We at Zombie Club have nothing but respect for actors like Jack Palance. I mean, it's veteran B-movie actors like him that are the backbone of Hollywood. Finding fame and establishing himself as a face in the 50s (even if it was as 'that guy off Shane'), Jack Palance then went on to do umpteen westerns, play the occasional bad guy on a TV show, and then from the 70s onwards take pretty much everything he was offered (Buck Rogers, Hawk the Slayer - yes, thank you Zomblee - Cyborg 2, Young Guns, Batman, that kind of stuff) until he finally landed himself an Oscar for his wonderfully self-parodying role in City Slickers, thus cementing himself in the Hollywood walk of fame forever.
But that's years away, what we've got tonight are two movies from his B-movie wilderness years. The second of tonight’s features, Without Warning is a rather rare 1980 alien invasion movie with Palance, and also future Oscar winner Martin Landau and Mr Predator himself, Kevin Peter Hall, here playing against type as a seven foot tall alien who's hunting humans. Err, wait a minute...
First up though is one of those movies that you catch late night on TV as part of some cult season, really enjoy and then promptly forget what is was called and who was in it. Crimewave, Repoman, Android and pretty much anything Charles Bronson was ever in fall into this category for me, but it wasn't until we were recently discussing Jack Palance's baddie role in Hawk the Slayer that my brain started clicking away. 'That was it, he was in that weird sci-fi western I saw as a kid,' I thought, 'the one that wasn't Westworld'. And a few clicks through imdb and ebay later, I was heading to Blood City, but this time I was taking my zombie buddies with me.
Welcome to Blood City (1977)
Plot Cowboys, computer programmers, the 70s, Jack Palance and Keir Dullea. There you go.
Jim A bunch of strangers with blue overalls wake up in the middle of nowhere with no recollection of how they got there. And while they're arguing amongst themselves trying to rationalize their predicament two redneck cowboys jump out of the bushes, steal all their boots and quickly - and I mean quickly - rape Martine, the only female of the group. Then, when it looks like things can't get any worse, Jack Palance turns up to escort them to their new home, the uncompromising Blood City.
In Blood City, you see, all newcomers are selected to be slaves to citizens at an event called 'the choosing' which, as Zomblee pointed out, "sounds like a movie that hasn't been made". Citizens are easy to identify as they dress like cowboys in black except for the big red crosses on their chest (which makes them look like "wild west paramedics or something" - also Zomblee) and the only way to become a citizen is to kill one in a fair fight. And that's harder than it sounds as most citizens are always surrounded by gun toting henchmen, as would-be hero Lewis discovers when he forgoes Jack Palance's protection and heads out to get himself a new pair of boots. Thank goodness that programmer lady takes a shining to him and helps him out by throwing him that rifle at the last minute.
"Are people going to throw other people into the bar in this movie?" asked Zomblee pretty early on. Well no, even though it looks like the kind of movie where that kind of thing could happen at any minute, especially in the middle where things go a bit pedestrian and topics of conversation drifted to stuff like which lead actress was better looking. After much debate Zomblee suggested that the lady programmer (Samantha Eggar) is hotter in a 70s way but Martine (Hollis McLaren) is better looking in a present day way, which we figured was just about right.
And it was about now that Rawshark caught on. "It's basically a love story, isn't it?" he twigged, which was a far cry from "I'm fucking loving this so far!", which he called out after the first 10 minutes. And the "It hasn't failed, but it hasn't been entirely successful," that he ended the film with. Oh well, but it's always good to bring something different to Zombie Club, and you don't get much more different than weird 70s sci-fi westerns. If you ignore Westworld, that is.
"He needs that MASSIVE gun from Blastfighter."
Zomblee “Have they got high heels on?”, asks Rawshark during the opening credits, but of course really he knows that it’s merely the effect of the screen-squashing effect of pan and scan we’ve seen so often in older movies. And you know what? We actually quite liked it. But maybe we were just excited about Jack Palance Night. And who could blame us for that? He was wicked in Hawk the Slayer.
