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Without Warning (1980) Review

Coming out seven years before Predator and on a budget that wouldn’t have covered what that film spent on Arnold’s steroids, Without Warning is one of the definitive grindhouse films of the 80s.

Directed by Greydon Clark (Satan’s Cheerleaders, Joysticks) from a script by Lyn Freeman, Daniel Grodnik (Blue Demon, Terror Train), and Bennett Tramer (Saved by the Bell, Kidco) Without Warning begins with cinematographer Dean Cundy, yes the guy who shot Halloween, The Thing and most of John Carpenter’s best films before going on to the likes of Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, guiding his camera through some scrubland.

He ends up finding a hunter (Cameron Mitchell, The Toolbox Murders, Raw Force) and his son (Darby Hinton, Daniel Boone, Black Oak Conspiracy) whose argument-filled trip is fatally interrupted by what looks like flying pancakes with teeth. Oblivious to all of this Tom (David Caruso, CSI: Miami, Session 9), Beth (Lynn Theele, Humanoids from the Deep, Fyre), Greg (Christopher S. Nelson, Roller Boogie, Pink Motel), and Sandy (Tarah Nutter, Chilly Scenes of Winter, Bitter Harvest) are heading out to the lake. They should have gone to the town pool instead.

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They end up running into an incredible cast of characters that include Taylor (Jack Palance, Alone in the Dark, Hawk the Slayer) a hunter who’s had a run-in with the creature before, Sarge (Martin Landau, Space:1999, Mission Impossible) an unhinged veteran, Leo (Neville Brand, Evils of the Night, Stalag 17). Larry Storch (F Troop, Airport 75) turns up briefly as a doomed scout leader and Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly, The Alpha Incident) and Sue Ane Langdon (Zapped, The Evictors) make appearances as well.

This is one of the best casts assembled for a film like this, both in terms of scenery chewing as well as actual acting talent, and in an interesting coincidence features Predator’s Kevin Peter Hall in the creature suit. That suit and the film’s bloody effects were done by Rick Baker (The Howling, Men in Black) and Greg Cannom (The Sword and the Sorcerer, Exorcist III). 

Plotwise, Without Warning, throws everything the writers could think of at the viewer. Chases through the woods, booby traps, though somewhat surprisingly no actual boobies. There are also spooky old houses, a barroom full of odd characters, and lots of red herrings, one of whom turns out to be as big a threat as the alien. 

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Speaking of the alien, we don’t actually see much of him, and that’s all towards the end of the film. The mask was Rick Baker’s contribution to the film, and it’s well-made. The problem is that it looks more like something from the original run of The Outer Limits or Star Trek than something frightening in and of itself. But does that really matter when you’re armed with killer pancakes?

And Without Warning makes the most of these refugees from an alien IHOP, and we frequently get to see them flying around and striking their prey, tentacles burrowing in to hold them in place, so their teeth can go to work. They got a reaction out of me at the time, and they’re still up there with I Come in Peace’s killer CDs when it comes to things I don’t want to see flying at me.

It might be unfair to compare modern low-budget films to Without Warning. Because while practical effects do seem to be making a comeback, you really can’t put together a cast like this on the cheap anymore. And unlike so many of the celebs who turn up in lower budget films now, Landau and Palance had actual roles in the film, not just cameos.

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But thankfully, these elements came together just right here, with a mix of a seasoned cast and up-and-coming talent connecting with a script that knew what its audience was looking for. And that package landed in the hands of one of the most underrated directors of the grindhouse era. If you love these kinds of films, and you haven’t seen Without Warning, you need to.

Without warning has been released on various DVD and Blu-ray labels over the years, most recently by Kino-Lorber. It’s also available on Digital Platforms. And if you want more scares from the stars, FilmTagger can suggest some titles.

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