Predator was the first horror movie I ever watched. At the time, I was eight or nine, I didn’t know it was a horror movie and I don’t think my parents knew either. As far as we were concerned, if Arnie made it, then it was an action movie. It was only when I re-watched Predator recently that I saw that even though the movie is billed as a sci-fi/action movie, it’s actually a slasher flick.
The greatest sci-fi horror movies are the first two Alien movies. Alien is the quintessential haunted house movie while Aliens used the xenomorphs as a way to craft a fantastic Vietnam movie in space. Predator is a mix of the two. Even though the movie takes place all in wide, open outdoors, the jungle represents the haunted house. They can’t escape it and it becomes like a maze with each twist and turn looking exactly the same as they traverse miles and miles of similar scenery. It also has more obvious Vietnam symbolism throughout. Here we have a group of American soldiers dropped into the jungle to complete a mission they don’t a hundred percent understand. All the while an invisible enemy hides in the jungle using the territory against them and killing them off. Much like Bourke in Aliens, you have a character representing the government who is shifty and untrustworthy, and who essentially betrays the team. He gets them into the jungle on false pretences and lets them know they’re expendable when they get there, mirroring the feeling of a lot of US troops during the Vietnam War.
The main difference between these movies is the intelligence of the villains. While the xenomorphs are presented more as cunning animals, the Predator is a hunter with motives and tactics. He hunts the group for a reason and for trophies. He is more akin to Michael Myers, Jason, or Leatherface than to the antagonists in Aliens. His final showdown with Arnie has all the hallmarks of a final girl sequence in a traditional horror movie. Arnie has managed to survive to the end and rather than cowering, he uses his wits to try and win. He ends up being more like Laurie Strode than Rambo and it’s great. The third act, as Arnie tries to fight the Predator with his improvised weaponry, has always been my favourite part of the movie. There is tension throughout Predator, but the scenes of the Predator and Arnie swapping places with the man hunting the alien is very satisfying, with just the right level of eighties cheese to put a smile on the viewer’s face.
The eighties cheese level in the rest of the movie veers wildly from fun to hilarious to laughable. The scene of Dillon and Dutch greeting each other with the handshake/arm wrestle is one of those moments where I can’t tell if I’m supposed to be amused or impressed and I usually end up with both. That sense runs through the movie. There is a lot of purple prose in the script but that just adds to the fun. The core group of men in Dutch’s team have great chemistry and watching them riff is fun and watching them try to out masculine each other is even more fun.
I’ve read countless articles about the femininity of the Alien franchise. Aliens, in particular, has a motif of mothers and motherhood with Ripley sleeping through her daughter’s life and taking on Newt as a surrogate. The final sequence is Ripley fighting the Alien Queen, another mother, who is trying to steal her daughter away. If that is the case and Alien is feminine sci-fi horror, then Predator is definitely the masculine side.
The amount of testosterone dripping off the screen is distracting at times. There are lots of long lingering shots of straining muscles and sweaty abs, and the banter between the team is a lot of dudes being bros, pussy jokes, accusations of being a “slack-jawed faggot,” and warzone reminiscence. These jocks are our heroes but there is a slight satisfaction in watching them get taken out. Anna, the only woman in the movie, is, interestingly, never talked about or shot in a sexual manner. She is fully clothed throughout and there is not the sense of a romance blossoming between her and any of the team. However, she is also viewed from the first second she appears as a weakness. She is a burden they must carry and the only reason the Predator doesn’t kill her is that he doesn’t consider her to be worthy sport because of how useless she is. She must be protected by the men and has no real agency of her own. She survives the movie but only because her weakness protects her while there are all these big muscle men around her who represent strength and a challenge to the Predator.
30 years after its release I can’t say that Predator has aged like fine wine. Maybe a good scotch. It is rough around the edges but so much fun. Young Arnie is a huge ball of charm with, I noticed on this watch, incredibly expressive eyes. The score is a great mix of South American drums and classical strings, which create a wonderful soundscape for the characters to get lost/killed in. The Predator is one of those wonderful alien designs that is full of tricks and still looks highly effective. The invisibility effect is still wonderful and even better in HD as there are scenes where you can see the shimmering hole in the jungle while the characters cannot. Watching it on my old VHS twenty-five years ago meant I missed all that. It is also a highly economical film. In my old age, I’m finding that modern movies are getting too long and have too much fat on the bone. Predator is a clean hour and forty-five with very little excess on it and something for everyone: big action beats, gore, one liners, Arnie fighting a monster, a minigun, a dude losing an arm, and Long Tall Sally.
Okay, maybe not everyone. But eight or nine-year-old me was very impressed with it.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox