Everybody should know the story of this movie and if you don't, shame on you. Go check it out. In any case, a rescue team headed by Major Dutch Schaefer arrives in Central America to fetch a cabinet minister and his aide who, after apparently straying off course, were abducted by guerrillas and are being held hostage deep in the jungle. Dutch meets up with an old friend from his army days, Dillon, now an agent for the CIA, who proceeds to join the rescue team as a liaison, despite Dutch's insistence that his team always works alone. Once they arrive in the jungle, the team finds a mysterious downed helicopter and three skinned bodies, the latter of which raises Dutch's suspicions since they were part of a special army unit that wasn't supposed to be there. After finding and destroying the guerrilla camp, Dutch discovers that he and his team were set up by Dillon to kill the guerrillas and that the two hostages were in fact CIA agents. But, as they, along with a Hispanic woman from the camp who Dillon takes prisoner, head for the extraction point, they gradually realize that the setup and the harsh terrain is the least of their worries. Two members of the team are viciously killed by a mysterious presence that is soon revealed to be an alien trophy hunter that has come to Earth hunt the most dangerous creature on the planet: man.
The rest of the team is kind of like the Wild Bunch. You've got Blain (Jesse Ventura), the big tobacco-chewing, "goddamned sexual Tyrannosaurus" whose weapon of choice is a bad-ass minigun called Ol' Painless. It's a shame he gets killed fairly early on because I really enjoyed his one-liners: "I ain't got time to bleed." His best friend is Sergeant Mac (Bill Duke), who served with him in Vietnam and is so loyal to his friend that when Blain is killed, he becomes obsessed with getting revenge on the Predator, to the point where he apparently goes insane. Then again, he does threaten to "bleed" Dillon very quietly early on, suggesting that he wasn't quite all there to begin with. Mac is also the focus of one of the movie's more touching moments where he says his final goodbye to his friend by putting his little canteen in the poncho with Blain's body. As a result, the Predator taking the body seems to push Mac even further into insanity and it ultimately gets him killed. (By the way, and this is not meant to be racist at all, but is Bill Duke not one of the blackest African-Americans ever? I swear, it looks like that guy has crude oil all over him, especially when he's sweating. It's amazing.) Billy (Sonny Landham) is a tall Native American who keeps quiet most of the time, has a keen ability for tracking, and is also the first one to sense the presence of the Predator long before they actually encounter him. (That's a little stereotypical, yes, but it works. I also have to comment that I love the way he laughs.) One of my few gripes with the movie is that Billy seems to go out like a bitch. Attempting to give the others time to escape, he prepares to fight the Predator, takes his vest off, ties his neck charm around his wrist, takes out his machete, and cuts a war wound into his chest. It's a great build up and you can tell that Billy knows he's not going to survive, making it all the more awe-inspiring, but we don't see the actual confrontation and we hear Billy yell just a few seconds afterward, suggesting that the Predator took him out with little trouble. I know that the Predator is a tough, heavily armored and armed monster, but Billy could have at least had a more inspiring last stand. I don't have much to say about Poncho (Richard Chaves) since he doesn't do much except investigate the downed helicopter they find when they first enter the jungle and initially translates for Anna when she speaks, as well as make it no secret that he doesn't like Dillon, particularly after it's revealed that they were set up. I will say, though, that he has a fabulous comeback to Blain saying he's a "sexual Tyrannosaurus" by picking up a gun and saying, "Yeah, strap this to your sore-ass, Blain." His best moment in the movie to me, with Billy cracking up off-camera making it even more priceless. Finally, there's Hawkins (Shane Black), the youngest and geekiest member of the team who wears glasses and hat, is constantly reading comics, and often making sexual jokes that he has to explain to Billy since he never gets them. He's the first one to get killed so, other than that, he has little to do in the movie. I think he's supposed to be the technical expect but that only comes into play briefly after they destroy the guerrilla camp.
