Scream Creature Double Feature (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out Without Warning and Leviathan for their Blu-ray debuts...
A group of teenagers head out to the lake for a relaxing camping trip in the mountains. They ignore the warnings of the local truck stop owner and head to their destination. Things go terribly wrong when they run into an extraterrestrial that throws deadly discs that suck the blood of their victims. The group heads back to the truck stop for help from the eclectic group of residents – a crazy war veteran (Martin Landau) and a determined hunter (Jack Palance). (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Greydon Clark’s Without Warning is best remembered as the spiritual predecessor of John McTiernan’s big-budget action classic, Predator. Both films feature malevolent aliens that travel to Earth in order to hunt humans and both aliens were portrayed by actor Kevin Peter Hall (though, the Predator alien was originally embodied by an unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme). Some fans have concluded that McTiernan’s film was a rip-off, but neither property holds the patent on alien Nimrods that travel the galaxy in search of dangerous critters to hunt. The Predator connection and a lack of availability on home video (it was inordinately difficult to find on VHS) has amplified Without Warning’s reputation beyond its very basic B-movie qualities, but it’s still quite worthy of rediscovery on Blu-ray disc. On paper, Without Warning does little to set itself apart from a glut of late ‘70s/early ‘80s drive-in cannon fodder. Greg Cannom and Rick Baker’s special effects are imaginative and well-executed (he would go on to fame and Academy Award wins for Mrs. Doubtfire, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Clark is working with a particularly strong cast, including Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Neville Brand, Cameron Mitchell, and a young David Caruso in one of his first film roles. But these advantages are employed in playful ways that recall the tone of something out of an earlier era, namely the 1950s, dressed up in modern (‘80s) stylistic conventions.
This underlying playfulness is apparent in all of Clark’s ‘better’ films (a comparative term, in this case) – an eclectic collection that includes Satan’s Cheerleaders (a horror/comedy hybrid, 1977), Hi-Riders (a carsploitation coming of age story, 1978), Black Shampoo (one of the most sex-filled ‘70s blaxploitation movies, 1976), and Joysticks (a T&A vehicle that exploited the national obsession with video game arcades, 1983). Unfortunately, Clark’s skill set during this early part of his career was too limited to overcome his budgetary constraints. Without Warning is creatively flat, slow-moving, and extremely restricted in terms of its settings (the evil alien operates out of…a tool shed). All of these issues would probably add to the film’s cheapo charm, if it weren’t for the uneven narrative filler between alien attack scenes. The A-story is a complete bore, droning from one non-event to another until the older actors are finally permitted to cut loose with some top of the line scenery-chewing (which appears to feature ad-libs) – though even Palance, Landau, and Brand shouting at each other gets a little repetitive after a while. Other victims are treated as narrative asides that don’t really effect the rest of the plot at all (in true exploitation tradition). These asides are more amusing, including a sensitive hippie on a hunting trip with his disapproving father and a lost Cub Scout troop. Curiously, the by-the-numbers slasher movie clichés that befall the younger cast members are apparently incidental, since the precedent hadn’t really been set at the time. Seemingly, Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the inspiration.
This new Blu-ray is the first official digital home video release of Without Warning in the US. The only other version I’m aware of, outside of those elusive VHS releases, was a non-anamorphic, full-frame German DVD. So, the bar is set pretty low for this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer, which was likely supplied by MGM (it aired more than once on the MGMHD channel). Without Warning didn’t have the budget for sets, props, or fancy wardrobe pieces, but Clark was smart enough to hire cinematographer Dean Cundey, almost definitely due to his work with John Carpenter on Halloween. Cundey’s delicate photography is often very dark, which was a huge problem for the German DVD. The HD upgrade isn’t quite sharp enough to make the daylight scenes really pop, but the increase in fine detail makes all the difference for the black-laced nighttime sequences. Backlit edges and complex textures are still shaded without being entirely obscured. Cundey’s colour choices (his trademarked blue base and vibrant red highlights, in particular) are considerably more vivid and pure than they appeared on the muddy SD version, though the daylight scenes are still sometimes a bit washed-out (well-lit scenes tend to run a bit pink). Grain levels are sometimes uneven, but never unnaturally fuzzy or overbearing. Print damage artefacts are limited to a few minor scratches and flecks of dirt.
The film’s original mono sound has been maintained here in uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The sound design is thin and flat, as expected from the material. Incidental and environmental effects are minimal and pretty quiet beneath the dialogue and music. The vocals are clear and understandable throughout, but do suffer from clarity and volume inconsistencies; some brought on by obvious ADR errors. The volume levels of Dan Wyman’s keyboard, piano, and violin score are sometimes hard to judge, since his layered synth effects sound an awful lot like the chirping noise of the alien’s bio-mechanoid Frisbee weapons.
The dvdcompare.com claims that Scream Factory’s disc is missing a brief character introduction scene and a few frames from one of the gorier deaths. I can’t for the life of me find my DVD to compare the two versions, so I’ll take their word for it.
- Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Greydon Clark
- Greg & Sandy’s Alien Adventures (20:50, HD) – New interviews with actors Christopher S. Nelson and Tarah Nutter.
- Producers vs. Aliens (11:30, HD) – New interview with co-writer/co-producer Daniel Grodnik.
- Hunter’s Blood (6:00, HD) – New interview with special effects make-up creator Greg Cannom, who immediately credits Rick Baker with the bulk of the initial work, including the alien head. Independents Day (15:10, HD) – New interview with cinematographer Dean Cundey.
