he reveals that the close-ups of the jellyfish creatures attacking their victims was achieved in his garage with a three-man crew, months after the initial shoot. Another subject which Clark continually addresses is how professional and agreeable Palance was to work with. As proven by this and his various DVD commentaries for some of his other films, Clark works best without a moderator, never running out of things to say, and here he keeps his detailed comments mostly scene-specific, making for an informative listen, especially for fans who love hearing all the behind-the-scenes tidbits.
The extras include a total of four featurettes. “Greg & Sandy’s Alien Adventures” (20:45) has interviews with actors Christopher S. Nelson (the son of AIP actor Ed Nelson) and Tarah Nutter who discuss their early acting gigs (Nutter trained with Jeff Corey) and their roles in WITHOUT WARNING. The two actors got on very well with each other, both have some interesting stories about some of their veteran co-stars, and it’s agreed that Clark got the most out of the limited budget he had. “Producers VS. Aliens” (11:25) has co-producer Daniel Grodnik (TERROR TRAIN) talking about how the project in question came to his attention and how the script needed rewriting (and the complications that went with that and why it’s credited to four different writers) and how he eventually ended up finishing the script. He also tells how he got Rick Baker to make the alien head for the movie (for the sum of $19,000). “Hunter’s Blood” (5:56) is an interview with special make-up effects man Greg Cannom who tells of the budget limitations he had on the film, doing plaster heads on some of the actors and all the bloody scenes required for the shoot. He also tells how great it was to be on the set with all the well-known actors and director Clark, who he obviously admires a great deal. “Independents Day” (15:06) has cinematographer Dean Cundey (who had worked on four previous Clark films with WITHOUT WARNING being the fifth and final) calling the film a great experience, looking back at his low budget movie origins with pride. Cundey gives some details about how he went about shooting the film (at times employing a steadicam) and the challenges with the nighttime exterior scenes. The original theatrical trailer is included (under the pre-release title “It Came Without Warning”), as is a lengthy still gallery and trailers for other titles available from Scream Factory: DARK ANGEL (aka I COME IN PEACE), MOTEL HELL, THE BEAST WITHIN and SCHIZOID. The package’s inlay card is reversible, revealing the alternate “It Came Without Warning” poster art on the back side. (George R. Reis)
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