I liked this little movie, even though it’s a blatant cash-in attempt on Westworld with a few new little twists and turns just so that you won’t always be able to work out what happens next. It involves a group of characters who find themselves stuck in an Old West-style town as convicted murderers. A wizened old Palance is the sheriff and there seems to be different groups of town dwellers who appear to be pretty hostile to our puzzled newcomers. Turns out they’re in some kind of virtual reality simulation and the woman from The Brood is pressing the buttons and falling for the dude from 2001. It’s reasonably well handled stuff that nonetheless fails to be particularly exciting or indeed memorable, even if it does get a star for its shamelessness.
Jim was really keen to know what we thought of Welcome to Blood City, asking halfway through, “Are you diggin’ this movie?” Rawshark didn’t delay in furnishing Jim with welcomed response: “I am fucking digging this movie! ” He really was. Maybe it was that huge, pointless red blinking light that Samantha Eggar had in her control room that swung it. Maybe it was the way she started “monkeying around with the programming”, (Jim) which translates in script as “altering the game plan” in order to get her dirty way. Heck, maybe it was just because it was an ok little rip-off of a movie with some great ideas.
“The folks around here are just a little different. You’ll get used to it.”
Rawshark Actually, I really was digging this movie, despite it’s love story angles and an ending “that hasn’t failed, but hasn’t been entirely successful either”. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say it’s almost as good, if not as good as Westworld. Sure, Westworld had Yul Brynner, but this one’s got Palance, and I reckon Palance could take on the baldie one who also starred in The King and I no problem.
Palance’s entrance in this film is great, as he rolls in astride a white horse to escort our group of newcomers to their new land. Hard as a rock, he takes our group back to Wild West town Blood City, but just as we’re settling into a familiar Western genre, the film cuts to a computer programming room, and suddenly we’re in sci-fi. It’s a great twist, and the film runs with the concept, proving that it really is a good thing when you stumble upon intelligent B-movies with intriguing concepts that have been largely forgotten about and are now being re-discovered.
Of course, it’s not long before our hero of the film (Keir Dullea) begins to awaken (”Big flashing red light!” - Jim) by remembering his past and causing chaos in the town square (”Red light situation again!” - Jim again). Yes, maybe that does sound a little cliché, but with a growing three-way love interest, cool words such as KILLMASTERS, IMMORTAL and THE CHOOSING, the script reaches out for a sense of epic, that the low-budget film comes close to matching.
Palance is great, (”It’s like an Oscar rehearsal for him” - Jim), Samantha Eggar is damn fine, and in my opinion it’s better than Westworld. Do yourself a favour, track it down and welcome yourself to the bad old town of Blood City. It’s a better alternative than reality…
”Psycho-sexual overtones are pre-programmed”
Director Peter Sasdy
Cast Jack Palance
Runtime 96 mins
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Without Warning (1980)
Plot It Preys On Human Fear. It Feeds On Human Flesh. It Throws Flying Space Frisbees.
Rawshark Zomblee was the first to get over-excited at Without Warning when the opening credits featured a familiar Carpenter name - ”Dean Cundey! JC’s DP!”. It was a good start, so we also all cheered at the appearance of the names of Jack Palance, Martin Landau and Cameron Mitchell in the credits too. And then we were treated to the sight of cheap flying alien saucers and we cheered again. Oh yes, this was shaping up to be a good one.
Unfortunately Without Warning went downhill pretty sharpish after that. ”The aliens look like mini-pizzas with chillis on top” said Jim and he was not wrong. And when we then cut from the aliens to four teens at the lake, we all knew what was coming next. ”Prime Space Flying Sucker fodder there” said Zomblee, before adding ”Although Flying Space Suckers is what I meant to say”. ”Ah yes, the FSS’s” nodded Jim somewhat sagely.
So along the way, we meet a few assorted character, including a barmaid ”who looks like a cross between Babs Windsor and Pat Butcher” (Zomblee), David Caruso, and a wild-eyed Landau on over-acting duties, all possible fodder for the dreaded FSS’s. Admittedly there’s a nice scene with Landau and Palance squaring off and a cool moment when a teen attempts to bluff his way out of a tricky situation with the cops as paranoia sets in, but that’s pretty much your lot here.
