It’s one of the biggest, most influential science fiction epics of all time. Predator already is, without question, a blending of genres. It is all-out action and all-out sci-fi at the same time. You get the experience of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and everything that comes along with that, but you’re also introduced to one of the most iconic cinema creatures of the last thirty years.
Yet there are strong horror elements to Predator that cannot be denied, even if it looks like the furthest thing from horror at first. After all, there are no teenage valley girls in the cast. It’s set primarily during the day time. None of the characters are helpless. But that’s what makes it such an interesting inversion of the standard slasher tropes. They’re not even recognizable at first glance, but they are all there. And they are all integral to the overall piece.
First of all, there’s the format. Predator adheres surprisingly well to the structure of a slasher. There’s a killer hiding in the trees, stalking the cast and picking them off one by one until there is a single remaining survivor. The killer even boasts a bladed weapon and wears a mask. The twist, which makes Predator so inventive, is that the killer will only attack people who are armed. There’s a strong balance here, as the story provides a new angle by avoiding the typical killer hunting down helpless teenagers. At the same time, it maintains the atmosphere of a slasher remarkably well.The victims here are ruthless commandoes. The script goes out of its way to show just how tough and badass these guys are. We see them in their element and it almost feels out of place with the rest of the film. The first third feels like a straightforward action movie. But those early scenes are so crucial because without them we wouldn’t really understand who these characters were. They’d be all talk. We need to see them in action to know what kind of a threat they are. That makes it so much more meaningful when the predator actually shows up.
Even the effects, while action and sci-fi driven, are extremely horrific. The look of the predator itself is enough to warrant its place as a horror film. The way in which the look of the creature is revealed is particularly interesting because it matches up with the standard slasher almost perfectly. We don’t see any of the predator for the bulk of the movie, just glimpses here and there. Then, as we begin the final act, we see the predator in its full, masked form. There’s a big showdown between the creature and Dutch at the end—the Predator version of a final girl—and during the struggle, the alien is unmasked.
The creature design work that Stan Winston provided for Predator are a huge part of what made it such an extremely successful, innovative movie. It didn’t work as well without them. The original, more lizard-like design just looked like a B-Movie monster on the screen. There was no life to it, there was nothing about it to even trick the audience into thinking it was anything more than a suit. They could tell just from the dailies that it wasn’t working, so they brought in Winston virtually at the last minute to completely redesign their titular creature from scratch. With almost no time and a ton of pressure, Stan Winston was able to create one of the most iconic monsters of all time.
The predator’s face is barely seen, only in the final few minutes, yet Winston and the filmmakers took tremendous care in determining how the alien would be showcased when finally revealed. It was a presentation, as is part of the ritual of horror movies. You spend the majority of your effects budget on your monster, even if you only reveal said monster at the end. It was a tradition that lasted from the 1950’s down to the 1980’s, but it was one that worked incredibly well.
The animatronic mouthpiece of the predator was incredibly complicated. Lesser filmmakers would probably have scrapped the design for something easier to execute within their budget and time constraints. But they had a respect for the ritual, for the necessities of the creature feature, and knew they owed it to their audience to give them something they had truly never seen before.
It’s an action movie. It’s a sci-fi movie. But it’s also a monster movie and even a slasher movie, all rolled into one. People may give you a strange look when you try to argue Predator’s place as a horror film, but it is one. Genres aren’t mutually exclusive, they cross-pollinate and invade each other’s territory all the time. Horror can be funny, adventure can sometimes seem horrific. Predator will always be one of the shining examples as to how well a feature can work when it blends those genres together to create a unique and unforgettable experience.