FAREWELL AND R.I.P. MARTIN LANDAU!

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MARTIN LANDAU 1928-2017

We lost another legendary talent yesterday. Actor Martin Landau passed away at age 89. He was a long time veteran of TV and film work, including appearing on Mission: Impossible and the British sci-fi show Space:1999. Horror fans will remember him most for his oscar winning portrayal of legendary boogieman Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. He appeared in a few other horror flicks, too, such as Without Warning and Alone In The Dark. Landau enjoyed an acting career lasting almost 60 years with his last film, The Last Poker Game, being released earlier this year.

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-MonsterZero NJ

Sources: internet

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: ED WOOD (1994)

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ED WOOD (1994)

Halloween Favorites is back and this Tim Burton classic is certainly a fun Halloween season watch when you need a break from decapitations, masked killers and lurking fiends.

Ed Wood is a twisted and funny film that delightfully tells the story of arguably the worst filmmaker in history, Edward Wood Jr. Johnny Depp plays the ambitious Wood whose passion for making amateurish sci-fi/horror movies by far eclipsed his actually talent. The film follows the wannabe director through the making of some of his most infamous flicks, like Glen Or Glenda, Bride Of The Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space and his relationship with an oddball assortment of characters, including a drug addicted Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), TV hostess Vampira (Lisa Marie), wrestler/actor Tor Johnson (WWE’s George “The Animal” Steele), drag queen Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray) and fortune teller Criswell (Jeffrey Jones). It also takes us into his equally odd personal life, including his relationships with wannabe actress Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker) and his future wife Kathy (Patrica Arquette) along with his love for wearing women’s clothes.

This is one of Burton’s best films, as he directs Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s script with healthy doses of respect and heart. While Burton has a lot of fun with Wood’s story and the making of some of his most notorious films, never at any time does he make fun of Wood, or treat the man with contempt. Wood’s life makes for a movie as strange and off-beat as one of his own productions and the director knows it and films the story in black and white and in the same whimsical style as if we were watching one of Wood’s films, only about Wood. The film is loaded with atmosphere, charm and a lot of entertaining and oddball bits as Wood certainly lived in his own little world and Burton takes us into it. Burton also captures the spirit of Hollywood in the 50s and and the spirit of a man who wants to break into movies and be remembered for his films…and he is…though not the way he wanted. The movie’s atmosphere is enhanced with Danny Elfman’s boisterous score and Stephan Czapsky’s sumptuous black and white cinematography.

The cast is fantastic, with Depp really having a blast as the goofy, cross-dressing amateur filmmaker. He gives him passion, a kind heart and wonderfully naive charm. He is only outshined by Landau who is truly incredible…and sympathetic…as the aging, morphine addicted Bela Lugosi. The two have a wonderful chemistry together and make this odd pairing work. Lisa Marie and George Steele are perfectly cast as Vampira and Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson, who appeared in a few of Wood’s flicks. Jones is also perfect as the bizarre psychic Criswell and Murray steals every scene as drag queen and Wood associate, Bunny Breckinridge. As his love interests, Parker gives us a frustrated woman who gradually snaps at being drawn into the bizarre world her boyfriend lives in and Arquette is sweet and has almost an innocent quality, as the woman that would become Wood’s wife till he died in 1978.

This is a great movie about one of the worst directors of all-time. A man now idolized for his awful…yet, oddly very entertaining…flicks. The film chooses to focus on the more off-beat aspects of Wood’s life, while avoiding the subject of his depression and alcoholism, though it does not shy away from Lugosi’s. Burton chooses to make a more whimsical take on Wood’s life and that works very well considering how bizarre and surreal his films were. It’s a spoof, that never makes fun of it’s subject and never looks down upon this amusingly terrible filmmaker. A fun movie that indirectly captures the Halloween spirit far better than some films with more direct intent. Sadly, the film was a box office disappointment, but has developed a much deserved cult following and Lugosi did get an Oscar for his amazing turn as Lugosi.

-MonsterZero NJ

4 Woods!

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WITHOUT WARNING and PREDATOR: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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WITHOUT WARNING and PREDATOR: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Without Warning or Predator, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Last time around I compared the similarities in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and John Carpenter’s Halloween (link here). Now, I’d like to have a little fun comparing the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator and Without Warning, a B-movie sci-fi/horror with a very similar plot that predates Predator by seven years. So, how does 1980’s Without Warning measure up to 1987’s Predator? Read on to find out!

