I think the first time I saw Predator – the original one with Arnold Schwarzenegger – was at a friend’s birthday party. I’m not positive that’s right, but we saw a lot of R-rated movies at his house, so I’m guessing that was it. His name was Wayne and his parents were super cool. His mom spoke English as a second language and his dad worked a lot, so there was a little less parental guidance in the “what movies are appropriate for these eleven-year-olds to be watching” department. Dude’s parents weren’t neglectful or anything; stuff just slipped by a little more easily.
So at some point we watched Predator. Arnold Schwarzenegger was The Man. At the time I knew him from his Conan movies. While I didn’t like Conan the Barbarian as much as I did Beastmaster, I did prefer Arnold to Marc Singer. I don’t think any of us knew quite what to expect from Predator, which is an advantage the 80’s have over present day. What we got was a bunch of badasses doing badass shit for about half an hour. I remember how shocked and stoked I was to see Jesse “The Body” Ventura in the movie alongside Arnold. The movie got right to the point in establishing that these were some tough hombres that you would not want to mess with.
And then they started getting slaughtered.
Side Note: As a clue to just how big a phenomenon Arnold Schwarzenegger is try Googling “Ar”. His name was the first thing that popped up when I did it.
Very much like wrestling psychology, Predator set Dutch’s squad up to be the biggest, baddest dudes around just so that when the Predator showed up it would look that much more impressive. Beat up a little guy and nobody gives a shit. But come in and take out Brock Lesnar in your first match and people are going to be amazed. And the Predator was taking out the equivalent of a Survivor Series team of Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold, and… well… Jesse Ventura. All by itself.
You see, Predator isn’t really about horror – though there are certainly elements of that. It’s also not really science fiction, though that’s in there too. This movie is about shock and awe. The best of the best – the guys that the elite turn to when they are out of options – get taken down, one by one, by an Unstoppable Force.
But eventually the Unstoppable Force meets the Immovable Object, and that’s where Shit Gets Real.
I’ll get to that in a second, but first I want to mention the poor fellas that got fed to the alien hunter before Arnie stepped up to bat.
I was so fucking bummed when Jesse Ventura ate it. He was one of the first heel wrestlers I really liked and I hated to see him go. I had thought for sure he would at least get to suplex the damn alien. But no such luck. He got blasted from behind. But it was one of the nastier wounds in the movie. Ribs all sticking out of the gaping chest wound and what not.
I was also bummed when Carl Weathers died. He had yet to play the greatest character of his career – Chubbs Peterson – but I knew him from the Rocky movies. I can’t say I was necessarily a fan, but I was familiar with the guy and the insane-o handshake from the beginning of Predator proved that he was at least close to being on equal ground with Arnie:
I guess Billy was really the only character that earned some death sympathy on his own merits rather than being a known actor. He had that whole cool Native American thing going on. He seemed like the guy who was most likely to make it out of the jungle. But then he had to go and do the whole mano-a-mano thing and suffer a death that was either too gruesome or too embarrassing to show in the movie.
And that’s when it came down to Arnold Schwarzenegger versus the Predator, which is where everybody knew we were really going all along. It is an absolutely amazing finale to the movie. Not only does it provide an almost unbearable level of tension and action, we get to see just how amazing the Stan Winston-designed Predator costume is. More often than not when you have a dude in a creature suit, that dude is somewhat restricted in what he can do. He can’t run, you can’t shoot from certain angles for fear of exposing the seams, and he certainly can’t engage in any meaningful physical interactions with the human co-stars. Not so with the Predator. That thing does everything you could think of doing in the big climax of an action movie, up to and including engaging in fisticuffs with the former Mr. Universe. To this day it is nothing short of astonishing to watch.
And then that helmet came off and we saw just how uncanny that alien design was. I didn’t even understand what I was looking at that first time. And while the Predator looked so much more vicious without its headgear, that was the point at which the tide turned. It had a face now – it was mortal and vulnerable.
In the end Arnie won. But he really didn’t. He lost his team, his friends. Even in defeat his enemy came close to claiming the hero’s life with the Predator equivalent of a cyanide capsule – an explosive device that clears around three blocks worth of forestation. And the final image of a burned, beaten, and shocked Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer staggering out of the ruined jungle is hardly victorious.
Predator made a huge impact on me. It was everything I loved in one movie – horror, sci-fi, action, larger-than-life heroes, soldiers (I was still actively collecting GI Joe then, even as my friends were moving away from toys) – and I couldn’t wait to see it again. Right up until DVD came about I never felt like I could get a good enough look at the Predator’s face. Sure, they had pictures in Starlog (man, I miss that magazine a lot) and Fangoria; but seeing it in motion on film was a whole different experience. Still shots just didn’t compare.
And with that, I have once again expanded what was meant to be an intro to a toy review into an entire post. Come back tomorrow for that toy review. I think on Wednesday I might do what I did here today for Predator 2. As a matter of fact, I think this whole week might be for Predators…