Director Greydon Clark is not a name thrown around a lot. Horror fans will know him (probably) for 1977’s Satan’s Cheerleaders. The rest of filmdom need not apply. However, his best film, Without Warning (1980), would end up resonating in such a way as to inspire Predator (1987), Schwarzenegger’s Alien in the Jungle box office smash. And when I say inspire, I mean they stole the concept. But what Without Warning lacks in testosterone and Hollywood bankrolls, it makes up in B movie charm and a winsome personality. You can’t help but fall in love with the damn thing.

Released by Filmways Pictures in New York, in September 1980, Without Warning (AKA It Came…Without Warning) had a scattered release – dribs and drabs in smaller markets, and don’t forget Finland (who could?). Made for a meager $150,000 US the film was given a real dine and dash release, I’m assuming in the hope to make some dough back in home video sales. Except it was never released on home video. Ever. Bizarre to say the least (many lesser films have littered the video landscape through the years), but of course this was remedied by Scream Factory in 2014. And not a moment too soon, as a heaping dose of Clark’s low budget can-do magic is always welcome.

The story is ripped right from the headlines of an AIP flick circa 1958. Some kids go to the lake, and stumble upon an alien who is killing people for sport. Along the way, they get some help from a cranky local in disposing of the menace. Color in some pages (crazy war vet here, massacred Boy Scout troop there) and you’re ready to roll. By the way, this isn’t cynicism, but rather whole hearted support for a film content to exist in a land of minimal law enforcement, one bar, a shack for body storage, and a cobwebbed wind up gas pump.

Without Warning is a film without pretense, and a good example of wringing maximum fun out of minimum fundage. All you have to do is surround yourself with the right people, a maxim that worked out quite well for Clark. Take a peek at the credits, and you’ll see one Dean Cundey listed as Director of Photography. Yes, the legendary DP who shot masterworks with Carpenter, Zemeckis, and Spielberg actually had a longstanding relationship with Clark, and this was their fifth and final collaboration. Cundey’s people tried to warn him from going back to Clark after gaining some career heat with Halloween, but Clark was a friend who was always there for him, and he thought it would be fun. And this is Cundey – did they think he would embarrass himself? The film looks fantastic, especially as the day turns to night, and Cundey’s widescreen compositions breathe life into the well-worn material. It turns out he’s one of the greats of cinematography and a stand-up guy to boot.

So what was he given to shoot? How about some fun creature effects by a young Greg Cannom (Dreamscape, Dracula), and a last act alien designed by Rick Baker (King Kong, An American Werewolf in London)? Our visitor throws a gelatinous disc at its victims, which smacks into them like an enraged tortilla before sprouting bloodsucking tendrils. Yes, they look as ridiculous as they sound, but it’s all part of the low cost shenanigans, and right in line with the late ‘50s drive-in feel. And the retro, Outer Limits look of the alien is impressively streamlined and refreshingly simple. Probably out of necessity, but daring nevertheless in a post Xenomorphic world.

Our youth brigade is led by Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson, and they make for attractive and engaging leads, followed by a surprisingly likeable David Caruso (true story!). However, these youngsters weren’t hired to put asses in the (as it turns out, non-existent) seats, but rather a group of stars whose lights were set on dim at the time. You get Cameron Mitchell (The Toolbox Murders) as an asshole hunter trying to bond with his son. Neville Brand (Eaten Alive) and Ralph Meeker (The Food of the Gods) warm a couple of bar stools, and Larry Storch (The Ghost Busters) leads his Boy Scouts right into danger.

But sometimes film is a dance, and our featured duet is performed by Martin Landau and Jack Palance, testing out their moves for 1982’s Alone in the Dark. The boys play Sarge, the unstable vet, and Joe, the cranky proprietor of the gas station, and they both fill the roles expected of them, with some pleasant variations. Landau actually dials it down a couple of notches in certain scenes, giving Sarge a little more depth and sympathy than what was probably on the page. Palance starts out cantankerous, but manages to imbue Joe with a fatherly kindness that has us on his side by the end.

Without a doubt, Greydon Clark is a journeyman director. But most of his films are at least competent, and sit confidently (and proudly) on the bottom half of a double feature. Without Warning is the exception – an affectionate throwback to another time at the drive-in, where a film like this would have been at the top of the bill, commanding an audience’s undivided attention. It certainly caught the attention of Predator’s creators – they also used the same actor (Kevin Peter Hall) that played the alien for their Rasta Martian. So the next time you want to go back to the choppah, maybe play this instead – sometimes angry tortillas need love too.

Without Warning is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960)
  • Scott Drebit
    About the Author - Scott Drebit

    Scott Drebit lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is happily married (back off ladies) with 2 grown kids. He has had a life-long, torrid, love affair with Horror films. He grew up watching Horror on VHS, and still tries to rewind his Blu-rays. Some of his favourite horror films include Phantasm, Alien, Burnt Offerings, Phantasm, Zombie, Halloween, and Black Christmas. Oh, and Phantasm.