Alien Invader Doesn’t Have a Chance Against Bad-assed Palance or Bug-Eyed Landau.
DIRECTED BY GRAYDON CLARK / 1980
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: MAY 17, 2022 / KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
The tagline for the movie tells us: “It feeds on human fear; it feasts on human flesh.” And I suppose that’s true, though there isn’t much evidence of it doing either during Without Warning‘s 89-minute runtime. The “it” in question is an alien hunter who has come to Earth in search of human prey. It finds itself up against unexpected opposition in the form of a bad-ass gas station attendant (Jack Palance) and an army vet whose sanity has been frayed to the breaking point by the knowledge that it walks among us (Martin Landau). It’s hard to argue that Without Warning is a good movie, despite the talent in front of and behind the camera, but it is a fun piece of late ’70s schlock.
The movie is a combination of two of the hottest trends in cinema at the time: science fiction (thanks, Star Wars!) and the slasher film (thanks, Halloween!). A group of four teens head to a remote area to party and have some fun. They are warned off by a crazy old man at a gas station (that’d be Palance), but go anyway. Soon, they find themselves being picked off by a tall, menacing figure in a rigid mask. The mask, in this case, is supposed to be the actual face of an alien being. And instead of using axes or machetes to kill, the alien uses tiny frisbees covered in teeth and tendrils that burrow into your flesh and drain your blood.
The tendril frisbees are the film’s best effect, and the filmmakers know it given the number of closeups we get of their grisly work. Greg Cannom, who has won multiple Academy Awards for his work, designed the things and did the movie’s gory makeup effects. The alien, itself, is a little less convincing. Famed makeup artist and future Oscar winner Rick Baker designed the mask, and that’s future Predator Kevin Peter Hall wearing it. But the mask is rigid and lifeless (once you get past the first shocking look at it), and the alien doesn’t do much but lumber around and toss its little frisbees at its victims.
A lot of the film’s energy is supplied by Landau and Palance. Palance hisses his way through a role that’s reminiscent of Jaws‘ Quint: a grizzled old man who becomes obsessed with hunting down the monster and who doesn’t care who gets hurt along the way. He’s menacing at first, but by the end becomes seen as the only one who can stop the threat. Landau’s character, on the other hand, knows about the alien from the start. However, his knowledge makes him paranoid and unpredictable and soon he’s as much of a threat to our teen protagonists as the alien hunter. It’s a twitchy, bug-eyed performance that doesn’t provide a lot of nuance, but it’s as entertaining as all get-out.
Future Oscar-winners Palance, Landau, Cannom, and Baker aren’t the only talent of note to contribute to Without Warning. Future nominee Dean Cundey is the cinematographer; “F-Troop” actor Larry Storch has a small part as a scout leader; Cameron Mitchell is the alien’s first victim; and look for a baby-faced David Caruso as one of the teens.
Kino Lorber’s new Blu-Ray release of Without Warning is handsomely presented with a snazzy slipcover and reversible cover-art. The disc, showcasing a transfer from a new 2K master, comes loaded with extras, most of which originated from Shout! Factory’s 2014 release. There’s an audio commentary track from director Greydon Clark, who provides behind-the-scenes anecdotes about making the movie. There are several short featurettes featuring interviews with actors Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson, Dean Cundey, producer Daniel Grodnik, and Greg Cannom. There’s a Trailers from Hell segment with Mike Mendez, and a theatrical trailer to round everything off. If you’re a fan of this sort of low-budget monster movie, these features make a compelling reason to get the disc.