“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PREDATOR AND PREDATOR 2. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
It’s Predator month, y’all, and if you know me at all, you’ll know I just can’t resist a queer interpretation of a classic genre film because it’s Just. So. Easy. It might be a little more obvious in flicks like Elm Street 2 or The Lost Boys, but let’s face it: there’s something going on in the Predator franchise that a lot of people just aren’t talking about.
This post is definitely in conversation with Anya Stanley’s excellent article on the Manly Spectacle in Predator, so I would highly advise you check that out as well if you haven’t.
Let’s dive in, shall we? As Anya mentions, the aggressive bravado and impossibly muscular frames of the leads in the original Predator are a funhouse mirror reflection of the conservative backlash to Second Wave feminism, but hypermasculinity isn’t just a weapon; it’s a shield. These men were asserting their heterosexuality in the boldest way they knew how (bench presses, mostly), but by 1987, that method was starting to take on a different meaning.
The late 80’s were an especially challenging time for the gay community, having just survived the worst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that began to tear through the population around 1981. In a lot of conservative American eyes at the time, the mere act of being gay was like being Gwyneth Paltrow in the beginning of Contagion: the community itself was essentially interchangeable with AIDS, before awareness spread about the nature of the disease and its ability to affect all populations.
This viewpoint also spread throughout the gay community itself in a lot of insidious ways, and one common reaction led to the creation of another stereotype that lives on to this day: the musclebound gay gym rat. Many gay men worked to become pictures of perfect health and masculinity to prove to the world – and to themselves – that they were separate from the illness and stigma that seemed to define the community.
The beefy bodies that straight men were using to project their Reagan-era masculinity were exactly the same as the ones that gay men were using to deflect negative attention (and, let’s face it, to look hot). This dichotomy is the battleground on which the Predator films play (at least 1987’s Predator and 1990’s Predator 2; by the time you hit AvP, you’ve gone too far and lost the plot).
In both films, the titular badass alien hunter meets its match in the forms of two paragons of masculinity: the juiced-up Dutch, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the loose-cannon cop Mike Harrigan, played by Danny Glover, who is not – as it turns out – too old for this shit. Both men are bachelors with no romantic plotline (in spite of the presence of the single female character in each of their movies), whose devotion begins and ends with the team of men under their command.
The teams themselves likewise don’t have any romantic plotlines. Despite the performative straightness of the crude jokester Hawkins (Shane Black) or the blustering rookie cop Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton), the women in these movies live to tell the tale and don’t end up with a husband along the way, like all too many action movies would feel the need to give them. No, these men are solely interested in engaging with one another, titillating themselves with a lewd reference or two, and arm wrestling at the drop of a hat.
While I wouldn’t say their behavior is definitely “gay,” it certainly isn’t “straight,” despite their obvious attempts to loudly proclaim otherwise. And that’s where the Predator comes in. These men have jacked bodies and outsized confidence, but in the late 80’s those traits no longer unequivocally indicated heterosexuality. In its own unique way, the Predator reflects that dichotomy in American society.
You see, the alien creature is a formidable opponent for these men, even taller and more muscular than Arnie himself. On paper it is as masculine as the humans it’s hunting, only in reality it just isn’t. The creature combines those traits with stereotypical female attributes, from the obviously vaginal structure of the fanged mouth it hides behind a mask, to the literal fishnets with which it adorns its body. The Predator is a gender-bending monster, leaning into physical presentations of both sides of the spectrum and obliterating what is essentially masculine about its own physique.
Quite literally, these men are attempting to use their muscles and phallic guns to defend themselves from a queer funhouse mirror reflection of themselves, and they are failing. What used to be masculine and strong has been co-opted by a deadlier, more capable force that doesn’t care about their gender constructs one bit. The Predator strips its victims of their skin, quite literally laying them bare to the world and removing the one veneer they have to prove that their presentation of heterosexuality is still worth something in this world.
Predator is the ultimate heterosexual nightmare, with their very concept of themselves absorbed and challenged by the femininity they fear most of all. Of course, because this is an 80’s action franchise after all, one man must triumph over the creature in the end, but in the process he loses everything. This fight is a futile one, and as Predator 2 proves with the reveal that Danny Glover just killed one of an entire den of Predators, there will always be new, fresh challenges to their notions.
I’m not here to say that the way Predator handles these themes is right or wrong, but they are undeniably present. If you need something new to chew on next time you’re rewatching these sweaty, mud-covered men traipsing through the jungle, why not give this theory a shot? There’s a lot buried beneath the surface of the franchise, and a rewatch will always unearth something new and delightful to behold.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!