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

Greydon Clark’s cult favorite Without Warning tells the story of a group of teens who go up to a mountain lake to party in an area that has been staked out as a hunting ground by an alien being, hunting humans for sport. The surviving teens’ only hope is a local hunter named Joe Taylor (Jack Palance) whose own hunting skills make him a worthy adversary for the extraterrestrial big game hunter. This pits hunter vs. hunter in a battle for survival.

Directed by John McTiernan, Predator tells the tale of a group of special ops commandos who are dropped on a rescue mission into a section of the South American jungle that has been staked out as a hunting ground by an alien being, hunting humans for sport. As his squad dwindles, it’s up to team leader Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to use his every skill as a solider to try and stop this big game hunter from another world. This pits hunter vs. soldier in a battle for survival.

Except for some story details, the similarities in the basic plot are quite obvious between the two.

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THE ANTAGONISTS

The alien hunter of the low budget Without Warning is a modest looking creature made by make-up FX legend Rick Baker and played by the late Kevin Peter Hall who was 7′ 3″ tall. The creature stalks it’s prey day or night and it’s only weapons are star-fish shaped creatures that it throws at it’s victims. These little buggers latch on to prey with their pointy fangs and finish them off by digging their tentacles deep under the victim’s skin. When wounded, the creature seems to be able to heal itself with a mere touch of it’s own hand, though, doesn’t really seem to feel pain anyway. It keeps the bodies of it’s victims, temporarily in an old shed, to keep as trophies…or possibly food. The creature is malicious and has no sense of honor and will attack basically anyone, whether they can defend themselves or not. The creature growls but never speaks.

The alien hunter of the larger budgeted Predator is a now iconic movie monster made by make-up FX legend Stan Winston and is also played by the late Kevin Peter Hall, who became a film icon himself for portraying such roles. The Predator hunts it’s victims day and night using a cloaking device to remain hidden. Once it has it’s prey in sight, the better equipt hunter uses a variety of retractable blades and laser weaponry to finish off it’s victims. When wounded, the predator has some impressive self-surgery skills to mend it’s wounds and keep on going, though, it does seem to feel pain and can be hurt. It keeps it’s prey’s skulls as trophies and leaves skinned bodies hanging around to evoke fear in potential game. It is a fair creature, that seems to like a challenge and will only attack prey that is armed and can put up a fight and defend itself. The creature doesn’t outright speak, but communicates by mimicking voices and phrases it’s heard.

While budget advantages make our Predator far more effective than the simply designed hunter of Without Warning, in terms of character, The Predator uses far more technology and weaponry than his 1980 counterpart and seems far more susceptible to pain and injury. Though in terms of the type of hunting they do, The Predator likes a challenge and only attacks armed prey, while Without Warning‘s alien hunter will attack anyone whether they are armed or not…though there is subtle implication that it does not consider children fair game.

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HEROES and FINAL GIRLS

Without Warning has both a hero, our local hunter Joe Taylor (Jack Palance) and a final girl, Sandy (Tarah Nutter). Joe is a bit of a recluse who has lived in the mountain area setting all his life. He’s a hunter who lives off the land and runs the small town’s only gas station. He seems to keep to himself, but has a strong sense of nobility and when the creature sets his sights on the helpless teens, Joe takes up his hunting rifle and takes on the alien invader who’s hunting on the local man’s turf. Final girl Sandy is a sweet girl brought on the lake excursion by her friend Beth (Lynn Thell) as a blind date for her boyfriend Tom’s (David Caruso) bud, Greg (Christopher S. Nelson). She’s sweet and timid, but does rise above being a damsel in distress, when placed in the middle of the life and death struggle between the hunters from different worlds.

Predator has a hero and a final girl (technically, the only girl), too. Our hero is Dutch, the leader of an elite black operative’s team played by action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is a highly skilled soldier and when faced with a creature more powerful and far better armed, Dutch must use every skill he has to outwit his alien adversary that is slaughtering his men. Our final girl is Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), a rebel soldier captured by Dutch’s team that has encountered the creature before. While she is a soldier, the film never let’s her rise about being a captive damsel as Arnie takes center stage for a one on one climactic confrontation with The Predator.

Joe and Dutch are from two different worlds (figuratively), but are the best at what they do in their respective ways of life. It’s in our ladies that there is a bit of a difference. Ironically, while she’s the far more timid character, Sandy gets to show a bit more moxie than Anna who is actually a resistance fighter, but never given a chance to show it in the film.

