First released in 1981, Early Warning opens with a shot of a crowded, polluted city. On the soundtrack, we hear the voices of newscasters. The world is tottering on the brink of war. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Inflation is rising. People are losing their jobs and their homes and many of them are having to skip meals in order to have enough food to last through the week. Riots are breaking out across America. Crime is running rampant. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. The President is a doddering old fool who sounds incapable of bringing America together.
Wow, that all certainly sounds familiar! It’s tempting to say that Early Warning predicted the state of the world in 2022. However, the truth of the matter is that the movie was made at the tail end of the Carter years and, as we all know, history tends to repeat itself.
Early Warning makes the argument that all of the problems in the world are due to the …. are you ready for this? …. One World Foundation. (The One World Foundation could have picked a less obviously evil name.) Led by Alexander Stonefield (Joe Chapman), The One World Foundation manipulates humanity by raising prices, destroying cities, and causing natural disasters. They have a plan to start a nuclear war, by encouraging countries to invade one another and then supplying nuclear weapons to both sides. They’ve decided that the best way to control humanity is to assign everyone a number and to…. okay, well, you know where this is going, don’t you? Yes, this is one of those movies. Before Left Behind, there was Early Warning!
The One World Foundation may be able to manipulate the world but their security sucks because a reporter manages to sneak into their headquarters and record a meeting where Stonefield explains, in exacting detail, everything that he’s planning on doing. (You have to wonder why Stonefield even felt the need to have that meeting.) The reporter is caught by a group of silly-looking guards who all wear white knee socks and tap shoes. He’s killed but not before he put the recording in a mail box. That’s putting a lot of trust in the U.S. Postal Service but whatever.
Another journalist, Sam Jensen (Christopher Wynne), teams up with a religious activist named Jenny Marshall (Delana Michaels) and soon, they’re doing their own investigation. It turns out that the One World Foundation is going to have yet another meeting, this one at a hotel in the middle of the desert. While Sam and Jenny try to uncover the truth, they fall in love but, unfortunately, Sam’s not a believer. Can this be fixed before Sam is gunned down by a mysterious, helicopter-riding assassin known as The Cobra?
Early Warning is a bit of an odd film. Jenny is often inappropriately cheerful, even when she’s got guards in knee socks trying to kill her. Sam is a remarkably whiny hero. There’s a strange sequence in which Sam and Jenny stumble across a survivalist compound in the middle of the desert and one of the survivalists is played by none other than George “Buck” Flower. But perhaps the strangest thing about the movie just how low-rent and incompetent the One World Foundation is. For an organization that can drive countries to war and wipe out someone’s savings just by pushing one button, One World has a remarkably difficult time tracking down two people.
(Of course, that’s always been my issue with most conspiracy theories. It’s hard for me to buy that a group could be competent enough to control the world while also being too incompetent to properly cover up their activity.)
Early Warning is an early example of an evangelical end-of-the-world thriller. One gets the feeling that the filmmakers were probably inspired by the then-recent success of The Omen films. The budget was obviously low but that often works to the film’s advantage. The grainy images feel appropriate for a movie about paranoia. What doesn’t work to the film’s advantage are the stilted performances and a screenplay that can never decide whether it wants to primarily thrill the audience or primarily preach at them. Still, to me, it’s interesting as an early example of a cinematic genre that, even if it doesn’t get much publicity, is still going strong. It’s also interesting to see that, in 1981, people were just as quick to say the world was ending as they are in 2022. The world appears to have been ending for a while now.