This very weird drive-in flick directed by Greydon Clark is pretty creepy, in a brainless sort of way. Predating the “Predator” concept by a number of years, “Without Warning” involves a mysterious alien presence lurking in the woods, claiming campers and backpackers with the use of living, tentacled flying discs it hurls at potential victims.
The fact that the killer is an alien gives it a faux sci-fi twist, but in reality this has more in common with “Friday the 13th”, albeit with flying alien discs. The alien itself spends most of the movie offscreen, throwing its frisbees at people, then harvesting them and storing their bodies in a convenient old shack normally used by the water department (who are marginally less frightening than murderous aliens).
The obnoxious characters might get on your nerves, particularly the stereotypical shell-shocked vet portrayed by Martin Landau. The young male lead is also pretty irritating (bad-movie junkies may recognize him from “Roller Boogie”). One of the biggest pleasures of the film is the presence of numerous b-movie personalities and character actors, a number of whom also appeared in Greydon Clark’s second alien thriller of 1980, “The Return”. Palance and Landau, light years away from their Oscars, really ham it up big time alongside Larry Storch, Neville Brand (“Eaten Alive”), Ralph Meeker (“The Night Stalker”, “Food of the Gods”), Cameron Mitchell (God, where to begin??). Look fast for a very young David Caruso as an early alien snack. Further linking the film to “Predator” is that the alien in this film is played by the same actor who played The Predator, the late Kevin Peter Hall.
It’s definitely a low-rent affair, but there is some good stuff here. The atmospheric photography helps, although the low quality video transfers that are circulating out there do a lot to detract from it. The script takes some welcome short cuts in the early stages, wasting no time in getting one half of our dual teenage couples bumped off and leaving the remaining two on the run. The action takes place in a number of dark, desolate places. At least the counselors at Crystal Lake had a few bungalows to take refuge in. The protagonists of “Without Warning” scurry through old shacks, dark open fields, abandoned cottages, and rundown redneck bars. Brrr. The “bloodsucking frisbee” effect is fairly well done, too.
Then there’s the matter of the alien. It’s very silly looking in full light, but they don’t really let you get a good look at it, and it’s vaguely creepy the way it’s photographed. In one scene, we catch our first real glimpse of it as it’s approaching on the other side of a swinging pendant lamp, a la “Psycho”. The lamp swings up and momentarily illuminates the weird, grasping figure. Eerie. There’s also a great shot at the conclusion where Jack Palance exacts his revenge on the visitor by planting dynamite outside the shack. He grapples with the deranged Landau, until suddenly they both look up, and standing there in the distance is the alien, watching them. Unfortunately, the scene is defused by the campy overacting and dialogue.
We have yet to get a quality home video release for “Without Warning”, at least in the United States. It seems to have slipped through the cracks, or is tied up in a matter of studio ownership. My only regret is that I never got to see this one at the drive-in, which is obviously where it was meant to be enjoyed. It meets that lofty goal very nicely.