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THE SETTINGS

Here there are equal parts similarities and differences. Without Warning takes place in a rural mountain area, here in the U.S., surrounding a lake. There is a very small town located in it, but the alien creature seems to track and kill anyone that enters the surrounding woods only. The fact that the locals are unaware of it’s existence, except for crazy army vet Sarge (Martin Landau), it would seem that the creature avoids the town and only enters to pursue prey that has gotten away.

Predator takes place in the thick jungles of South America where there is a lot of military conflict going on between government soldiers and rebels with clandestine U.S. and Russian support on the opposite sides. The Predator not only uses the conflict to mask it’s presence, but to provide it with abundant and heavily armed targets to prey on. It’s also implied that the creature prefers the heat.

While both aliens hunt in remote, dense areas, Without Warning‘s hunter seems to prefer a quieter, less traveled place to secretly hunt while The Predator prefers it’s remote jungle to be a hotbed of chaotic activity and fighting, to cover up it’s big game hunt and provide a numerous selection of aggressive and armed adversaries to prey upon.

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THE OPENING SCENES

The opening scenes for both movies are effective in their own way but vastly different.

Without Warningin 80s horror fashion, starts us off right away with the slaughter of an argumentative father and son (movie vet Cameron Mitchell and former child actor Darby Hinton) on a hunting trip. It establishes right away that there is something wrong in these woods and opens the flick with some blood, gore and a good glimpse at the star fish-like creatures our hunter uses. It sets the stage for what’s to come.

Predator opens with a quite different approach. It introduces us to Dutch and his team and then their insertion into the jungle. It takes a while for the film to start letting us know that there is something wrong here and quite sometime before we begin to realize that there is something otherworldly lurking in the trees. The air of mystery works very well at pulling us in and keeping us interested.

Both openings work in setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. One film does it by showing it’s bloody hand right away, while the other, by keeping us in the dark as to what exactly isn’t right with the situation.

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end with a bang, thought one is intentional, the other a final F*&K YOU from a defeated opponent.

After a cat and mouse chase in the woods, Without Warning has Joe Taylor rigging explosives to the shack where the alien is storing it’s trophies. When the alien returns, Joe sacrifices himself to lure the alien close enough for Sandy to blast it. The creature…and Joe…go up in a ball of flame.

The Predator, on the other hand activates a self-destruct device after being mortally wounded by Dutch during a vicious battle. Dutch barely escapes the conflagration as the alien hunter laughs at the prospect of having the last…well, laugh.

Both endings are dramatic and provide fireworks, but obviously Predator’s budget and star provide far more action than the very low budgeted Without Warning. Joe Taylor and the alien trade a few shots before the explosion and destruction of the shack and an obvious alien dummy. Predator treats us to a last act cat and mouse game between Dutch and The Predator before a brutal physical encounter which has the alien game hunter coming up short and detonating the surrounding jungle to take his victorious opponent with it. Either way, both films have their alien critter going boom.

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IN CONCLUSION

The similarities in these two flicks are extremely obvious. The biggest difference is that Without Warning is a very low budget B-Movie horror flick that plays more like a slasher movie while Predator is a big budgeted studio action film with a major star and gives us one of the screen’s most iconic monsters. Predator’s budget gives us much bigger and more extravagant action while Without Warning works with what it’s got and gives us a flick more like the slasher/horror flicks of it’s time…and it did come first. Greydon Clark was a fairly successful exploitation filmmaker (Satan’s Cheerleaders) while Predator’s John McTiernan would go on to become a renown action movie director with the classics Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October under his belt. Without Warning can’t compete with Predator for action or it’s make-up and gore effects, but does splatter the red stuff frequently and while it’s costume is much simpler, the alien does have some personality and menace. Kevin Peter Hall gave both creatures a presence and while Without Warning does’t have a big marquee name like Arnold, it does have long-time veteran actors like Palance and Landau (along with fellow vets Cameron Mitchell and Neville Brand) to ham it up just enough to make the proceedings fun. Two very similar movies made at different times and at different ends of the filmmaking spectrum, but both provide their own brand of entertainment in their own way. One is now a cult classic and the other a bonafide action movie classic. Win win for us!

