Submitted to Killer Film by Jason Bene on April 16, 2010 – 7:30 am
Unfriendly aliens visiting earthlings has been a constant in the science fiction genre for some time now. It hit its peak in the paranoid times of the 1950′s with the likes of War of the Worlds, but something went awry in the late seventies and early eighties. Things became all warm and fuzzy as Steven Spielberg gave us friendly aliens in the form of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Many films were inspired by those two blockbusters, and the ones I was always attracted to were the low-budget schlocky kind like The Dark and Without Warning [It Came Without Warning].
Filmmaker Greydon Clark has been toiling in the film industry since the heyday of the drive-in era of the 1970′s, and he has made a handful of films that deserve a second look. Movies like Black Shampoo, Satan’s Cheerleaders, Wacko, Joysticks, The Return, and The Uninvited have all seem to have fallen through the cracks of time and have been generally ignored by film snobs.
I have always been a backer of the underdogs of the movie world. I’ll take a Greydon Clark film over some highbrow Criterion beatnik art film any day of the week. I have never been one to drink wine at the dinner table, just give me some Jägermeister in a paper cup and I am a happy camper.
Greydon Clark’s finest hour is without a doubt his 1980 creature feature Without Warning, a picture that paved the way for a certain high-tech film from the late eighties. Read on for a trip down memory lane with Mr. Greydon Clark.
Jason Bene: You did a film called The Return that deals with a small town’s encounter with an alien spaceship; and Without Warning swims in similiar waters. Where those film inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
Greydon Clark: I guess. I loved Close Encounters and I would guess they were inspired by that, but I see all kinds of movies. I guess I should say in the past I saw all kinds of movies. I liked Close Encounters. I liked all of Spielberg’s work. A friend of mine was developing the script for Without Warning. He had produced a couple of films with me and I helped him produce a couple on his own. For whatever reason he decided that he wasn’t going to make that picture and he said to me I should read the script. So I read it and I liked it a lot, but I wasn’t happy with the entire script. There was an element in it that I didn’t think was unique enough, and that is that the alien hunter who came to Earth hunted with a bow and arrow. I wrestled with that for a while and I came up with the idea of having him throw these little live critters instead of a bow and arrow. When I settled on that I decided to go ahead and make the picture.
Jason Bene: Do you know if any of the writers had read a book called ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ by Richard Connell?
Greydon Clark: I couldn’t answer that. I had very little contact with those writers [Lyn Freeman, Daniel Grodnik, Ben Nett, and Steve Mathis] because when my friend Mike McFarland gave me the script he had already worked with the writers and developed it and so forth. When I got involved it was a different script with different elements. Then I changed it to add the live creature, freesbie type things that the guy throws at his prey. I’m familiar with ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ and I would assume the writers read it, but that would be an assumption on my part.
Jason Bene: You cobbled together an incredible cast of actors for the film; you have Jack Palance, Neville Brand, Cameron Mitchell, Martin Landau, and a baby faced David Caruso. You must have some amazing stories working with that cast.
Greydon Clark: I had worked with a couple of them previously. I worked with Jack Palance on the picture I did called Angel’s Brigade that I did just before Without Warning. I had worked with Neville Brand on that picture and a couple pictures prior to that. This was the first picture I worked with Marty Landau on and generally I will say that those guys were terrific to work with. I mean very hard working, they were eager to help, they worked with the young actors. We shot most of the picture at night as you probably know. It was shot in the Los Angeles area, the outskirts of the L.A. area as what’s known as the Paramount Ranch. It used to be owned by Paramount many, many, many years ago but at that time it was private property. Now it’s owned by either the state or the feds. It’s the federal park I guess, so it must be the federal government that owns it. A lot of films are still filmed out there. They have a Western street as well as the woods that I used.
I went in to see Palance about something in his trailer, and I happened to glance at the script. Here he had written on the side of the script little notes to himself about the character’s development and what the character was thinking. And I thought wow, here he is in his early sixties and he has been a star for thrity years. He has done Broadway and has been an international cinema star, and this was a little low-budget, three week picture that was made for $150, 000. And yet he was professional about it, and wanted to do a good job, and wanted to concentrate on what he was doing. He was treating it as if it were a multi-million dollar picture. Very professional guy. It was the first picture I made with Marty Landau. I did The Return after Without Warning. We were at a location at the bar where I had only one day to finish the entire bar sequence. I couldn’t go back to the location the next day. We were in our eighteenth hour and I said to Marty ”One more thing, I got to go outside and shoot the scene because you are pacing back and forth outside the bar.” He said, “let’s go ahead and do it.” He did it and then we were finished for the night and I said to him, “Marty, the problem is I don’t need you for a lot tomorrow. I just need you maybe for a couple of hours. But I have to do it first thing.” By that time it was probably five or six in the morning and we were starting to lose our darkness. I needed him the next day at maybe four or five in the afternoon. He had already put in almost a twenty hour day. And before I could even ask him he said, “Greydon, don’t worry about it, I’ll be here whenever you want me.” He was very professional and hard working. I have been very, very, very lucky in my career with cast.
