EMPIRE ESSAY: Predator Review

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Dutch Schaeffer is leading a team of commandos to rescue hostages being held by Central Americans. People start turning up dead but skinned. Something bad is out there but it's not from either side...or even this planet.


Released a year after James Cameron had matched hardcore space marines with acid-dripping endomorphs to superlative effect in Aliens, another action maestro (John McTiernan, who a year later would redefine the whole genre with Die Hard) played a similar, although contemporary, trick in the Central American jungle.

Classically 80s trunk-necked special ops commandos versus an alien with a chameleon cloaking device, green blood, a natty line in DIY surgery (ref: The Terminator) and infra-red laser vision. Naturally, the only lunk in the group who can match the Predator's cunning is Schwarzenegger's Major Dutch Schaeffer. While the plot is structurally tight (the horror movie pick them off one-by-one format), McTiernan delights in the ritualisation of combat. The Predator is on a hunt, not for meat, but for prowess, competition, trophies (mainly human skulls and spinal cords). The soldiers are on a hunt (for missing hostages) equally enacting their own rituals of war and death — Bill Duke's Mac habitually shaving his hairless skull, Sonny Landham's Billy, the group scout, sniffs the air suspiciously, they all lavish attention upon the strict routines and orders of the mission. There is a comparison between two ugly species — tough guys against an alien being, not benign and bubble-eyed, not some technocratic invader, but a tribal, cruel race only marginally more technically advanced than themselves.

When the Predator finally meets his match in Schaeffer, he grants him a measure of respect (and the audience a measure of sicko gawping) by removing his helmet and revealing Stan Winston's fabulously hideous creaturework beneath (a snapping crablike jaw with dreadlocks and mottled lizard skin). In Stephen Hopkins' unfairly derided sequel the idea is taken a step further when a younger Predator (on some kind of initiation) loses to flabby Danny Glover and the alien hierarchy actually congratulates the cop by handing him a prize. The action is handled with all of the director's renowned prowess and delight in gunplay and hi-tech hardware. The jungle makes an impressive battleground, shot with an overpowering almost sickly sense of poisonous life, the impression is of something oppressive, threatening and boundless.

While frequent cuts to the Predator's heat-sensitive POV spookily build the unseen-creature tension and flashy moments of silly gore and deliberately laughable one-liners place the whole thing firmly in big budget B-movie territory. It's a monster flick for certain, but not without some metaphorical meaning. Beyond the obvious, even rather gratuitous, allusions to Vietnam — cocksure grunts getting their arse-kicked by an enemy using the jungle terrain to its own advantage — and a general cynicism toward American foreign policy (the very set-up has them fiddling about in Central American politics) there is a finely worked level of satire to Predator.

Satire of the 80s male machismo of which its leading man was the figurehead. Every member of the cast boasts biceps like coconuts, a kind of steroid-sodden brotherhood that makes even Schwarzenegger's exaggerated physique seem moderate. Laden with rugged dialogue, they are setup for a fall, ludicrous notions of manhood undone by a vagina-with-tusks which our "ugly motherfucker" feminist alien fiend alludes to.

Schwarzenegger has to get back to caveman primal. This is a quintesential melding of 80s testosterone cinema and the central tenets of sci-fi
instincts to overpower the foe. The whole movie teems with a sense of knowing parody. Ostensibly though this is a creature feature, pure and simple. Similar to the Aliens movies, it was the character of the alien that caught the imagination. Stan Winston works hard to generate the paradoxical primitive-yet-advanced persona (jungle warriors who fly spacecraft); it is the vivid array of technology coupled with the macho hunter ethic that separates this psycho prawn from endless other bug-flicks.

The Predator — played with hulking presence by Kevin Baker Hall — worked. Just don't mention Alien Vs Predator.

Predator is the quintessential melding of 80s testosterone cinema with the tenets of sci-fi.