 

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)

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ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

This is an odd 80s movie directed and co-written by Jack Sholder, who went on to direct the lackluster ANOES 2: Freddy’s Revenge and the awesome The Hidden. The movie tells the twisted story of Dr. Dan Potter (The A-Team’s Dwight Schultz) who goes to work at the psychiatric clinic of the renown but, eccentric Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasence). The most dangerous of Bain’s patients are resigned to the 3rd floor and consist of former priest and arsonist, Byron (Martin Landau), enormous child molester, Ronald (Running Man’s Erland van Lidth), “The Bleeder” (Phillip Clark), who never shows his face and former POW, Col. Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance). Unfortunately for Potter, Hawkes’ paranoid delusions make him come to believe the new doctor has killed their former handler, Dr. Merton. When a massive blackout neutralizes the institute’s security systems, Hawkes convinces his psychotic compatriots to escape and hunt down Potter and exact revenge. Now the four leave a trail of bodies as they head toward Potter’s house where he and his unsuspecting family sit “alone in the dark.”

While this movie has it’s entertainment value, I just expect more with a cast and premise such as this. The film has some odd moments…especially the last head-scratching scene…and just should have been either a lot more fun or a lot more frightening. Jack Sholder seems to take the middle road with his directing and script…co-written with Robert Shaye and Michael Harrpster…and delivers something more of a fairly tame slasher with some oddly humorous moments peppered throughout. Either he wasn’t sure which direction to go with the material, or wanted it both ways, which takes a deft hand to pull off. There are some effective moments and there are some uncomfortable giggles, such as the murder of a bicycle deliver man but, the film never really takes off with any horrific intensity or over-the-top lunacy. It could have used one, the other, or both! It’s body count is also remotely tame and the gore FX are average and simple. It just never fully takes advantage of the premise, or it’s great cast of veteran character actors whose loonies never really get to ‘cut’ loose. There are a few good kills and some disturbing moments but, not enough to make this unevenly toned film completely satisfying. I personally enjoyed the film to an extent but, ultimately still feel disappointed that it never lives up to it’s giddy potential. Palance and Landau were much more effective in similar roles in the 1980 Without Warning, where they were allowed to ham it up and give their roles some energy. There is some atmosphere, though and Joseph Mangine’s nice cinematography adds to that, as does Renato Serio’s very 80s score. There is also some added 80s nostalgia, now and despite being underutilized, it is still great to see all these character actors together. Too bad Sholder couldn’t have really taken this flick and run with it, one way or the other.

Alone In The Dark is an Ok flick but, one comes away feeling that it missed being something really special. It has a bit of a reputation and following and I can understand that but, I still feel with it’s story and the cast assembled to tell it, that it should have been so much more. If the Jack Sholder who directed the fast paced and over-the-top The Hidden had directed this one, it would have been a real treat and a true cult classic at this point. Not a complete failure but, not a complete success either.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 delivery guy hats.

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

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SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

This Tim Burton directed classic is another of my Halloween Favorites and I like to watch it every year at this time, when I want a bit of a rest from the more intense horrors, but still want something with plenty of Halloween spirit and all the trappings… and this film has both.

Andrew Kevin Walker’s script, from a story by he and Kevin Yagher, takes a lot of liberties with the classic Washington Irving tale, but is still a lot of ghoulish fun. This version takes place in 1799 and transforms Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) from a meek local school teacher to a meek NYC detective with an interest in forensic science that annoys his superiors, who have a much simpler view of crime and punishment. His belligerent attempts at waking his peers up to the new age of police work earns him a trip up the Hudson River Valley to the small, remote village of Sleepy Hollow where a rash of decapitations has the entire town wrapped in a blanket of fear as they are rumored to be committed by a headless fiend riding an enormous black steed. Upon his arrival, the skeptical Crane not only comes face to face with a very real headless horseman, but witches, black magic and a conspiracy of death and murder. Can Crane get to the bottom of who holds the horseman’s reigns and somehow keep his own head on his shoulders where it belongs?

Despite wandering greatly from the original The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton’s ode to Hammer horror films…with more than a few nods to the Universal classics…is, if nothing else, a stunningly spooky visual feast that oozes Halloween from almost every sumptuous shot of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. But Burton also brings dollops of atmosphere and a lot of spine tingling action, with a touch of fairy tale whimsy, as Crane overcomes his own fears to solve the mysteries around him and take on the supernatural head-hunting juggernaut. He also spatters the screen with a generous amount of the red stuff as we get quite a few beheadings, stabbings and slicings as the undead Hessian mercenary tracks down it’s assigned prey in Terminator-like fashion. And the gore FX are very well executed and there are only a few spots of CGI here and there to enhance the live effects occurring on screen. There is a great Danny Elfman score to add to the atmosphere and it’s all a great deal of fog-drenched, blood-spattered fun!

