So remember, even if you ain’t got time to bleed, in the Video Vault no-one can hear you scream…
Dave Roper hunts down Predator.
Although he had two “Conan” films and a handful of other bit parts under his belt beforehand, it was his iconic turn as an unstoppable cyborg in The Terminator that really put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map. He followed up that career-making, career-defining role with Red Sonja, Commando and Raw Deal before hitting the South American jungle with a team of bad-ass special forces commandos for Predator.
At the time, it was absolutely perfect. An absurdly muscular man in an absurdly muscular role alongside a testosterone laden cast directed by John McTiernen, who would follow up this superb action film with perhaps the genre’s best, Die Hard.
Plot-wise, it’s straight-forward stuff. Arnie’s team of commandos are sent into the jungle under the guise of finding and rescuing a missing military team. In fact, their mission is to find and destroy a base of ill-defined guerrillas, all of which serves as a mere plot device to get the team into the jungle and into the sights of the Predator, an extra-terrestrial hunter who has turned up to bag itself some prey.
For their pre-CGI day, the Predator effects were ground-breaking and still hold up today. The Predator has a light-refracting cloaking system, making it all but invisible, which combined with enormous size, strength and, oh yes, a shoulder-mounted laser cannon, makes for a somewhat uneven match-up. Arnie and his team, including a former soldier turned CIA desk-jockey (Carl Weathers), a Native American (Sonny Landham), a tobacco-chewing man mountain (Jesse Ventura) who carries a mini-gun and an African-American who likes to dry-shave with a disposable razor (Bill Duke) soon realise what they are up against but despite their best efforts begin to be picked off one by one, until Arnie makes his last stand.
It’s thrilling stuff from beginning to end. We see Arnie’s team wade in on the guerrillas, who are demolished in pretty swift fashion amidst some of the finest one-liners of the 80’s (“you’re bleeding man”, “I ain’t got time to bleed” and a post-impaling, “Stick Around!”), we find another military team, dead, strung up and skinned and that’s before the Predator starts to attack the commandos. Old Painless (the afore-mentioned mini-gun) lays waste to a football-pitch sized tract of jungle, Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers loses an arm and then a lot more than that to a laser cannon and the Native American, who senses that something is out there long before anyone else does, eventually decides to stand his ground, bare-chested and machete-armed.
Arnie eventually decides to face the Predator by going native – smearing himself in war paint (well, mud), lighting a flaming torch and setting up falling logs as booby-traps. The pacing and narrative flow, with the men on a mission being picked off one by one before the leader finally engages the Predator in mano-a-mano combat is faultless and although it didn’t snag any Oscars for acting, directing or screenwriting, it would be a grave error to write this off as some sort of guilty pleasure.
It’s exciting, engaging and action-packed, is blessed with top-drawer effects, there is a thoroughly convincing camaraderie among the commandos and Arnie was nearing the height of his powers, which would peak with 1991’s Terminator 2. The rest of the team have a palpable and convicingly portrayed dislike and mistrust of Carl Weathers’ CIA office boy and although Arnie tends to act with all of the conviction and versatility of a tree trunk, you do believe that he is a top drawer special forces commando and that he genuinely cares about his team. As the scale of the threat facing them slowly becomes clear, there is no panic, no histrionics, just a steely determination among the team to do what is needed to survive.
The Predator itself, as well as being a well-rendered special effect, is a convincing character in its own right. The gutteral snarls, its sheer physicality in the fight with Arnie and that hideous face, so expertly crafted by Stan Winston, all contribute to a fleshed out foe rather than some sort of disembodied cipher. I remember discussing the Predator and the creature from the Alien films with school friends and we all agreed that as terrifying as the Alien is, the Predator was more menacing, more threatening and ultimately, cooler. Predator is one of those films that you can watch over and over. It never seems to get stale and even when you know what happens next, it still feels fresh and alive.
If you don’t already own it on DVD, shame on you. Get it, watch it, enjoy it, repeat. Until then, savour the trailer below. Best line? “This time, it picked the wrong man to hunt”. Quality.