Release Date(s)1985 (March 26, 2019)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
More or less forgotten since its theatrical release, Warning Sign came and went with little to no fanfare in 1985, despite some decent marketing on the part of 20th Century Fox.
In the film, a viral outbreak occurs in a government laboratory that’s under the guise of a small town pesticide manufacturer. Once the building is sealed by the on-duty guard (Kathleen Quinlan), the people inside, among them Dr. Nielsen (Richard Dysart) and Dr. Schmidt (G.W. Bailey), slowly transform into violent murderers, unbeknownst to nearly everyone on the outside. The local sheriff (Sam Waterston), a government agent (Yaphet Kotto), and a retired scientist (Jeffrey DeMunn) all attempt to keep the situation under wraps and help everyone inside.
Playing as a sort of a quasi-science fiction horror film, leaning more towards the Spielberg variety tonally, Warning Sign certainly has plenty of merit. The building tensions between the authorities and the townspeople is well-illustrated (albeit logically unfounded), and the threat that the virus provides is frightening enough to keep the pressure on throughout. Craig Safan’s score, which at times is reminiscent of his work for A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master, conversely providing a nice backdrop for either the serene or violent moments.
Unfortunately, not everything about the film gels. Sam Waterston and Kathleen Quinlan are horribly miscast in the leading roles. Quinlan is nothing more than a traditional heroine, being fairly helpless and sometimes hysterical, and always quick to run into a man’s arms when something awful happens. What might have worked in the 1940s and 1950s doesn’t work in this more modern setting. The other performances are fine with none that really stand out, but some of the dialogue choices are baffling, particularly those coming from Waterston who, after being handed an immunization gun, proclaims that “Clint Eastwood would love one of these!” There are eye-rolling moments in movies from time to time, but then there’s staring at your own brain.
Warning Sign is also the only directorial effort of Hal Barwood, who also had a hand in the creation of films like THX 1138, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Dragonslayer. It’s clear that he was trying to do something a bit topical with the material. From the opening featuring a bi-plane dropping pesticides on crops to the various lab technicians and doctors sealed within the building exhibiting extreme behavior before the virus even takes effect – he’s clearly got a few things on his mind. On the surface, the story is straightforward with enough twists and turns to keep you interested, but you have to power through the lesser elements.
Scream Factory debuts Warning Sign on Blu-ray with what appears to be a dated, but no less organic, transfer that’s complete with a beautifully vintage 20th Century Fox logo. Grain levels are thick but solidly reproduced with only some mild speckling leftover. The color palette offers a nice variety, but is mostly dominated by blues, reds, and occasional greens. Blacks are deep with good contrast and brightness while the overall transfer appears stable and problem-free. A fresher scan might have warranted some higher levels of fine detail, and perhaps some better grain management, but it’s a nice presentation of Dean Cundey’s cinematography when all is said and done.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 DTS-HD (not mono as mentioned on the main menu) with optional subtitles in English SDH. There’s some occasional ambient activity, particularly within the darkened corridors of the facility later in the film, as well as good separation of the various elements. Dialogue always comes through clearly and the score is given plenty of room to breathe. It’s not an amazingly impactful stereo soundtrack, but it does justice to its source.
The extras include a vintage audio commentary with director Hal Barwood, which frankly doesn’t offer a whole lot on insight as he tends to go silent a bit too often; Looking Back on Warning Sign with Writer/Director Hal Barwood, a new 19-minute interview which is far more informative than its commentary counterpart; Looking Back on Warning Sign with Producer Jim Bloom, another new and lengthy 42-minute interview; a Request TV pay-per-view ad for the film; the original theatrical trailer; and a still gallery featuring 26 images of posters, lobby cards, and press materials.
Warning Sign certainly isn’t in the top tier of science fiction biohazard themed films, but it’s an often overlooked one for sure, mainly because it hasn’t had much prominence on home video. Perhaps Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release will change that. With a decent transfer and accompanying extras, it’s a minor but good package overall.
– Tim Salmons