Burton also has a great cast to help him tell his tale. Depp is channeling his inner Peter Cushing as Ichabod Crane and he is a delight to watch as he takes his arrogant yet, cowardly police inspector wading into supernatural territory far removed from the comfort of his science. Christina Ricci is charming and pretty as both love interest and suspect, Katrina Van Tassel. She and Depp have a nice chemistry, though I do feel Ricci could have been a bit livelier at times considering how over the top the rest of the cast is. Miranda Richardson is perfectly cast as Katrina’s step-mother Mary and Michael Gambon is properly bombastic as her father and chief suspect Baltus Van Tassel. We also get Casper Van Dien as Katrina’s jealous suitor Brom, Michael Gough, Jeffery Jones, Ian McDiarmid, Marc Pickering and Christopher Walken as the Hessian mercenary whose loss of head creates a demonic legend. Add in cameos from Martin Landau and the great Christopher Lee and you have an almost perfect cast that gets the tone of the material ghoulishly well.

What can I say, I love this flick. It drips Halloween from every frame and while it may deviate from the classic tale considerably, it is a lot of bloody fun and it has a good cast that embrace the tone of the script perfectly. It’s a great flick to watch during the Halloween season, when you need a break from the more intense horror films, but still want a movie that has everything you want in a flick for this time of year. A really fun and deviously gruesome treat.

3 and 1/2 horsemen!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: WITHOUT WARNING (1980)

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WITHOUT WARNING (1980)

Yet another early 80s gem that I had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen at the great Oritani Theater in Hackensack N.J. This delightfully cheesy sci-fi/ horror flick tells the story of an alien hunter who preys on humans using flying, fanged starfish-like creatures as weapons and a full 7 years before Arnold tangled with the Predator.

Without Warning focuses on two young couples (Tarah Nutter, Christopher S. Nelson, Humanoids From The Deep’s Lynn Theel and a young David Caruso) who decide to go camping at a remote lake despite the ominous warnings from strange local gas station owner/hunter, Joe Taylor (Jack Palance before City Slickers revived his career). Soon upon arrival at the secluded lake, they become the targeted prey of the extraterrestrial creature and his flying minions who have apparently staked out this area as their hunting ground. Now running for their lives and with no one believing them, they have only the gruff off-balanced Taylor and crazy war vet and conspiracy theorist “Sarge” (Martin Landau before Ed Wood revived his career) to turn to. Apparently these two have had dealings with this evil E.T. and have been equally ostracized for their claims, so maybe now it’s time to stand and fight.

This 1980 film is cheesy fun and brings a lot of unintentional laughs such as one youth’s attempt to describe the alien threat to a bar full of drunk locals and the alien actually stopping to steady a swinging lamp before continuing his pursuit of a victim. Greydon (Satan’s Cheerleaders) Clark directs from a script with no less than 4 writers listed for some reason. He gives the flick a rather pedestrian pace, but he treats his material seriously as do the cast, especially Palance and Landau, who properly chew up the scenery with Landau especially cranking up the nuttiness. Aside from them, though, the acting and dialog is strictly what you’d expect from a B-movie like this and the barely adequate performances suit the material oddly well. The production is strictly low budget with some passable alien SPFX and OK gore from future FX master Greg Cannom with the alien’s head created by the legendary Rick Baker. There isn’t a lot of action till the last act, but it is entertainingly worth waiting for and the fact that everyone in the small lakeside town seems to be some kind of nut does go a long way to make up for it in the meantime. And who can pass on a three-way showdown between Jack Palance, Martin Landau and a 7 foot purple alien? Not me! Add in a typical 80s electronic score by Dan Wyman and some nice cinematography by frequent John Carpenter DOP Dean Cundey and you have a good example of the type of B-movie they sadly don’t make anymore. Despite all it’s inadequacies, it’s heart is in the right place.

Not a classic or great movie by any length, but it is a fun 80s ‘so bad it’s good’ flick to enjoy with a couple of beers and a few other flicks of equally enjoyable awfulness (like Laserblast for example). Without Warning also features appearances by film vets Ralph Meeker and Neville Brand as doubting locals and Cameron Mitchell and Larry Storch as a hunter and scout master, respectively, who are among the creature’s first victims. Nostalgic 80s fun.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  Ironically, the alien hunter here is played by Kevin Peter Hall who also played the Predator in the similarly themed, classic Schwarzenegger flick in 1987.

For an in-depth comparison of Without Warning and Predator, go HERE to read all about it.

3 cheesy angry aliens!

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