My parents are awesome. Or terrible. I suppose it’s all in who you ask. Having an older sister and her friends with keen horror interests, probably the first R rated movies I saw were the Freddy’s and Jason’s when I was like 6. Maybe 7. By the time I was 8, I guess my dad figured it was safe for me to see a little movie called Predator(I think I got The Terminator earlier, but I can’t be sure. Memory block. Go figure.). At this point, I still had scary dreams thanks to Freddy and Jason, and now, I was introduced to the recurring nightmare that still finds ways to mess with me as a 34 year old who is (more or less)complete control of my psyche. The gist: The Predator would come get me and kill me like every guy not named Dutch in this movie. I mean, I would wake up sweating and near crying about it. I never told my parents about this. I developed a way to deal with it. I told myself that if I covered myself up head to toe with my blanket, I would be camouflaged like Ahnuld with the mud and the Predator wouldn’t be able to see me.
Thus, night sweats. I don’t say all this to gain sympathy. It’s just the reality of showing some pretty violent imagery to my young, innocent eyeballs. I eventually got over it. To the point where I would watch this thing multiple times a week. I’m pretty sure my dad had to buy a second VHS copy to replace the first one. To that end, I’m very thankful that my parents let me see it when I was young.
It certainly made a mark. What I didn’t realize at the time, but do now, nearly 30 years later, is just how much of a benchmark Predator is. You can judge almost any action/horror film by the standards this one set. It’s pace and escalation are perfect. The casting is impeccable. The Predator himself, iconic. It’s hard to imagine a time when Jean-Claude Van Damme was going to be the menace. And, well, a pretty goofy looking one, at that. We all got lucky when he decided he didn’t need the gig and the fine folks at Stan Winston redesigned him to become what we all know and fear now.
Dutch is easily the best role Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever played. Cool, confident and not intimidated. He is a natural leader of men and foil for aliens who hunt for sport. This came at prime Schwarz. After he had established himself, but still early enough not to be seen as silly. As for the rest of the crew, they all have their moment. They all get to show why they are a part of this elite team. A fact that makes it all the more surprising that they start getting picked off one at a time. Hawkins is the first to go, and honestly, we don’t miss him much thanks to Blaine whipping out “ole Painless” and meeting his own doom. Billy has got to be my favorite supporting character of all time. He’s the coolest one of the bunch. Quiet. Intent. And when he gets spooked, Poncho leads us all into believing that this threat is real and it’s not going away. That he gets treated to an off screen kill may be this films only weakness.
John McTiernan directs this movie with absolute authority. Everything is moving, but not rushed. And, this film explores the simple(yet complex) brotherhood of these characters in subtle and wonderful ways.
I’d take a million movies like Predator any day compared to what they call “action films” these days. Predator 2 was admirable in setting up a larger world(and, Gary Busey in his prime) but the two crossovers that followed really take a leak on the legacy of two film franchises. Predators was a serviceable course correction, but nothing holds a candle to this original masterpiece. Predator set the stage for this kind of film and nothing has ever come close to touching it’s greatness. It’s a perfect film, if ever I saw one.