The only woman in the movie is Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), a guerrilla whom Dillon takes hostage and plans to take back to civilization. She's significant in that she's the first one to get a glimpse of the Predator and is the only living character who knows about it for most of the movie. She also pretends to not know how to speak English at first but Dutch eventually forces her to do so. The best scene with her is when they've set a trap for the Predator and are waiting for him to appear. She reveals that the Predator, or at least other members of his race, have visited Earth before, as far back as when she was a child. During the hottest years, the people of her village would begin finding their men skinned alive, eventually referring to it as, "The Demon Who Makes Trophies of Man." (This would be expanded on in Predator 2 where we learn that the Predators have been coming to Earth since at least the 1700's.) It's a very creepy, quiet scene and one of the eeriest moments in the film. Carrillo may not have much else significant to do other than that but I must say that she plays a frightened yet strong and capable woman very well. I also like that Anna does eventually seem to accept the team as allies and tries to save Dutch from the Predator before he sends her to the chopper (although how she isn't arrested when she gets back to civilization is anyone's guess). One last person I have to mention is R.G. Armstrong as the general who assigns Dutch's team to the job. He's only in the movie at the beginning and end but he comes across as likeable enough and undoubtedly knows that they're being set up but has to go along with it, which must get to him since we do learn that he and Dutch have a history together.
Predator has one of the best settings ever seen in this type of movie. Like the frozen wastelands of Antarctica in John Carpenter's The Thing, the jungles of Central America help give the film a palpable atmosphere: it's very hot and humid, it's miserable, there's a lot of conflict and gunfire going on, you see subtle examples of poverty at the beginning of the movie when Dutch and his team arrive, etc. It sets a perfect mood and I always feel that if that a movie is going to deal with war or some similar kind of conflict, it should be set in a very hot environment. I don't know why I prefer that but I just feel that oppressive heat goes well with war or, at most, a setting where there is a lot of tension that results in firefights (the Predator seems to think so as well). In fact, you could almost call Predator a Vietnam movie. Granted, it takes place on the opposite side of the world from Vietnam but think about it: you've got a jungle setting and soldiers shooting and blowing up guerrillas. It's not that much of a stretch to think of this as a pseudo-Vietnam movie that just happens to be a sci-fi/action flick (not to mention that there are references to Vietnam in Mac and Blain's dialogue). The fact that the movie was actually filmed almost entirely in the real jungles of Mexico makes you appreciate these aspects even more, especially when you learn that the cast and crew went through hell. They dealt with extreme temperatures (apparently it was actually kind of cold there instead of hot), rough, uneven terrain, less than pure drinking water (some actually got bad cases of diarrhea from it), leeches, biting ants, and so on, so it was a pretty miserable shoot and the movie coming out so awesome and fun despite those hardships makes you appreciate how hard the cast and crew worked themselves under horrible conditions. They suffered for our entertainment and I, for one, salute them for it.
There's so much awesome action in this movie, with the very first one, where Dutch's team attacks the guerrilla camp, being an absolute knockout and also where you can easily forget that you're watching a movie with sci-fi and horror elements because it feels more like you're watching Commando or one of the Rambo movies. It starts with Dutch pushing this truck down a hill into the main section of the camp and from there on, huts are getting blown up, guerrillas are getting gunned down, a helicopter gets blown apart, Blain is mowing down guerrillas with Ol' Painless, Dutch sticks a guy to a wall with a big knife, etc. As I've said, it feels like a Vietnam movie, with the big different being that it isn't meant to be a depressing look at the horrors of war and instead is just a fun action movie (again, like Rambo: First Blood Part II). Mind you, I'm not saying that Vietnam movies should be like that, I'm just making an observation. Another scene that gets my adrenaline pumping is when Blain is killed and Mac, after getting a glimpse of the Predator, picks up Ol' Painless and proceeds to mow down the jungle and the rest of the team just joins in. There is no reason for the rest of the team to just start shooting without first trying to figure out what's happening but who cares? It's freaking awesome and it goes on for quite a while. The coup de grace, however, is Dutch's climactic confrontation with the Predator but I'll discuss that in great detail shortly.
