Monday, September 21, 2015

Without Warning

  Now here's a fun movie. It's equal parts perfectly cheesy and genuinely creepy, a standing testament that the two can go hand in hand and not undermine each other. Of course, Without Warning's cheesiness is more a product of it's budget and the era it was made in, but that's also part of it's appeal. The filmmakers knew how to get you. They may not have had the best special effects or the best cast (which surprisingly includes Jack Palance and Martin Landau), but they knew how to make the best out of what they had. The end result was this delightful gem of a movie.

 It's been said it's a predecessor to Predator, and I guess so, but only in the most basic way. Both movies feature an unseen alien hunting down humans in a non-urban area. That's where the similarities end. The alien's motives in Without Warning are murky at best. I think it was inferred that he's an advanced scout for an invasion? Or that it kills for food? I don't recall, and I don't remember it being that important. Whereas in Predator, the whole... hunter/prey theme was seriously played up. The alien in Predator hunted for sport, it was an important plot point. Here, not so much.

   Our protagonists are a bunch of teens who go down to the lake for the weekend, despite a warning from a local nutcase hunter (Palance) who tells em it's not safe. He knows something, but won't be straight with them because he knows how it sounds. Friggin' aliens, man. Anyhow, a 'bunch' of teens quickly becomes a 'couple' of teens when the alien finally gets to them. The rest of the movie involves them running from one area to another, avoiding the alien's deadly little flying discs of teeth and tentacles as they seek refuge. There's plenty of side characters around to add more things to the plot and help out our protagonists.

   At one point, the two teen survivors wind up hiding out at a small diner/bar, which is soon abuzz with conversation about aliens. This scene is really clever because this is where the movie takes the time to knock out some obvious questions. Kind of like the scene in Tremors where the three heroes speculate about where the creatures came from? Same thing, sort of. It's a useful little scene because the bar patrons are as skeptical as real people would be. Nobody is hopping around pointing at the sky and screaming "THEY'RE HERE!". This is just not that kind of movie. It's not an invasion flick. The alien is a singular enemy, and the way he looks is only really revealed at the end.

  And holy cow what a last act. The movie manages to escalate and escalate right up to the last minute. The tension and suspense get so intense that I was squirming in my seat. There's some excellent editing and camera work on display, especially in the last half. Then the alien gets revealed and it's downright frightening. When we see him, he's in the distance, staring down one of the main characters, like an old fashioned showdown. Except, it's a showdown set against an atmospheric, creepy and unnerving backdrop. Fog rolls in, the lighting is just right, and everything is silent. No hammy music, no weird sound effects, no gimmicks- just the alien... and his prey.

  It's such a powerful scene and it's made that much more by the man inside the alien suit, Kevin Peter Hall, who as you might know played the Predator in both Predator and Predator 2. He lends a physical language to the alien that's comprised of unnatural looking movements and articulated gestures. This isn't some goofy looking thing wheeled onto the set off some old movie studio backlot. There was great efforts made to make sure nobody could laugh at this alien. It doesn't look like it was crafted on a triple-A budget, to be honest, none of the movie does and in lesser hands that means it would look corny. However, slick camera work, on-point editing, and some fantastic atmosphere make Without Warning a properly creepy and straightforward flick. Loved it.

No comments:

Post a Comment