Predator: WTH are you? One ugly MoFo?
In 1987, one year—almost to the day—after James Cameron's Aliens was released, came a new movie that spawned a new franchise and inspired many young men to quote the line "Dead or alive, you're coming with me." That's right. RoboCop.
But since RoboCop isn't a monster movie, let's go one month earlier and watch John McTiernan's Predator.
In my review of Alien, I pointed out that monster movies are frequently compared to that now iconic movie. Now, while Predator does have a few things in common with the setup for Alien, it definitely doesn't feel like an Alien clone, like Leviathan or DeepStar Six.
(Probably some spoilers coming up.)
But first, the story.
A team of highly trained American commandos led by the giant Austrian named Dutch (Arnold Schwarzeneggenneggennerr) are sent to a Central American jungle to rescue a presidential cabinet minister who they are told has been captured by gorillas. I guess they're highly trained gorillas that ... oh, guerrillas! That makes much more sense.
Anyway, the commandos are inserted into the jungle and make their way to the guerrilla nesting ground. On the way, they find the remains of a team from Army Special Forces who have been killed and skinned. They don't have time to really do anything about it though. They have to get to the minister of cabinets before the gorillas force him to teach them proper finishing technique.
They make it to the camp and find that Dillon (Carl "you got a stew goin' on" Weathers) has been lying to them and that the cabinet minister knows nothing at all about cabinets. They take a hostage (Elpidia Carrillo) and head for an extraction team. On the way, they're picked off one by one by a mysterious and hidden attacker.
In case you really need to know, yes, Ahnuld Shvatzenhatzen is the only one of his team to survive.
Dot dot dot
As I pointed out in my review of Alien:
Getting attacked in a field is scary. Getting attacked in a box is terrifying.
Predator has our hero getting attacked in a jungle. There's plenty of directions to run, but don't forget the trees. One of the scary things about Jaws or Tremors is the fact that, just because you don't see something on the horizon, doesn't mean you're not being stalked. The same thing happens here.
Even without the added feature of his invisible camouflage the predator can easily attack you from almost any direction, jumping from tree to tree and dropping from above.
So, while the commandos have endless directions to run, it's next to impossible to know for certain which direction will save and which will take them closer to danger.
But what about the creature itself?
You've gotta hand it to the filmmakers here. They were able to make a creature that, while looking human enough that they don't have to use puppets or stop-motion (or wait around ten years for proper cgi to be invented), still ends up alien enough to be unique, scary, and instantly iconic.
Also, while the creatures in the Alien series are basically very intelligent animals, the Predator is a strategizeing, calculating, goal-oriented terror.
And the added element of "he didn't kill you because you were unarmed" makes the whole thing completely fascinating. With that one line, the Predator's entire being is suddenly imbued with a real, albeit maybe terrifying ethic: They kill for trophies, but they spare the weak.
Predator - trailer
Where does that leave us?
In the end, Predator became an instant classic. But as a monster movie, it's maybe just a tiny step down from Alien. Not much, but the fascination with the Predator himself becomes almost more about his sense of honor and his hunting skills than the downright dread of being hunted by it.
Not that there isn't something intrinsically scary about realizing that you're being hunted by something at least as smart as you, if not smarter.
But this movie, and as a result, the franchise as a whole, tends to lean a bit more toward "cool enemy" than "murdering monster." Never mind the fact that covering yourself in mud wouldn't actually mask your heat for that long. It's still cool to see and a great monster movie. Just with a slightly different focus than others.
And that is probably one of the largest things that sets this one apart from other movies along the same vein.
But what do you think?
For me, this one gets a very solid 8 / 10. Just a tiny step below the first two Alien movies, but really nothing to be ashamed of.
Predator is rated R for language, bloody sci-fi and war violence, and a general tone of scare and terror.
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