A lot of people think of Predator as simply a sci-fi/action movie but I don't think even some of its own fans give credit to its more suspenseful and eerie moments. The scene when they first enter the jungle and investigate the mysterious downed helicopter is quite an atmospheric scene as they try to piece together what happened, which leads to them finding the skinned corpses of the first rescue team and Billy telling Dutch that while he can find signs of a firefight, there's no evidence to suggest that the team ran into an ambush. I'm always creeped out by the moments where, through his POV, we see the Predator walk down to the destroyed guerrilla camp and investigate, all the while playing back his random audio recordings of the team members, and the same goes for the POV of him picking up the dead scorpion for some reason. Maybe it's simply the idea that he was no doubt watching the battle and is now standing exactly where Mac and Dillon were without them having any idea about it. Another great example of atmosphere is the moment where they're hiking their way through the jungle to the extraction point and Billy senses that they're being watched. It's a very foreboding moment, punctuated later when he says, "There's something out there waiting for us and it ain't no man. We're all gonna die." Other than the scene where Anna tells the story about her village's legend of the Predator, I think the creepiest moment in the whole movie is when Mac tells everyone about what he saw after Blain was killed, saying that nothing should have survived his firing the minigun as crazily as he did. I also find the line, "Those eyes disappeared," meant to reference how the Predator's eyes briefly flashed at Mac, to be eerie. Speaking of Anna's story, that whole scene where they're waiting for the Predator is unsettling, particularly when Mac is shaving and he's so unnerved that he ends up cutting himself and ultimately snapping the razor. You could cut the tension with a knife at that point. McTiernan may be a great action director but he also has the talent to create genuine suspense and atmosphere as well.
The Predator himself is an absolute classic monster, one of the most memorable creatures to come out of the 80's. Even before you actually see him when he's using his camouflage ability to stalk the team, you can't help but be in awe because that looks so amazing. You would swear that it was a computer-generated image but nope, it was created by good old-fashioned optical effects and it's very impressive. It really does seem like there's an invisible creature in the jungle whose outline you can just make out when he moves. It's also impressive to see the equipment that the Predator has brought with him. His thermal vision is simple but effective (although I really have to wonder how he's able to find his way around with that type of POV) and his helmet has some sort of audio recorder that allows him to record the voices of the team members. This comes into play at one point when Dillon hears what sounds like Mac calling to him but you're not sure if it's him or the Predator. It does turn out to be Mac in that instance but when Dillon later finds Mac's body, he hears the Predator "speak" in Mac's voice, which is quite scary. This leads into a really freaky part at the end when the Predator sets his time-bomb and uses Billy's laugh as Dutch runs for cover. I have to wonder, though, how much of that laugh was the recording and how much was actually the Predator's voice because I don't remember Billy laughing that evilly (which puts the Predator in an even more sinister light). There's also an interesting scene where the Predator has been injured and he uses his medical kit to heal the wound. Those medical instruments, from a liquid that appears to be some sort of salve that he puts on the wound to this thing that looks like something you'd use on your eyebrow which he uses to try to extract the bullet (at least, I think that's what he was trying to do), are so crude-looking that it's no wonder why the Predator screams in pain. They look like they would hurt even if you used them correctly. And, finally, the Predator has a borderline nuclear time bomb that he uses to blow himself and the surrounding area to kingdom come when the need arises, ensuring that even if you win a battle against the predator, you'll probably still loose in the long run due to that.