- Original theatrical trailer
- Trailers for other Scream Factory releases
- Still gallery
On the dark and forbidding ocean floor, the crew of a deep-sea mission rig discovers a sunken freighter that harbors a deadly secret: a genetic experiment gone horribly wrong. With a storm raging on the surface and no hope of rescue, the captain and his team are propelled into a spine-tingling battle for survival against the ultimate foe – a hideous monster that cannot die...and lives to kill! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Predator may have had a lot in common with Without Warning, but there are still enough vital differences to concede that the similarities might be coincidence. George Pan Cosmatos’ Leviathan, on the other hand, is one of the most blatant rip-offs of Ridley Scott’s Alien ever conceived. Considering the sheer quantity of Alien clones (it was practically an industry onto itself in the early ‘80s) and the fact that Scott’s film wasn’t profoundly original in the first place, Cosmatos and company’s shameless mimicry of the formula is almost admirable. And whatever concepts Leviathan didn’t steal from Alien, it stole from John Carpenter’s The Thing. Just about the only unique element was the deep-sea setting, though such faint praise is problematic when one remembers that at least five other underwater monster movies were released the same year, including Sean S. Cunningham’s DeepStar Six (released January 13th), Mary Ann Fisher’s Lords of the Deep (released April 21st), Wayne Crawford & Jean-Claude Dubois’ The Evil Below (released July 1st, STV), James Cameron’s The Abyss (released August 9th), and Juan Piquer Simón’s The Rift (aka: Endless Descent, which was not released stateside until 1990). Six movies if you count Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
David Peoples (who would go on to Oscar fame when he wrote Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven) and Jeb Stuart’s screenplay outdoes even Roger Corman and various Italian schlock-meisters with its shameless lifts. There are times you’d swear that the screenplay was created by simply replacing character names and all instances of ‘space’ with ‘water.’ But, like I said, the flagrant disregard for originality is part of the fun and, a bit of sluggish exposition aside, Leviathan is a perfectly entertaining and oddly re-watchable little sci-fi/horror romp. The familiar plot points and character types end up working in favour of the dumb fun, leaving Cosmatos and his appropriately cartoonish A-list cast free to find creative ways to fill the time between Stan Winston’s spectacular and spectacularly gross creature effects sequences. Cosmatos isn’t exactly what I’d call an underrated filmmaker (many of his films have garnered cult followings over the years), but he was a solid choice as director for a belated, studio-backed Alien rip-off, given his experience directing extended scenes of claustrophobic horror ( Of Origin Unknown, 1983, also starring Peter Weller) and explosive action set-pieces ( Rambo: First Blood Part II, 1985). He squeezes oodles of production value out of his studio-financed budget with gliding cameras and classy letterbox compositions. He manages to effectively slow-burn the scary stuff as well, though he appears to have run out of money for his action climax, which looks more like one of those aforementioned Corman flicks than a major studio release.
Leviathan has remained popular for years, thanks in part to regular showings on cable television. MGM released an easily-obtained, barebones anamorphic DVD version years ago and eventually aired a 1080i version on MGMHD. Scream Factory’s new 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray looks an awful lot like the TV transfer, minus the interlacing and compression artefacts. Overall, it’s a strong, sharp transfer that makes good use of cinematographer Alex Thomson’s anamorphic compositions. Details are strong in both close-up and wide-angle shots – good news for Winston’s intricate creature effects, but sometimes problematic for the faux-underwater sequences, which now appear more like, well, guys in scuba costumes walking through smoky, above-water sets. Colours appear natural (skin tones are a smidge orange) or as natural as they can be for such a purposefully steely blue movie, including decent tonal separation and pop in the warmer hues. It does seem that MGM got a little carried away with DNR, because the shinier highlights appear a smidge waxy to my eyes, though, on average, grain levels still seem accurate, especially during the foggy and softer focus shots (there is a sudden uptake in grain around the edges of the frame in the final minutes). Compression artefacts are not an issue and print damage is limited to a little bit of frame shake, a few flecks of dirt, and minor water damage.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack features a 5.1 remix of the original 2.0 theatrical mix. I don’t know who made the mix (probably done by MGM rather than Scream Factory) and believe this is its first home video appearance. The stereo and surround enhancements sound basically the same as a 2.0 mix – the rumbling ambience of underwater sets, the busy buzzes and beeps of the control rooms, and the creature screams all fill out the channels just as well as the original track, which is included – but the discretely-centered dialogue/incidental effects and LFE boost certainly help spread and separate the elements. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is one of the biggest highlights (it’s almost too good for this movie) and gets a nice bump up in warmth and bass from the new mix.
- Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot (40:30, HD) – A new retrospective featurette with the Stan Winston Studios staff that worked on the film. It includes a lot of discussion about 1989’s warring underwater monster movies as the studio was approached for The Abyss and Deep Star Six around the same time they were already working on Leviathan.
- Dissecting Cobb with Hector Elizando (12:40, HD) – A sweet-natured and fun new interview with the actor.
- Surviving Leviathan with Ernie Hudson (15:00, HD) – An introspective and thoughtful new interview with the actor.
- Trailers for other Scream Factory releases
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 5th August 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English (Without Warning), DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 English (Leviathan)
Extras: Greydon Clark Commentary, Greg & Sandy’s Alien Adventures, Producers vs. Aliens, Independents Day, Dissecting Cobb with Hector Elizando, Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot, Surviving Leviathan with Ernie Hudson, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Greydon Clark, George Pan Cosmatos
Cast: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Tarah Nutter, David Caruso, Kevin Peter Hall, Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, Hector Elizondo
Genre: Action, Adventure, Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 192 minutes
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