Directed by Hal Barwood
Produced by Jim Bloom
Written by Hal Barwood & Matthew Robbins
Director of Photograpy Dean Cundey
Music by Craig Safan
Cast: Sam Waterston, Kathleen Quinlan, Yaphet Kotto, Jeffrey De Munn, Richard Dysart
1985/99 mins/Color/Dolby Surround 2.0
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
If you get down to basics, there are two kinds of horror movies -- those which deal with reality and those which don't. The latter sub-genre typically deals with supernatural themes such as ghosts, witches, demons, and the like. These stories usually occur in our world, but something otherworldly threatens the characters in film. On the other hand, there are real terrors such as psychotic killers, dangerous animals or disasters. These stories can contain universal themes (being stalked by a killer) or topical themes. The low-budget film WARNING SIGN deals with a chemical outbreak. The movie may have been made twenty years ago, but its themes are still timely today.
WARNING SIGN is set at a chemical company called Biotek. As the film opens, Dr. Nielsen (Richard Dysart) is celebrating the success of a new project on which his team has been working. As the team undoes their biohazard suits to take a celebratory photo, a vial is smashed and they are suddenly contaminated. This accident triggers the lab's alarms, and security guard Joanie Morse (Kathleen Quinlan) locks-down the facility. She is able to communicate with her husband, Sheriff Cal Morse (Sam Waterston), and soon, the a team from the federal government, led by Major Connolly (Yaphet Kotto) arrives on the scene. However, there's little that they can do other than contain the situation. Joanie convinces Cal that he must find former Biotek employee Dr. Dan Fairchild (Jeffrey De Munn), who may be able to help.
Meanwhile, the Biotek employees inside the lab are beginning to feel the effects of the lab accident. It appears that the biological agent involved causes violent behavior in those affected. Thus, the employees turn on one another, with one group led by Nielsen and the other formed by Schmidt (G.W. Bailey). As time passes, and those outside search for an answer, the environment inside Biotek becomes more and more deadly.
Look at WARNING SIGN from a modern perspective, one finds a very interesting film. For one thing, the fears raised in the film are still relevant today. Many movies from the past which present a particular paranoia or invisible enemy (such as the "Red Scare" films of the 50s and 60s) don't hold up today. But, with things such as Avian Flu dominating today's headlines, the idea of a toxic spill or biohazard is still frightening. Horror fans should also note how the story in WARNING SIGN pre-dates later genre entries which were much more high-profile. The idea of a lab full of violent "zombie-like" scientists would later be echoed in the original "Resident Evil" video game. And the idea of a biological which enhances violence and rage would be seen in the overrated 28 DAYS LATER.
Beyond the fact that it was ahead of its time, WARNING SIGN is a solid little movie. If for no other reason, the movie must be admired for the fact that the lab accident occurs within the first 10 minutes of the film and the story is off and running. The movie doesn't waste any time in introducing the characters and ideas. And once we get the idea that it wasn't a normal germ that was released, the movie becomes brutal pretty quickly. The film is never gory, but it doesn't shy away from violence. The movie boasts a great cast, giving each character strength and personality. (For Generation X'ers, it's especially interesting to see POLICE ACADEMY's Lieutenant Harris in serious role.) WARNING SIGN is lent a touch of class by the presence of director of photography Dean Cundey (this was made between BACK TO THE FUTURE and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA). Co-writer/director Hal Barwood had worked with Spielberg and while the film is never very "arty", it's competently made. The only real problem with WARNING SIGN is that it runs out of gas before its 99-minute running time is over. Once all of the story-elements have fallen into place, the audience is forced to wait as we see who will live or die or be cured. These scenes become quite drawn out and don't contain the tension which filled the first parts of the film.
WARNING SIGN is one of those little movies that I caught over and over on HBO back in the 80s, and for once, I can understand why I watched it. While the film isn't a classic, and it remains relatively obscure, it definitely has its high points and will appeal to fans of the scientific paranoia genre.
WARNING SIGN infects DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the fact that the film is 20 years old, and a somewhat unknown low-budget movie, the transfer looks pretty good. For starters, a nice clean source print was used, which only shows a few scant scratches and black dots. The image only shows a little bit of grain. The picture is sharp and fairly clear. The colors look fine and the image is never overly dark. The DVD features a Dolby Surround 2.0 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects with only a faint amount of hissing. The stereo effects are fine, but to be honest, I didn't notice much in the way of surround sound.
The WARNING SIGN contains only three extra features. Co-writer/Director Hal Barwood provides a nice audio commentary for the film. He speaks at length throughout the movie, providing details on the location, the story, and the actors. His talk is quite candid, as he critiques the way in which he shot the film and points out how the low-budget nature of the project is visible on-screen. The only other extras on the DVD are the Theatrical Trailer for WARNING SIGN, as well as a TV Spot.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©