The actual design of the Predator is the work of the late great Stan Winston's crew and, again, it's just such a classic look: a tall, scaly alien with dreadlocks, with enough armor so he can protect himself but not so much to where he can't be agile, a cool-looking helmet, and some very interesting weapons. I've always found those wrist blades that the predator uses to gore his enemies to death to be very wicked-looking and that laser cannon mounted on his shoulder is lethally accurate when he uses the aiming cursor within his helmet. Even though I knew what the predator's face looked like before I even saw the movie since I had some of the toys, I was still amazed at how that looks in live-action. Those clicking mandibles, yellow skin, mean-looking yellow eyes, and sharp teeth make for a very intimidating creature. It's a good thing that the original Predator design didn't work out because, after looking at photos of that thing, which came across as some of bipedal mantis-like creature, I don't think this movie would have been quite as memorable if not for Stan Winston's awesome design. By the way, I've always found the glowing green blood of the Predator to be really cool-looking and I've always preferred it to the acid blood of the Aliens, probably because this makes the Predator feel more like an organic creature. Yes, it does glow, but it still feels like the life fluid of an unearthly creature that otherwise is still flesh and blood, whereas the Aliens' acid blood always made them seem more like machines rather than living creatures to me (I guess you could argue that was kind of the point but that's a discussion for another day).
A great looking monster costume is only as effective as the actor inside it and the Predator had a great one in the form of the late Kevin Peter Hall. Hall's incredible seven foot stature really helped make the Predator an imposing monster and, as a result, makes him a formidable opponent for big, buff Arnold Schwarzenegger (which I doubt could have been accomplished with 5 ft, 10 Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was originally supposed to play the Predator but dropped out). You look at how big the Predator is compared to Arnold and it really does feel like this creature could beat the living snot out of him, which he does. Considering that Hall couldn't see when the suit's head was on him and had to memorize where everything was, and add to that the fact that the suit was heavy and hard to balance in, it's amazing that he was able to come across as imposing and physical as he was. He actually managed to move quite gracefully despite the suit's restrictions, running, jumping and landing with the skill of a dancer. Even the way he walks, particularly when he chases Dutch down to the bottom of the waterfall, is menacing. Hall no doubt had a movement and dance coach to help him figure out how to move as agile as possible and the proof is in the putting in the actual movie. The predator also makes some eerie vocalizations, thanks to, of all people, Optimus Prime himself Peter Cullen. The clicking that he makes I find to be scarier than the actual roaring and yelling, and the gurgling noises he makes when he's been fatally injured at the end of the movie are unsettling as well. I know Cullen's performances were probably modified electronically but, in any case, he is to be commended. They also managed to inject some customs that the Predator's race has with it being revealed that, as part of a code of honor, he won't attack an unarmed target because it's not sporting, giving him some more character in the process. However, I used to think there was a plothole there because the Predator does kill Poncho, who was unarmed at the time, but now that I think about it, since Dutch was supporting Poncho, I think the Predator was really aiming at him and accidentally hit Poncho instead. Finally, you get a hint of something that would be built upon in the sequel when, in the scene before the final battle when he admires the skulls of the men he's killed, you see the Predator create a strap of smaller skulls around himself. The skulls aren't human and they don't look like anything you would find on Earth, making them the first hint that the Predator's race has hunted and killed many different types of creatures from all over the universe.
