Without Warning (1980)

An alien hunter stalks human prey with disc-like objects and a desire to steal the bodies away for its dark purposes. Seven years before he played the titular Predator and hunted Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Peter Hall starred as another stealthy extraterrestrial being that yearned for human victims. Instead of trophies, it feeds on the bodies, and instead of metal blades, spears, and shoulder cannons, this one uses parasitic creatures like a Frisbee to latch onto its quarry and bring it down. And this one doesn’t just do it for the thrill of taking down a worthy opponent, as it doesn’t care whether you have a fighting chance.

The plot is simple: four teenagers visit a lake for some relaxation. Unfortunately an alien has declared it open season on human prey, and it’s also chosen this exact lake as its hunting ground. The townsfolk nearby might know something, but unfortunately the few that do don’t quite have all of their mental faculties, including a crotchety old hunter and a mentally ill army veteran who thinks aliens are invading to take over the Earth.

I was surprised while watching Without Warning. It hits a lot of the traditional horror tropes of the 1980s (teenagers having sex get killed, small rural towns are full of crazies, the gas station is always maintained by a creep, the final girl). In fact, it’s kind of like a non-slasher slasher film in this regard. But it is an effective horror movie that understands how to hide its creature for most of the movie. You see the bodies, the weapons, and the shadow, but you don’t actually see it until literally 15 minutes from the end of the film. I may be a couple of seconds off, but it’s quite close anyway. The alien never speaks beyond a growl, though the parasitic discs like to chitter in a way that is as gross as they are. And while there are some characters you think will survive…well, you’d be wrong.

As for the actors, there is actually some talent in here: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Neville Brand, David Caruso, Ralph Meeker, even Cameron Mitchell from Space Mutiny! I love Space Mutiny. But most importantly, Kevin Peter Hall is here, AKA Predator, the mutant bear from Prophecy, the Gorvil from Mazes and Monsters that Tom Hanks kills when he goes crazy, Harry from Harry and the Hendersons, so on and so forth. What’s not to love?

For the most part, the film is solid; at least I think so. There are tense moments, the soundtrack and audio effects add to the dreariness, shadows are well used, and the pacing and editing are reasonably well done, though there is one scene near the middle of the film where two characters climb into a sheriff’s patrol car that feels forced and sloppy in comparison to the rest. But there is nothing in the film that feels unnecessary or overly long. Unrealistic perhaps, especially regarding the Sarge and how he gets away from the bar so easily, but Martin Landau does such an entertaining job as the character, I’m willing to overlook it. To all of my horror fan friends, I suggest checking this one out.

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