Without Warning (1980) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Without Warning (1980) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on May 14th, 2021 | Movie Review | Alien, Sci-Fi, Cabin in the Woods, Campy

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It’s about a quartet of teens, a pair of weird hermits, and some bagel-sized flying creatures that attack – wait for it – without warning!

Without Warning was directed by Greydon Clark (Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Satan’s Cheerleaders) and stars Jack Palance (nominated for three Academy Awards; the villain from Shane who later played Dracula in the made-for-television Dan Curtis’ Dracula), Martin Landau (who, coincidentally, won an Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood), Tarah Nutter (who had a stint on the soap Days of Our Lives) and a young David Caruso (from NYPD Blue).

Will teenagers heed the taxidermist’s caution to stay clear of the local lake?

Without Warning Review

No, they won’t.

(Come to think of it, the title “Without Warning” is hardly apropos in view of the old weirdo who articulates an explicit warning. He admonishes the four teenagers, “Oh, I’d stay away from there, if I was you.” Sounds more like “With Warning.” Well, to be fair, the mini-monsters love the element of surprise and even the film’s alternative title:” It Came … Without Warning” sounds better than “It Came … After Some Pretty Heavy-Handed Foreshadowing.”)

Camp (that is, humorous exaggeration) is familiar bedfellow to horror. There is a continuum of horror flicks in which the element of camp is present. Just the right mix is the best recipe; it generates the tastiest tension. On one end of the spectrum are the fully campy flicks; parodies such as director Greydon Clark’s slasher-spoof Wacko (1982) which predated Scream by almost a decade and a half.

Now, the fully-camp spoof-genre is a worthy one, but films like Attack of the Killer Donuts, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and Sharknado 5: Global Swarming are never as satisfying as a films which don’t set out to be bad or silly. Maybe it’s that they’re trying too hard to be bad. At best they’re funny, but not scary.

On the other end of the spectrum lie unintentionally campy movies: Films in which the camp is accidental.

Often ridiculously under-budgeted (think directors like Roger Corman or Ed Wood) and so suffused with vapid acting, two-dollar special effects, and continuity non-sequiturs so as to trigger more giggles than shrieks, these serendipitous-camp-flicks include masterpieces like Jaws: The Revenge and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. By ‘masterpieces,’ I mean that they’re inspiringly horrid. They take one’s breath away like the Grand Canyon, The Iliad, or Citizen Kane, but for different reasons. They elicit an “Oh, my!”

For reasons that critics have never been able to articulate, there is genuine gorgeousness in art which fails so spectacularly. Perhaps it’s what Stephen King described as the desire to slow down and take in the gore of a car crash. But for whatever reason, these sorts of films are endlessly mocked – and celebrated.

Consider Troll 2. Three and a half cheers! “Oh, my!”

Finally, there is a midpoint on the continuum – films which are neither disasters nor spoofs; neither genre-parodies – nor total messes. In this category are films which spin a bit of camp, acknowledge their silliness, then go straight for the audience’s jugular vein. Truly elegant films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

These mid-point camp films require a true chef. They’re a dessert which demands a practiced directorial gourmet. Such is Without Warning: a tiramisu of creamy camp, rich depth, meaningful commentary, and a lightly sweetened gore – it’s subtle, balanced, and delicious!

If one ignores a few lumps in the frosting, it’s as good as Bride of Reanimator. There, I said it. Without Warning is sex in a pan.

Worth Watching?

In the ever-expanding universe of lowest-common-denominator schlock (James Cameron, I’m looking at you), yes – Without Warning is worth watching. It’s one hundred times better than Titanic or Avatar or anything with Thor in it any day of the week.

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