10 Things that Make 'Predator' the Perfect Slasher Horror Movie for Halloween – Collider

‘Predator’ walks a weird line between being one of the best action movies and one of the best slasher horror movies of all time.
The '80s were the era of Reaganomics, big hair, and action-packed, high-concept filmmaking. Predator was just one of the many films of the eighties that spawned a multi-million dollar franchise of movies, toys, games, comics, and more, all from the very simple premise of a group of American commandos going into the jungle for a mission, only to get hunted by the titular alien.
RELATED: 'Predator' Review: Somehow, Men Doing Macho Things Still Works
On the surface, Predator seems like the typical '80s action flick: you have a bunch of macho soldiers led by Arnold Schwarzenegger, comically evil Communist guerillas operating in South America, and a scary alien that said soldiers have to fight. However, if you were to look under the hood, you may be shocked to find that Predator is perhaps one of the most atypical slasher films ever made: the film has far more in common with Halloween than Rambo: First Blood Part II. With the franchise's recent entry of Prey being a big success and the current Halloween season, now is an excellent time to examine why Predator is one of the best slasher films of all time.
If you know nothing about Predator or its extensive history, the film's first act may throw you off your guard. The first act is where most of the action takes place, and the only hint of an alien presence is the opening scene of a spacecraft jettisoned towards Earth. In the second act, we finally catch glimpses of the Predator (portrayed by Kevin Peter Hall) and see through its perspective as it stalks the soldiers.
The first act is a microcosm of a more typical action movie. The military calls in Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team for a top-secret rescue mission of a foreign cabinet minister and his advisor. His friend from the Vietnam War, Dillon (Carl Weathers), who now works for the CIA, tags along with the team and seems to have ulterior motives. This mini-plot is fit for a 90-minute feature, yet in Predator, it's to lull you into a false sense of security where you think you know what you're watching.
Action movies, by and large, aren't huge on violence, or at least the type of violence that will make audiences lose their lunch. Sure, you have gun fights, explosions, and nameless henchmen being cut down like weeds, but rarely in an action flick are you going to find something that's going to make you squirm in your seat.
Predator throws all that right out the gates, moving away from its contemporaries and having more in common with horror films. In the first act, we see skinned, dripping corpses, an unarmed man executed in cold blood, and soldiers screaming in agony as they're burned alive: and that's before the Predator becomes a main player in the plot. What Dutch and his comrades go through is just as bad, if not worse.
Like any genre, horror films have clichés that they dip into. Here's a common one: a group of teenagers head out to an isolated location, usually some remote cabin or sleepaway camp, but unbeknownst to them, a killer is in the vicinity, and they're picked off one by one until one person is left standing.
Predator follows that formula to a "tee," this time with commandos as the targets, an alien as the killer, and the South American jungle as the locale. On top of having the slasher killer be an alien, the idea of having grown, battle-hardened men as the targets is brilliant and subversive. Even how Dutch's men are picked off falls in line directly with how slasher movie characters meet their fate; characters are dragged off into the dark recesses of the jungle; limbs are chopped off; torsos and heads are popped like grapes. The movie keeps you on edge with the shocking kills and leaves you wondering who's next.
During Predator's production, CGI and other computer effects were still in their infancy, leading to most of the effects being done practically. From the gory gags to the Predator's detailed and life-like costume, the effects and props team had their work cut out for them. Meanwhile, for the Predator's unforgettable camouflage, he painstakingly chroma-keyed out of the picture: it still looks great today.
In addition, while the film wasn't shot on location, they did shoot in the jungles of Mexico, leading to nearly everything you see on screen is real. This immerses you right into the film's world, and it probably wouldn't have been half as successful if they had done everything on a set.
Slasher movies have a problem where the characters aren't fleshed out. If you're making a 90-minute feature, you have to balance the plot between the killer, the scares, the lead, and the half-dozen or so characters you're picking off. That's why many major horror franchises and films have one character you can gravitate towards, like Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th or Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) in Halloween.
It seems, at first, Predator will fall into the same pitfalls as other slasher movies. The first time we see the soldiers altogether, they're being crass and macho all around, but as the stakes rise, you see real growth from Dutch, Dillon, and the team: Mac (Bill Duke), Poncho (Richard Chaves), Blain (Jesse Ventura), Billy (Sonny Landham), and Rick (Shane Black). A few characters are underwritten, like Anna Gonsalves (Elpidia Carrillo), and Poncho stands as an exception: the former is an insurgent the soldiers capture that just provides exposition about the Predator, while Poncho simply isn't given much to do. Still, even the "weakest" characters in terms of writing are at the very least likable.