The gore and kills that are caused by the Predator's attacks really strike me as being both gruesome and quite realistic. The deaths in the guerrilla camp attack, including the soldier getting pinned to the wall by Dutch, are merely typical 80's action movie violence and that aren't that horrific or disturbing but, when the Predator starts killing the team members, this movie takes a sharp turn into dark gruesomeness, a turn that was hinted at beforehand when you see the skinned corpses of Jim Hopper and his men. The gore is not silly-looking like what you would see in a slasher movie and, again, it's actually very realistic and not that over-the-top in the way it looks, making this movie a bit more palpable than most other horror films of the time. When the Predator kills Hawkins, there's quite a bit of blood splatter onto Anna's face and Poncho finds a trail of blood leading to some organs on the ground but the creepiest part is what happens afterward. Dutch and the team split up to find Hawkins' body and there's a subtly effective moment where the camera pans up from behind Dutch into the trees where you can see blood dripping down onto the leaves and vines, leading to a shot of Hawkins' hanging corpse. It doesn't look like it's been skinned yet but you can surmise that it probably will be before long. Blain's death is so fast that it does feel like he never knew what hit him when the Predator blasts him from behind with his shoulder cannon. There's something weird about this, though. Before the blast from behind that goes right through him, Blain is hit alongside the neck by something that you assume came from the Predator but the thing is that you don't see an energy blast. While they probably weren't thinking about it at this point, it's not too far-fetched that Predator probably shot one of those spear tips that would be introduced in the sequel at Blain but it just grazed his neck. A more logical explanation, however, could be that that scene was filmed when they were still working with the original Predator design before Stan Winston's group came in and that was a weapon the initial concept of the creature used but was dropped after the final design was created. In any case, it's a curious piece of the movie.
Being an animal lover, the scene where Mac stabs a boar to death, thinking it's the Predator due to the darkness, really gets to me, mainly because of the screams that thing makes when it's being stabbed. The corpse that you see afterward is pretty gruesome too but there's some levity when Poncho says, "You think you could've found something bigger?" and you hear Billy laughing off-camera. Even though it's a brief moment, the part where Mac cuts himself while dry-shaving as they're waiting for the Predator makes me wince because it really does look he's digging into his flesh and it's a good thing that razor breaks when it does. Mac's actual death, though, is odd because the predator seems to blow his head apart given how the camera, which is positioned behind his head, is splattered with blood but the next shot shows that his head is intact and when you see the front of his corpse shortly afterward, his face is still there as well. Did they decide not to use some severed head or face effect they made because it didn't look too good or something? Dillon's death really makes me cringe because his arm gets blown off and it's still pulling the trigger when it hits the ground due to the nerves, and the cringe factor is built upon even further when the Predator comes up and gores him with his wrist-blades. You don't really see the actual stabbing but Dillon's facial expression and scream let you know that it was an agonizing death. Billy's actual death happens off-camera but the aftermath that you see later is pretty sick. You see the Predator slam his pale, dead body against the ground and then rip out his spine and skull, the latter of which you get a good, up close look at as its dripping with blood, in order to make a decorative trophy. It's absolutely gruesome. Poncho is not only one of the characters that I couldn't say much about but his death is the least impressive of them all, as it's just a shot to the head and that's it.
While the whole film is awesome, the last quarter, which is Dutch's final confrontation with the Predator, is what we all know is coming and what we're waiting for. It's a great buildup and the payoff is well worth the wait because, let's face it, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger battling a bad-ass alien. Of course, it's going rock. It actually begins with Dutch seemingly about to be killed by the Predator when he discovers by accident that the Predator's thermal vision doesn't work if you cover your body heat with mud. Now that Dutch knows that he can fight the Predator, what follows is a cool montage where you not only see Dutch preparing a small area of the jungle with a lot of booby traps, creating some makeshift weapons for himself, and covering himself with mud, but you also see the Predator getting ready, decorating himself with the skulls of his past victims, repairing his technology and weapons, and so on. It's like you're watching two gladiators getting ready for their prize bout and the montage ends as awesome as it possibly could, with Dutch lighting a torch and letting out a loud war cry, signaling to the Predator that he's ready to fight. Even better, we do see the Predator react to the cry, undoubtedly thinking to himself, "It's time." You can't tell me that you don't find that to be six different kinds of awesome.