It was David Caruso’s first film and he was terrific in it. I remember when he came into the office to read for the job. The way I worked is I had associate assistants of mine who would see twenty or thirty people for each role and they would widdle it down to three or four, and then they would bring them in to see me. Because I didn’t have the time to see everybody. I remember when Caruso walked through the door and here he had this baby face, but this shocking red hair. An interesting looking fellow. An attractive, good looking guy, but not in the conventional sense because of all of the freckles and hair and so forth. He gave a terrific reading and I cast him immediately. I was very lucky to get him too. Obviously he has had a wonderful career.
Jason Bene: Martin Landau has said that you were a godsend because Francis Ford Coppola sought him out for Tucker: The Man and his Dream because of his over-the-top performance in Without Warning.
Greydon Clark: I read that too. That was in a Fangoria Magazine article. Marty was very kind to say that and I appreciated it very much.
Jason Bene: Where did you find Kevin Peter Hall? He was a perfect fit to play this huge alien.
Greydon Clark: He was, and I needed somebody extremely tall. I think Kevin was actually seven feet tall. I needed somebody extremely tall and agile, that could move and look good. He was seen by one of my associates and brought in to see me. There aren’t a lot of seven foot tall agile actors. He incidentally also played the alien in Predator.
Jason Bene: Greg Cannom did a great make-up job on Kevin Peter Hall. Did you purposely keep the creature in the shadows until the end of the movie to keep some mystery to him?
Greydon Clark: I did. Greg was wonderful to work with too. And he was very instrumental in developing not only the alien itself, but the little flying critters and putting the hair on them and making the teeth move. He is a very talented fellow.
Jason Bene: Dean Cundey is an amazing cinematographer and has done a lot of the lighting work on some of John Carpenter’s best films. What kind of color palette were you reaching for?
Greydon Clark: Well, obviously it was very dark and mysterious, and a lot of fog and shadows and so forth. Dean did five films for me, and Without Warning was the last film. He had just completed Halloween before we did Without Warning, and he was about to become a very major talent. Without Warning was his last low-budget film, and then, of course as you know, he’s gone on to shoot for Ford, Spielberg, Zemeckis, and Ron Howard. I read the other day that he was just voted one of the Top 100 cinematographers of all-time by the Cinematographers Asscociation. A great guy to work with. I gave him really his first job on a picture I did called Black Shampoo. Then he worked five pictures in a row for me and then became very successful in big time stuff.
Jason Bene: In 1987, while doing a press tour for Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger said and I quote, “Did you ever see a little picture called Without Warning? A hunter from outer space thing. Well, that’s where we are coming from with Predator. Even got the same actor playing the monster, except we have a production budget that let’s us be more realistic, ya know.” So basically, he acknowledged that Predator is a quasi-remake.
Greydon Clark: I’m glad he saw the picture and I guess he liked it. They had a little bit more of a production budget than I did, and Predator is a wonderful film.
Jason Bene: I just think it’s ironic that we have this alien, played by the same actor, who comes from space to Earth to hunt humans with a weapon he throws. You have to give credit to Without Warning. It might not necessarily be a remake per se, but it definitely paved the way for that film.
Jason Bene: This year marks the 30th Anniversary of Without Warning. Why hasn’t there been a DVD release?
Greydon Clark: Boy, I can talk about that for three or four days. When we made the picture it was 1979 and it was released in 1980. I finished the picture and I screened it for American International Pictures, and they loved the picture and we made a deal. Within a matter of weeks American International Pictures was sold to Filmways. And I remember at the time with the press announcement and the guy from Filmways was there at the podium talking about the fact that they bought AIP and so forth. And the guy said we are not going to release any of these old AIP type pictures. And I thought why the hell did they buy the company? I don’t get it.
But anyhow, I had to threaten a lawsuit to get them to release the picture. We had made a pre-production deal with HBO and part of our HBO agreement was that the picture had to play in ten major markets in the United States. And when I made the deal with AIP, I put in the contract that AIP agreed to fulfill the minimum requirement of my HBO deal. So when Filmways purchased AIP, they didn’t want to release any of the old AIP stuff. I threatened to sue Filmways to force them to release Without Warning. Then they did release it and it did quite well, they made some money with it, they were happy with it and so forth. Filmways was purchased by Orion, and eventually MGM owned the rights to the film.
Jason Bene: Now MGM is in big financial trouble, so those rights might go anywhere.
Greydon Clark: God only knows. They control the DVD rights. I control the remake rights and I’ve been in discussions with MGM for two years about making a remake of it. One of the problems is every six months you are talking to another executive because the guys there move on to other companies. To why it hasn’t been on DVD, I guess you’ll have to contact MGM. I am told it is one of the most pirated films on the internet. I get a lot of response from my website on Without Warning.
Greydon Clark is a true gentleman, and would like to thank him for sharing his experiences on such a great film. You can visit his official website at http://www.greydonclark.com/ . While you are there you can search his impressive resume of films he has directed, as well as order personally signed items from Greydon.