Slasher movie villains vary in terms of actually having a personality. Characters like The Shape/Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees don't have much of a personality to them, mostly relegated to being silent killing machines. Meanwhile, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has a delightfully devilish sense of humor throughout the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
RELATED: From 'Predator' to 'Prey': Ranking Every Variant of The Predator
The Predator definitely has a character; it is portrayed as a brutal and efficient hunter. It doesn't kill to kill; it's all about the excitement of stalking and taking its quarry or facing a sufficient challenge. It's also as smart as any human, utilizing its technologically advanced weapons and tools, effectively using its strength and combat skills, and even engaging in psychological warfare against Dutch's team.
What spurs the growth of Dutch and his men is their vulnerability: they all care about each other (save for Dillon, at first at least), and as they're picked off one by one, we see that each death weighs on them. This is best seen in Mac, who is emotionally devastated by the death of one of his comrades: they were in a platoon together in Vietnam that was wiped out.
As a rather grim and heartbreaking way to cope, Dutch wears his friend's bloodstained jacket and brokenly sings his favorite song to psyche himself up. Dutch's hardened facade also breaks down by the film's end: one of the final shots of him looking off in the distance with a thousand-yard stare over what happened to him and his friends. This type of vulnerability is rare in a lot of action movies.
Horror movies have a tough tightrope to walk. If you're in the shoes of a horror screenwriter, you want to have kills that spook the audience and raise the tension. At the same time, you don't want your characters behaving brainlessly and unrealistically, stumbling into danger. Unfortunately, to rush to the kills, the characters make pretty stupid decisions, like going somewhere alone or taking on the danger unprepared and uninformed.
Yet, for all the chaos the Predator injects into Dutch and his team's mission, they rarely do anything that's wholly reckless and ignorant. In every interaction with the Predator, they learn something and put it to use in the subsequent encounter. Even when Mac and Dillon try to take down the predator alone, it's done without them rushing in blindly. The team is good: the Predator is just one step ahead.
Let's be frank. While Arnold Schwarzenegger is undeniably a huge star, his range is fairly limited. Films such as The Terminator and Total Recall make the most of his talents, but it's hard to imagine him delivering a Shakespearean soliloquy like Laurence Olivier.
However, what Schwarzenegger lacks in raw talent is more than made up for in earnestness and charisma. Schwarzenegger effectively conveys Dutch's emotions through potent facial acting: he runs the gamut of emotions from joy, shock, dread, rage, discovery, and more. His humanity draws you in and makes him a perfect foe for the indomitable Predator.
Slasher movies build up to an explosive and terrifying confrontation between the lead and the killer. Yet, the lead is almost always outmatched physically and has to rely on their determination and intellect to get ahead. It's atypical to see a bunch of career soldiers on the chopping block, but Predator is an atypical movie.
RELATED: 'Prey': Defeating the Predator Has Always Taken More Brains Than Brawn
The soldiers are physically and technologically outmatched, leading Dutch to rely on his brain power in making elaborate traps and camouflage in the final clash. The film goes against the grain of usual action movie tropes all the way to the very end, trading bare-knuckled brawls and shootouts for a tense confrontation between prey and predator.
Predator wraps up nicely…as nice as you can get for a sci-fi horror slasher action movie, anyway. Our heroes were put through a horrifying gauntlet by the titular alien, and audiences now had a new icon of the silver screen to fear.
Predator made its money back many times over, hauling in nearly $100 million at the box office. It saw numerous sequels, spin-offs, and crossovers with various media: a Predator even met Archie! Like any long-running, sprawling franchise, your mileage may vary from each spin-off and sequel. Regardless, if Predator captured your imagination and left you hungry for more, there's plenty out there for you.
KEEP READING: Why 2004's 'Alien vs. Predator' Took Decades to Make
Matthew McDonough is a List Editor for Collider.com and started working for them in November 2021. He lives in New York and is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. He worked at his college’s student run newspaper, The New Paltz Oracle, and interned at the Hudson Valley based publication, Hudson Valley Magazine. Film is his passion, and his favorite directors are David Lynch and Andrei Tarkovsky.
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