PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Golden Woods of 'Without Warning' Can't Kick the Camp

"It was a sci-fi and we could ham it up, so we did—and it was great,” Tarah Nutter says about Without Warning. "Ham it up" fits the film but "great", not so much.

Without Warning

Director: Greydon Clark
Cast: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Tarah Nutter, Christopher S. Nelson, Cameron Mitchell, Neville Brand, Sue Ane Langdon, Ralph Meeker, Larry Storch, Lynn Theel, David Caruso, Kevin Peter Hall
Distributor: Scream Factory
Rated: R
Year: 1980
US DVD release date: 2014-08-05

A low-budget, campy sci-fi / horror thriller is the last place you’d expect to find a primer on acting, but that’s just what’s offered by Without Warning (1980) -- out in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Scream! Factory. This comes in addition to just about every B-movie convention you can name, and some beautiful cinematography.

Two young couples head for the woods for the weekend: Beth and Tom and their respective best friends Sandy and Greg. Despite being warned away from the area by a local, they persist in their plans, and find themselves stalked by an alien who’s come to earth to hunt humans. It kills by means of flying parasitic discs with vascular appendages that pierce their hosts and drain their blood.

After Beth and Tom fall prey to the alien, Sandy and Greg fend for themselves, with the help of local hunter Joe, who’s been stalking the creature, and the hindrance of Sarge, a Vietnam vet who’s either crazy or in thrall to the alien.

Beth (Lynn Theel) and Tom (David Caruso in very short shorts) are too frisky to stay with their friends, and their lusty abandon gets them killed—one of many horror conventions that director Greydon Clark (who also brought us Satan’s Cheerleaders and Joysticks) deploys with the affection of a practitioner who’s also a fan.

Without Warning was shot by Dean Cundey, whose work gives the film a sophistication often missing in low-budget film. Cundey had worked with Clark before, but after the success of Halloween, which he had recently photographed, he was urged not to do any more low-budget work.

He ignored that advice and shot the film anyway. In a new interview included among the release extras of Without Warning, Cundey explains that the low-budget films he worked on were a “great training ground,” where he had the freedom to experiment and learn the skills he used on the studio films (including Jurassic Park and Apollo 13) that he eventually filmed.

Most of Without Warning was shot at night, on location, challenging Cundey to light scenes with only distant groves and mountains as background. One trick he used to compensate was to set up lights behind trees in the near distance, then flood the area with fog. The effect avoids oppressive darkness behind the actors and also enhances the mood of the film. Still, it’s a shame that there aren’t more daylight scenes, because Cundey took full advantage of the setting: the first scenes in the woods have a beautiful, golden glow.

Lively, yet smooth camera work lends the film vitality. Cundey used a Steadicam for many shots; “for the time, a pretty sophisticated piece of equipment,” he says. And a heavy one, to boot—the shoot gave him a hernia, he reports.

Clark cast a number of veteran actors in the film, most notably Jack Palance (Joe) and Martin Landau (Sarge). Cast members Christopher S. Nelson (Greg) and Tarah Nutter (Sandy) offer insights into their performances.

Of Landau, Nutter says, “he had a lot vested in this and he was a classic method actor. He took it all the way to the extreme, and you had to bring back that same energy”. “His ‘CRAZED’ was in all capital letters”, says Nelson, who wonders if “having the guts to go too far in this film might have been part of what got him to a place where he could do what he did in a quiet way as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.

Nutter, a dancer, talks about the connection she felt with Palance, a former boxer. “It was this B sci-fi movie, it was really campy and hokey, but there was this feeling especially outdoors ... it felt like we were doing this dance on this immense stage. There was no limit to how big we could get. It was a sci-fi and we could ham it up, so we did—and it was great”.

Interviews with co-writer and co-producer Daniel Grodnik and with make-up effects creator Greg Cannom round out the extras. Grodnik, who caught the film bug in a French New Wave course at the University of Minnesota, talks about the resourcefulness and fearlessness necessary to make movies in the '80s: “You grab a project, and you become a filmmaker”. For Without Warning, that meant a script that was eventually touched by four writers.

Cannom explains how he took over special effects duties from Rick Baker, who had created the alien head and already designed the makeup. He talks about getting to know actor Cameron Mitchell, whom he helped with a horror film he was trying to make, and about the fate of the plaster head he cast of actor Darby Hinton—used for after effects—which became part of the mine ride at Knott’s Berry Farm theme park.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.