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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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and EATEN ALIVE

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This week’s double feature is in tribute to horror icon and one of the original horror final girls, Marilyn Burns who passed away at the age of 65 this week. I put together both of her Tobe Hooper directed horrors, the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the cult classic… and hard to find… Eaten Alive.

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Marilyn Burns 1949-2014

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THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

Partially inspired by true life serial killer Ed Gein, this is the original teens v.s. redneck cannibals flick and still the best and most effective. It is also one of the greatest horror films ever made and one that has influenced many of today’s filmmakers and created a horror sub-genre that is still very prolific even today.

5 friends travel to checkout stories that the grave site of brother and sister Franklin (Paul A. Partain) and Sally’s (Marilyn Burns) family has been vandalized and on the way to their family’s abandoned property, they encounter a bizarre hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who seems to mark them for something by leaving a bloody smear on their van. That something turns out to be an encounter with his fiendish family of backwoods cannibals including the hulking, chainsaw wielding Leatherface (Gunner Hansen) and the disturbed family matriarch (Jim Siedow) who runs the twisted clan. Now, one by one, the young victims are murdered by this deranged family who have found a horrifying way to keep their kitchen and BBQ business filled with meat now that the local slaughter house is closed. Will any of them escape or will they all become lambs for the slaughter?

Director and co-writer Tobe Hooper makes every frame of this classic fright flick give you the willies and saturates this tale of teens and cannibalistic rednecks with dread and tension from the first frame to the last. From the opening scene at the cemetery, to the fateful picking up of the bizarre hitchhiker, to arriving at “the house”, this film has us on edge for the full duration. Hooper takes his teens on a nightmare roller-coaster ride that will not end well for most and his disturbing visuals and frantic explosions of deadly action, take the audience along with them. The film looks unsettling with muted colors and bleak, desolate camera shots courtesy of cinematographer Daniel Pearl and his use of shadow makes the film’s old house setting even more unnerving. Added to this visual assault is a very disturbing soundtrack of strange sounds and music that give the film a really unsettling feel even in it’s quieter moments with some truly unique production design complete with furniture made from bones. The film oozes dread and Hooper adds just enough of a twisted sense of humor to keep us from being numbed to his horror show and makes us even more uncomfortable for giggling at his demented family while they horrify and torment their prey. The film is obviously bloody, though not nearly as gory as it’s reputation suggests or any of it’s sequels would become. Hooper ultimately creates one of the greatest horror flicks of all time and one of the most iconic horror characters in Leatherface. He also gets good work from all his cast from the likable young victims to the crazed cannibal clan, including making horror icons out of Leatherface and final girl Marylin Burns.

It all combines to make one terrifying and unforgettable horror flick. A text book example of how to make a low budget horror film. Also stars Allen Danziger as Jerry, Teri McMinn as Pam and William Vail as Kirk, who are among the 5 intended victims of Leatherface and company’s wrath and opening narration is by actor John (Night Court) Larroquette. A great horror and a true classic.

4 classic chainsaws!

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EATEN ALIVE (1977)

Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a strange film that brings back Chainsaw final girl Marylin Burns and follows a blood-soaked night at a spooky hotel on the bayou run by deranged proprietor Judd (Neville Brand). There is barely a plot as it simply follows a group of various guests and locals who find their way to Judd’s decrepit Starlight Hotel and fall victim to his scythe and are then fed to his enormous pet crocodile that lurks in a gated area of the swamp right next to the hotel. And that’s pretty much it.

Hooper once again creates a very atmospheric and disturbing movie, though it’s nowhere near as effective as his Texas-set classic. It’s a shame that the story and script by Kim Henkle, Mardi Rustam and Alvin L. Fast is borderline incoherent and never really gives a reason for the eccentric, well-know local Judd to turn viciously homicidal after running the old hotel for years. If Hooper had more of a story, he might have had another real horror treat on his hands rather than just a spooky, strange curiosity. He and cinematographer Robert Caramico give the film a very interesting look that is grungy like Chainsaw, but at the same time a bit more colorful and it gives the flick a surreal quality that helps make the less then stellar script work in it’s favor. There are some gruesome scenes and the film does get under your skin, but once it’s over, you realize there wasn’t much accomplished or much of a point…but Hooper still manages to give us the creeps to a good degree. He also wisely keeps his plastic prop croc dimly lit and in shadow so it remains effective even though it is obviously fake. Hooper and Wayne Bell again do the score and again the blend of music and unsettling sounds really goes a long way to making this chilling. It’s not a great horror by far, but it is a spooky and offbeat one that is definitely worth a look especially since Hooper’s work would become more mainstream upon landing the gig helming Poltergeist (which in itself is surrounded in controversy)…and I personally believe he lost his effectiveness upon going Hollywood.