Towards the end, around the “main shack scene” (Zomblee), Dean Cundey’s talents escape him and darkness sets in as our characters stumble around in far too much darkness. Not even torches or the house lights help matters though, as Jim mumbled ”Dark… dark.. Oh, bed!”, and the film kind of petered out pretty much without warning. It’s not Palance’s best.
”I told you they were going to attack didn’t I?”
Zomblee So… Without Warning. First of all, it’s not a remake of the 50’s noir classic of sorts, but rather a rather silly (yet loveable) Predator precursor starring our old pal Jack, Earl of Palance, as well as Martin Landau, Cam Mitchell and a very young David Caruso (yes, even younger than in First Blood!). A word of (without) warning to you Caruso fans out there though; he gets killed really quickly.
Alas, quality issues were apparent tonight, as Rawshark said, ”Isn’t it sad how much effort went into the making of this film and this is the best quality version of it you can find?” He was not of course having a go at Jim for being slack (because if there’s a better version out there, trust me, Jim would have it) but justifiably lamenting for the sorry state of affairs in this day and age where Without Warning - as well as a LOT of other cool little movies - has managed to drown in the sea of VHS obscurity. Time to call in the DVD coastguard, that’s what I say.
Truth be told, I can’t remember much of Without Warning apart from the flying space suckers, Carpenter lenser Dean Cundey being the DoP, some memorable shack action (I love shacks, me), a great ‘jumping off the bridge’ scene, a very dull 10 minutes scene near the end where nothing happens, and Jack Palance cutting a space sucker off his knee. Then he stamps on it, and we probably all cheered.
”Somebody tell me about the invasion force.”
Jim You know, it all started encouragingly enough. Cameron Mitchell ("What did he win an Oscar for?" - Rawshark. Err, he didn't) is on a hunting trip with his pacifist son when all of a sudden they're both unceremoniously killed by some Space Flying Suckers, sorry, Flying Space Suckers. Mini-pizzas, chillis, gore - what more could you want? (''It's like an alien invasion summer camp slasher movie!'' - Rawshark)
Well, to see what was happening, for one thing. The opener, and the subsequent cub scout massacre, are all filmed in the daylight, but as soon as dusk sets in we soon release we can't see a thing. The teenagers being chased through the woods, Landau's Cold War influenced invasion rant in the bar (or "Bug eyed Landau" as Rawshark called him), wandering around the house with ineffectual flashlights, and even the notorious "main shack scene" all suffer from one of the darkest transfers we've ever scene here at Zombie Club, not helped by the movie using a power cut as a plot device. Even mild-mannered Zomblee couldn't take it, snapping in the bar car park scene and shouting ''Oh stand in the headlights so we can fucking see you!"
But all the same, I really enjoyed Without Warning, especially the contrived shack explosion finale where Kevin Peter Hall's alien gets blown sky high. But didn't he look like that weird blue-faced alien that was always in the end credits of Star Trek? And what was Jack Palance's connection to the alien? He certainly seemed a bit more in the know than the rest of them.
Oh well, maybe we did find out but it was too dark for us to see.
"It really looked like a flying pancake."
Director Greydon Clark
Cast Tarah Nutter
Christopher S. Nelson
Sue Ane Langdon
Kevin Peter Hall
Runtime 89 mins
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And another Zombie Club adventure comes to an end. I love bringing weird and wonderful movies to Zombie Club and tonight was no exception, with two criminally rare examples of Mr. Palance's less celebrated works, neither of which are available on DVD and both of which require a bit of a hunt if you're going to opt for the ex-rental VHS version.
Welcome to Blood Clty was a big winner all round (better than Westworld Rawshark? Wow...) which we would have liked to have seen in widescreen, mainly to get over the high heels issue. And Without Warning? Well, we'd have just like to have been able to have seen it, as opposed to seeing instead mostly darkness. And, of course, we all wanted to see those "flying pancakes" (Zomblee) that sound ''like mice-bats'' (Rawshark) in their full glory.
Tune in next week for more Zombie Club excellence. They're hairy, they're stoned, they're bikers and lt's the 70s. Yes, it's Hairy Stoned 70s Biker Night. You've just got to love it.