The battle itself is very well done, with Dutch becoming like Rambo in First Blood with how he sneaks around and uses the cover of the jungle, his mud camouflage, and the makeshift weapons he has to battle the Predator, who has been doing the same thing in his own way throughout the entire movie so they're evenly matched. Speaking of which, an interesting aspect of the fight is that you get a sense that both of them are learning how to fight something they can't see. Even though the Predator's camouflage is destroyed at the beginning of the fight, he's still using the treetops as cover, forcing Dutch to improvise by first throwing something and then, when the Predator fires at it, throwing another weapon in the direction that the blast came from. The Predator, in turn, starts aiming his weapons at the location Dutch's attacks come from instead of the actual projectiles and he also clearly realizes that Dutch has found a way to conceal his body heat and decides to watch for either any movement at all or for Dutch's outline. A good example of the latter strategy is when Dutch follows a trail of the Predator's blood into a small cranny in the rocks and the Predator comes up behind him, closing in on Dutch's vague silhouette, which you realize he's looking at when you get another POV shot. In short, this battle is really about two warriors who are the best at what they do learning to overcome both their own handicaps and the advantages each of them has over the other.
I've heard some people question why the Predator, when he finally disarms and corners Dutch, doesn't just kill him then and there instead of challenging him to hand-to-hand combat. Well, for one, Dutch is now unarmed, so there's the Predator's code of honor to shoot anything that can't defend itself, but I think it's also because he maybe admires Dutch for being such a challenge and decides to honor him by actually fighting him instead of hunting him. It had already become a battle instead of a hunt for the Predator long before this point anyway, so why not take on such a great opponent man to man (or man to alien, in this case)? I guess if a Predator decides to fight you hand to hand, it's a sign that he actually thinks you're worthy enough for it. Of course, Dutch gets his ass handed to him and is only able to win by dropping a huge weight that he had rigged up onto the Predator. I know a lot of other people have a hard time accepting that Dutch won the fight by using simple, handmade weapons over the Predator's advanced, alien technology but the thing is that Dutch didn't just use those weapons: he also used his military training, his intelligence, and the environment around him. The handmade weapons were mainly just a means to an end and besides, he used some explosive shells he had left over as well so he wasn't totally stripped down in the weapons department. Also, people act like he intentionally killed the Predator with one of those weapons, which is not true. The Predator had him beaten and cornered and he was only able to win through sheer luck by using something that wasn't even originally meant to be a weapon. (I like the moment before that as well where you see the Predator realize that Dutch is trying to lure him into a trap and goes around it, confirming once and for all what we've suspected throughout: the Predator is very intelligent and not just a mindless beast.) I will say, though, that I agree that there's no reason why, after Poncho got killed, Dutch got hit by a blast from the Predator's shoulder cannon and just received an insignificant flesh wound whereas everyone else got body parts blown off, and that there was also no way for him to outrun the Predator's time bomb, Yes, other than it's Arnold Schwarzenegger, who absolutely can't die, but whatever. If that's going to ruin the movie for you, you're way too uptight.
An action movie can't be exciting without a good music score and Alan Silvestri's score for this film is one of the best. The main title theme is such a catchy tune, with its heavy blasts and rhythmic clicking in the background (probably meant to signify the clicking noises the Predator makes), and is adrenaline-pumping as all get out. In addition, Silvestri also creates some good, tension-filled music that sounds like tribal drums for the scenes where it feels like the Predator is stalking them, as well as some eerie, atmospheric music for other scenes such as when the team is sitting around, waiting for the Predator to wander into their booby trap and Anna tells the story about her village's legends of the Demon Who Makes Trophies of Man. I really like the bombastic music that plays during the horrific scenes, particularly the stinger that sounds whenever something unexpected happens or something gruesome is shown. There's also a beautiful, touching, Taps-like piece of music that plays during the scene when Mac says his final goodbye to Blain and at the end when Dutch has been rescued, a hymnal melody that really accentuates the somberness of those two scenes. Finally, I have to mention the Little Richard song Long Tall Sally that plays when the team is being flown into the jungle at the beginning of the movie. Normally, I find Little Richard to be unbearable to listen to but that song really fits with the gun-ho attitude of the team as they fly towards what they think is just going to be just another mission.