This week’s VHS is Hal Barwood’s 1985 thriller Warning Sign.
When a deadly virus is accidentally released inside an agricultural facility, all those locked inside must fight for their lives.
Warning Sign was the second in my double header of virus flicks and it couldn’t be more opposite from last week’s The Alpha Incident. Granted, this one was a wholly legitimate production from Twentieth Centuty Fox, but man was it solid. Not only was it shot by legend Dean Cundey, but also featured a veritable parade of character actors, including Sam Waterston, Kathleen Quinlan, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Dysart and Jeffrey De Munn as well as familiar faces G.W. Bailey, Jerry Hardin and Rick Rossovich.
This was director Barwood’s only kick at the can – after rubbing elbows with George Lucas at Fox and later moving into the video game industry – and he made it count. Warning Sign was an engaging thriller that had the gravitas of a studio picture, but sadly got buried in the avalanche of the decade’s flashier and more celebrated offerings.
What I found most intriguing were the similarities it shared with two iconic genre pictures, Aliens and 28 Days Later. It’s impossible not to watch the scene where a cammed-up science team descend into Bio-Tek’s lower levels and not think of the sequence where James Cameron’s colonial marines had their disastrous first engagement with the aliens.
I was also reminded of Ripley when Quinlan’s character had to turn into a reluctant bad-ass in the second act. Even more interesting is that Aliens came out a year later, yet they were both pictures at Fox. You can even hear James Horner’s score in the Warning Sign trailer, though if I had a nickel for every time that was pilfered for an ad I’d be as rich as Cameron.
As for 28 Days Later, I have to wonder if writer Alex Garland didn’t see this movie. While it’s true both viruses shared a similar pathology, my eyebrows didn’t raise until the word “rage” was used more than once. Very curious indeed.
I think what most surprised me about Warning Sign was the ending. It was very unexpected and not at all how these movies usually go. It was kind of refreshing actually. Not particularly realistic, but it was a studio picture, after all. Considering I hadn’t heard thing one about this film before watching it, I feel it’s an underappreciated gem. I understand that the mid-eighties were crammed with pop culture mainstays, but if you dig a little deeper there are a ton of other fine titles like this one to be found, as well.