Warning Sign (1985)

Hal Barwood's Warning Sign starts out as a fairly sombre and serious bio-hazard thriller in which a deadly outbreak at a research facility leads to complete lockdown. Trapped inside with the infected staff is security guard Kathleen Quinlan, wife of local Sheriff Sam Waterston, who is quickly on the scene. He discovers that the facility, ostensibly an agricultural research centre providing much-needed jobs for the local economy, is really a business front for military experiments in genetic warfare, and that those trapped inside are likely doomed. He fetches ex-company scientist Jeffrey De Munn, and together they enter the facility in an attempt to affect a cure, and to rescue Quinlan, who is unaffected for reasons which wrap up nicely at the end.

Where the film switches in tone is with the arrival of Yaphet Kotto's bible-quoting company man, whose comforting words fail to ring true, largely thanks to the small army of troops and close-mouthed scientists in tow. His arrival coincides with the revival of the seemingly dead staff inside the facility, who are now not so much zombies as survival junkies (led by Richard Dysart) - their rampage throughout the facility is not that of the living dead: it is rather that of a confirmation bias towards life. These scenes retain the conventional mad stare and slaughter aspects of many containment horror films and they are, for the most part, directed with no real flair for splatter, with the exception of one brilliant twist concerning a pair of contact lens. In the end Barwood resorts to his named stars for a resolution, perhaps believing that box-office is the antidote to toxin, and that an outbreak of genre can be cured by star power.

Warning Sign is a well-regarded film in cult circles, perhaps because it is a film of two halves which run almost concurrently and so can be watched complicitly. Its latent power comes from the duplicity of the local townspeople who are perfectly willing to buy the subterfuge of an agricultural facility to maintain their lifestyles - their storming of the facility is not an act of rebellion at finding out the truth of matters; rather it is denial, an attempt to restore the status quo to an ordinary working day by producing their loved ones alive and well. Warning Sign will no doubt disappoint those expecting an expose along the lines of The China Syndrome or Silkwood, but it is just as likely to disappoint horror fans for its tepid recreation of Romero's The Crazies. Still, for all that, it's worth watching.


  1. The tagline appears to have been stolen from the magical Chinaman in Gremlins.

  2. Yep, that about sums it up; spot on. :]