Thursday, April 30, 2020

Use of Tropes: Without Warning

Directed by Greydon Clark and released in 1980, I have often seen Without Warning touted as a vampire film – or at least one aspect within it called vampiric. I think there is enough around that aspect for us to look at the film here as a “Use of Tropes” piece, for honestly it is the viewer projecting onto that aspect as much as anything, but isn’t that the very essence of a trope? As well as being suggested as a vampire film, the film has also been credited as being an inspiration for Predator.

It also features some classic actors chewing the scenery so beautifully that they make the film worth watching all on their own. Just to note that the film is on VoD on Amazon but the UK version has at least one scene butchered, cut down in its prime, and it makes no sense as it was a character introduction scene.

on hunter
So it starts, after some POV camera work, and some oh-so-eighties credit's font, with a hunter (Cameron Mitchell) wandering up to his motor home. He wakes Randy (Darby Hinton), his adult son, as they are meant to be hunting together – though it is clear that Randy is not interested at all. They also bicker quite bitterly and eventually the hunter goes off on his own. Time passes and Randy sits by a stream when he sees his father come towards him. We see a flying spinning disc that zips through the air and latches onto the hunter’s neck.

It is here that we get our trope use. The little flying discs are organic and, when we see it hit the neck and tentacles burrow into the flesh our expectations drive us towards a conclusion of blood drinking. Maybe because it is at the neck, maybe because the burrowing tentacles are red to begin with, but it is the discs that have been described as vampiric. In truth they can land anywhere (we see, in the film, them attaching to backs, legs, arms, chests and fully on a cheek) and they seem to exude a yellow corrosive gunk.

What they are doing – other than being used as an organic weapon – we don’t ever find out. It is possible that they are sucking blood. It is also possible that they are injecting a sedative, a poison or even a meat tenderising enzyme – the film doesn’t say. The underside looks to have suckers and, in the centre, a mouth of teeth that looks a little lamprey like (further projecting the idea that these things will drink blood).

the kids
So, just before a throw away, semi-comedy scene featuring a scout leader (Larry Storch, Groovy Goolies & the Ghost Busters) who is hit by a disc – and his troop of cub scouts running when they see something we do not, presumably the main alien (Kevin Peter Hall – who actually did go on to play the Predator) – we meet the kids from who the protagonists are drawn. Tom (David Caruso) and his gal Aggy (Lynn Theel), are going to the lake and brought friends they hope will ‘get along’, Sandy (Tarah Nutter) and Greg (Christopher S. Nelson).

Jack Palance as Joe Taylor
On their way they stop for gas and there is the mentioned massive hole in the Amazon cut of the film at this point. The Amazon version has them get to a gas station, it looks closed but then they go in to pay for the gas. In the proper cut the girls go to the bathroom, can’t get in the ladies and Sandy ends up in the gents meeting, briefly, Vietnam vet Sarge (Martin Landau, Frankenweenie & Ed Wood), and we get a tad of character dialogue between the boys. When they do go to pay (in the full version, Tom is reluctant and wants to leave without paying) they are accosted by Joe Taylor (Jack Palance, Dracula) who warns them from the lake (he says because it is hunting season, but we later discover that he survived an encounter with the alien and that’s the hunter he means).

Martin Landau as Sarge
So, if there is a reason to watch this it is for Landau and Palance. Palance is just all kinds of creepy, I mean he exudes creepiness by the bucketload and he’s clearly loving it. When we meet Landau (in the full version) he is a little odd but when we meet him in a bar later on, he switches the weirdness up a lot. He’s playing a character who clearly has PTSD but has gone full blown delusional and he achieves Nick Cage level insanity – it’s a joy to watch. He gets it into his head that the kids are actually aliens who have taken human form and so they are being hunted by the alien and by Sarge.

Kevin Peter Hall as the alien
What does the alien want with us? Whilst he takes trophies it isn’t apparent whether it is doing anything more than hunting for the thrill of it. The bodies of its victims mostly seem quite rottenly eaten away (by the yellow gunk from the discs?) and so it doesn’t feel like it eats its prey for sustinence – though Taylor suggests it might at one point. What it does do, quite deliberately, is prank its prey (sneaking around and turning on lights and taps in a house they’re hiding in) presumably getting a kick out of freaking its victims out. I don’t think we can make a claim of vampirism on its behalf, so the only vampiric thing is the discs – but they are organic so if they are drinking blood then they would be, I guess, an alien vampire.

The imdb page is here.

Multi-format @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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