Dark Sky Films, a division of MPI Home Video, is a new DVD publisher that will release, according to their press material, "the highest quality in classic horror, grindhouse, oddities and "lost" films to fans of the more eclectic genres of home entertainment." Sounds like a lot of hype, doesn't it? Didn't really have my hopes up when I screened one of their early releases, Without Warning, but for once the reality lives up to the press release. I can't speak for their other films, but this film, thought to be 'lost' for years and available for the first time with this release, looks and sounds fantastic. Not only that, but it's a pretty good film too.
Los Angeles is being stalked by a serial killer. Carl Martin (Adam Williams) is a quiet, almost shy gardener by day, but when the urge hits him he becomes a cold and calculating killer. Picking up attractive blonds and violently slaughtering them with a pair of garden sheers, Carl has the police stymied.
The police aren't just going to give up or wait for his next crime though. Led by Lt. Pete Hamilton (Edward Binns), the police sift through the crime scenes for clues and lay traps for the unsuspecting killer. It will only be a matter of time before all of their hard work pays off, but will they catch him before he kills again?
This is a unique film, part film noir and part police procedural, it works very well. On the noir side, the scenes where Carl Martin is stalking his prey through the bars of LA are filmed in a gritty and dark style. These scenes are filled with shadows and this, along with the fluid camera work, makes the film tense and filled with suspense.
Other sections of the film are quite different though. When the police are working on their case it is often in the daylight, going to tailors and garden supply stores to follow up every little clue. Like Dragnet, the voice-over in these scenes is monotone and no nonsense. Police work is serious business.
Sometimes with low budget noir films like this one the film is interesting in spite of the acting, rather than because of it. Not so with this movie. Adam Williams really steals the show as the killer. He plays the character as a quite and seemingly normal guy, an everyday Joe that you'd bring home for dinner. That makes it even more eerie when he kills. The murders he commits are passion making the character seem psychotic. He kills as calmly as he would mow a yard, only when the police catch on to him does he show any signs of worry.
This film has a good amount of suspense. There were several scenes that really have your eyes glued to the screen, especially when Carl is in a car and approached by the police while he has the body of his latest victim in the front with him. They don't cheat on these suspense scenes either. Things unfold in a natural and realistic way, without resorting to any phoney deus ex machina escapes. It is interesting to note though that the one time Carl had the chance to kill a police officer, he knocked him out instead. I guess some things would have pushed the envelope too far back then.
The two channel mono soundtrack sounded excellent. There wasn't any hiss like I was expecting, and distortion was also absent. This is a very good sounding disc, especially for a movie from the early 50's. There are optional English subtitles.
The full frame image was amazingly clear. The picture has a lot of detail and wonderful contrast. I was very surprised at how good this film looked. There were a few print defects, a couple of spots and a tear in one place, but these were fairly rare. Digital defects were also absent. The only flaw was a light amount of edge enhancement that is visible in several scenes. This is a very impressive looking disc, and bodes well for Dark Sky Films.
The only extra on this disc is an image gallery containing 10 lobby cards and posters from the film. I would have liked it better if the images were a little bigger on the screen, but it was still nice to see them.
Without Warning is a suspenseful mixture of film noir and police
procedural that works very well. Thought lost for years, this release
is the first time the film is available on home video. Since this
was a lost film which retails for under $15 (and available on-line for
under $10 shipped) from a new publisher, I was astounded at how good this
disc looked and sounded. Dark Sky Films have done an outstanding
job with this release. Noir fans should run out and by this immediately,
others should consider it too. This disc gets a very high Recommended