The cast all do there part in helping this flick achieve it’s midnight movie aura. Marilyn Burns plays another damsel in distress who is a young wife and mother Judd kidnaps after murdering her stressed-out husband (Phantom Of The Paradise’s William Finley) and chasing her young daughter (Halloween’s Kyle Richards) into the crawlspace under the house. Poor Burns spends most of her time bound and gagged in her hotel room before being chased all over the place by Brand’s Judd in the last act. And speaking of Neville Brand, the actor delivers a very creepy Judd and it almost helps enhance the character’s creep factor that his dialog sometimes is made of rambling that makes little sense. He is quite over the top, but as the film does have a somewhat surreal, nightmare quality, it works in the character’s favor. We also get veteran Stuart Whitman as the local sheriff and future Freddy Krueger Robert Englund as a trouble making young local who meets the working end of Judd’s reptilian friend.

Overall, I like this film mainly for the atmosphere and the fact that the film has a surreal-like quality to it thanks to Hooper’s style and production work. The script is a mess and the film barely has what resembles a plot, but the talented Hooper makes a fairly spooky flick out of that script and it gets under your skin even if a lot of it doesn’t always make much sense and it comes off more as a series of loosely tied together vignettes than an actual story. It delivers get some very effective scenes and some decent blood and gore to go with it and despite it’s flaws, is a spooky flick, especially if watched along with a few brews. Also stars Mel Ferrer and ‘Morticia Addams’ herself, Carolyn Jones as the owner of a local brothel.

3 well-fed crocodiles.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: KILLDOZER (1974)

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KILLDOZER (1974)

I had the pleasure of seeing Killdozer when it first aired on TV in 1974 and as a little kid I thought it was all kinds of awesome. Having recently revisited this TV movie cult classic, I have to say it doesn’t have quite the same effect on me now, but is still nostalgic fun and it certainly brings back memories of an era where made for TV horror movies like this, The Night Stalker and The Cat Creature were quite common.

The movie begins with a shot of a meteorite heading towards Earth and crash landing on a remote island about 200 miles off the African coast. The fact that it glows blue and makes a strange humming sound lets us know from the start that it is not an average space rock. On this island is a small six man crew, headed by hard nosed, ex-alcoholic (I think every 70s TV movie had an ex-alcoholic) Lloyd Kelly (Clint Walker), who are paving the way for an oil drilling team to set up camp and begin operations. When a massive D9 bulldozer plows into the fallen meteorite, the blue light transfers from the rock to the dozer and a nearby crewman (Robert Ulrich) suffers what appears to be severe burns. Before he dies he warns Kelly of the blue light and no sooner are the men warned, then the D9 starts to act like it has a mind of it’s own and before you can say “KIlldozer” it’s stalking and killing the team members like a big yellow Michael Myers on his favorite holiday.

Obviously with a possessed bulldozer as it’s main antagonist, this is not a fast paced film and we are delightfully awed at how the men rarely consider running around and away from their slow moving assailant, but director Jerry London takes the story, written by Theodore Sturgeon and co-scripted by Sturgeon and Ed Mackillop, very seriously and that helps us to buy into it enough to be entertained. London actually makes a good effort to give his 50 ton villain a personality and includes a lot of shots of it’s glaring headlights like two flaming evil eyes watching it’s prey as it hides in the brush waiting to ambush and attack. He does a pretty good job setting up this game of cat and mouse as the crew try to find a safe haven from a homicidal vehicle, that is fairly mobile on the most difficult terrain and the cast all play their roles seriously enough that we believe their fear.

Now there is only so much seriousness one can muster while watching a film about an alien presence that is rampaging about in a bulldozer, but the filmmakers give it their all and let the audience decide just how much of this they are going to go along with. The result is a movie that is campy and silly by today’s standards, but still charming and nostalgic enough to suspend disbelief. This allows yourself to have an amusing 70+ minutes of watching a group of macho construction workers discuss the hows and whys of one of their biggest pieces of equipment having a sudden animated murder spree. And sometimes a little Killdozer is exactly what one needs to remind them of a time when even the silliest of stories was made with integrity and a lot of heart… something this flick has despite it’s preposterously silly story. Also stars movie vet Neville Brand.

3 Killdozers!

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The original Killdozer advertisement.

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There was even a comic book adaptation from Marvel Comics!


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