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Predator: Collector’s Edition (1987)

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Shock of all shocks, and without sounding like some tumor-inducing VH1 special, I had no idea the year 1987 churned out such a sizable share of horror films. As Friday the 13th: The Series and Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater debuted on the boob tube, the likes of Hellraiser, Near Dark, The Gate, Evil Dead II, The Hidden, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (sing with me: “We’re the dream warrioooors!”), The Monster Squad, and John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness were scaring up some bucks in limited and wide theatrical runs alike. That’s an impressive rollout, but then again, this was the ‘80s. Money flowed a bit freer for genre pictures in those days. Risks were taken and learned from.

But most notably, studios were run by execs who didn’t shy away from taking those risks. 20th Century Fox, then run by Lawrence Gordon, had, in the previous year, released James Cameron’s Aliens and David Cronenberg’s redo of The Fly with much success. With those films and a heaping spoonful of help from the effects maestros behind them, Fox burned two instantly recognizable movie monsters onto the corrupted memories of genre fans everywhere. In the summer of ‘87 Fox repeated this action with John McTiernan’s Predator, which is just now receiving a loving presentation that is for the most part a carryover of the UK’s Region 2 Special Edition released a few years ago. But it’s new to us stateside fiends, and that’s what matters!

At this point in this reviewer’s life, I’ve seen Predator more times than what’s probably deemed healthy. While growing up, my friends and I were no strangers to whispering lines such as “Turn around” and “Any time” (uttered by the great Bill Duke in the film) as we snuck up on each other during epic paintball battles or putting on a thick Arnie accent to scream “Get to the choppa’!” A fan I most certainly am, forever enamored by Stan Winston’s creature design the minute my father flipped open a copy of Fangoria to show me a two-page spread of the thrill-killing alien with dreadlocks, mandibles, and an arsenal of hunting weapons that only got cooler when the sequel was released in 1990 (yep, I dig Predator 2 in spite of all its flaws).

Over a decade later McTiernan’s sophomore effort is a survivor of that instant movie paralyzer called “time.” It holds up and could quite possibly be regarded as a forefather to genre-combining experiments like From Dusk Till Dawn. Predator begins as a straightforward ‘80s actioner brimming with machismo, muscle, and firepower as Major Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team head into the jungle to retrieve the members of a downed U.S. chopper. Bullets fly. Dialogue zingers are exchanged. The mission, much to Dutch’s dismay, turns out to be a bust. Cue skull-collecting, otherworldly monster to pick off this homeward bound unit roughly fifty-minutes (!) into the picture.

Although undeniably similar in concept to a 1964 Outer Limits episode called Fun and Games (penned by Robert Specht and Psycho’s Joseph Stefano), Jim and John Thomas’ script for Predator makes the action/sci-fi/horror formula click. There’s not a single emotionally expendable member of Dutch’s crew. The bond among them is palpable and refreshing in a time (I’m talkin’ about now, fella) where weak characters, and even weaker films with an ensemble cast, reign the screen. (Resident Evil, despite all its “fun” value, featured one of the worst portrayals of a character group dynamic I’ve ever seen.) Revelations come in their own time, especially regarding the titular creature, but not at the expense of mounting suspense and mystery. And McTiernan, with cinematographer Donald McAlpine and stunt coordinator Craig Baxley (director of Storm of the Century), deliver on the action and keep Predator rooted in an organic visual style that lends realism to what is an otherwise far-out plot. Monster fans had plenty of reason to rejoice in ‘87 when Predator was first released, and they’ve got good reason to do so again now over Fox’s “Collector’s Edition.”

Accompanying a somewhat grainy but otherwise agreeable presentation of the film is a stilted, soft-spoken McTiernan, who wades through the only audio commentary. Much of what he has to say is interesting to say the least as he a paints a vivid portrait of a young director cutting his teeth on a picture with Hollywood’s “big boys.” There’s also a sense of reform from him when he talks about his exploitation of “gunplay perversion” (corporate Hollywood’s fixation with gunfire) and the events of Columbine — all this coming from a man who has given us Die Hard along with its third entry, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, The 13th Warrior, and the fetid Rollerball. Disc one also features a “text commentary” with journalist and film historian Eric Lichtenfeld.

Disc two presents the most detailed, revealing, and hilarious accounts I’ve ever heard on the making of Predator in the documentary If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It (28m 44s), a combination of old and new interviews with cast and crew. More can be heard in the seven featurettes listed under the Inside the Predator banner, all of which focus on more specific elements of the film. You’ll also find a few special effects tests with the early Predator design (every bit as bad as you’ve heard), deleted scenes, and set photos. For some puzzling reason the only “trailer” offered on this second disc is for Fox Home Entertainment’s massive Alien Quadrilogy set. In a further bit of shameless cross-promotion, anyone who purchases this package gets a free ticket to Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator.

Predator: Collector’s Edition (1987)
(20th Century Fox)
Directed by John McTiernan
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Jesse Ventura, Shane Black, Richard Chaves

Special Features
Audio commentary by John McTiernan
Text commentary by Eric Lichtenfeld
An “inside look” at the making of Alien vs. Predator
Bonus disc featuring various featurettes including the documentary If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It
A trailer for The Alien Quadrilogy box set
Deleted scenes, and outtakes

4 out of 5

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

Directed by Greydon Clark

Distributed by VCI


The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
  • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
  • Photo gallery
  • Satan's Cheerleaders
  • Special Features
1.3

Summary

Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune

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Starring Charlene Amoia, Clint Hummel, Patricia Ashley, Michael Ehlers

Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau


Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.

Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”

Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.

Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.

Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.

A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.

  • A Demon Within
2.0

Summary

A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”

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