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WARNING SIGN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 12, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Despite a sterling cast, ‘Warning Sign’ was a surprisingly clunky and ineffective cautionary tale some 34 years ago, so much so that I compared it to another movie opening on the same day, George Romero’s zombie epic ‘Day of the Dead.’ For some reason, The Shout! Factory has decided to resurrect the film, if you will, and give it a Blu-ray upgrade. Here’s my review, published Oct. 9, 1985, in the Deseret News.

It’s a socially significant movie, it’s a zombie movie, it’s … “Warning Sign.” Or is it “Day of the Dead”?

Mostly filmed in Utah — down south a bit in the Payson area to be precise (where “Footloose” was filmed) — “Warning Sign” is billed as a topical thriller, with a very good cast led by two Oscar nominees, Sam Waterston and Kathleen Quinlan.

Filmed in Pennsylvania and Florida, “Day of the Dead” is billed as a zombie horror movie, with an unknown cast. It is the final (maybe) entry in George A. Romero’s trilogy, after “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.”

There’s no question that “Day of the Dead” is abiding by truth-in-advertising laws more than “Warning Sign,” but having seen them back to back Friday night, it is in some ways hard to distinguish between them. Both have to do with zombies … or pseudo-zombies … wandering up and down the halls of underground government facilities, looking for humans to tear up in the usual gory fashion.

     

Lobby Card: Kathleen Quinlan, Sam Waterston, 'Warning Sign'

In the cast of “Warning Sign,” the facility is Bio-Tech, a biological research laboratory located in the heart of rural Utah where the redneck locals are all quick-to-be-violent yokels. It’s government paranoia as usual and everyone turns on each other.

In “Day of the Dead” it’s an abandoned maze of tunnels in an underground missile silo, with a handful of humans trying to find a way of dealing with the flesh-eating zombies that have virtually taken over the Earth in this post-apocalyptic future, eventually fighting with each other as much as the enemy.

“Dead” is decidedly gorier than “Sign,” but “Sign” is no more intelligent.

What’s really interesting about “Warning Sign,” however, is seeing actors like Waterston and Quinlan, and to an even greater degree respected character actors like Yaphet Kotto and Richard Dysart, performing like amateurs in a two-bit backyard production.

Having seen Waterston and especially Quinlan turn in excellent performances elsewhere, the blame has to be placed on co-writer/director Hal Barwood, who, pointing the camera for the first time, shows tendencies for ham that would embarrass Porky Pig.

     

Worse, however, is the script (co-written by Matthew Robbins), a simplistic, idiotic mess that seems to want to be a “China Syndrome” tension-builder, in this case about germ warfare gone amok turning scientists into angry killers (a la “Impulse”), but caught up in zombie trappings. It treats the audience like idiots, however, with no logic and no common sense.

Though more is explained in “Warning Sign” than in the ultimate superficial movie of the season “Invasion U.S.A.,” none of it really washes. There are lots of mysterious organizations and people whose functions never really become very clear.

Of course Quinlan has practically made a career out of turning out fine performances in trashy films (and her best movies, like “Independence Day,” don’t get released), but for Waterston, this is an incredible comedown after “The Killing Fields.”

“Warning Sign” is rated R for violence, gore and profanity.