Festival of Fiendishness: THE PREDATOR

Sing along everybody!

If you’re seven feet tall and like killing humans, clap your hands!

Clap, clap.

If you like pulling spines and your face is kinda jacked, clap your hands!

Clap, clap.

If you have a cloaking device that isn’t waterproof and you come to planet that’s 80% water, you wouldn’t be the wisest hunter in the galaxy…but you would be today’s Independence Day villain: the Predator.

Yeah I know the song fell apart but it does help you get the gist of this character. And in the event you were born after 1990, you might not know that the Predators have NOTHING to do with the Aliens—that’s more of a comic book driven marketing ploy than anything else…but we’ll talk about that too.

A long time ago, before Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor of California, he starred in a series of low-brow action movies with plenty of explosions, bullets and one-liners. In one of these movies, Schwarzeneggar led an elite squad of mercenaries—including Apollo Creed and Jesse “The Body” Ventura (before he was the governor of Minnesota)—in a South American jungle to do some bullshit (I just saw the movie and don’t freaking remember what the hell they were doing). Anyway, they get systematically hunted down and slaughtered by a killer they cannot see. One that sees only their thermal image and likes to snatch people’s spinal columns out and hang them on trees. There’s lots of blood and yelling, yada yada yada and the Governator pulls some MacGyver shit and manages to take out an extraterrestrial hunter—a predator, if you will—packing advanced weaponry using some mud, a spear and two sticks of dynamite. But the Predator’s a little bit of a bitch: when his cloaking device is working and can’t nobody figure out what he is, the Predator is all leaping through the trees, laughing at people, screwing with them. But when the water fucks his stuff up and everybody can see him, when he’s all beat up and Arnold takes off his mask and calls him ugly, the Predator doesn’t take his L like a man: he suicide bombs the entire jungle.

Punk.

Fast forward a couple years and a new Predator decides he doesn’t like Arnold’s politics and starts chasing Danny Glover in the streets of LA. Here, though, we get the see what the Predator is actually capable of. This cat has more gadgets than Batman: he has a net that tightens once it gets on you so you look like sausage when it’s done; a spear that he can hurl with frightening accuracy; a shoulder cannon that’ll make your head explode if he gets those 3 dots on you; and a Krull-style disc/boomerang thing that will cut through anything or anyone and return to sender. We learn that the Predator is like a big game hunter and is simply looking for the biggest challenge, win or lose. We learn they have a little bit of honor to their hunt, they’ve been hunting us for a long time (they give Danny an old musket from the Revolutionary War), and they’ve been hunting plenty of shit besides us, like T-Rexes and the Aliens (that’s where it started, folks). Watching Gary Busey die is one of the best scenes in the movie.

Any other time we see the Predator after this, they’re hunting Aliens on our world, either as some ridiculous rite of passage, killing Adrien Brody and Topher Grace as a group, or cleaning up the effects of when shit goes wrong. Like, you couldn’t see that coming? Seriously? You earn the gun for killing the Aliens with your bare hands? An animal that has acid for blood? And there’s no containment plan for when they get out? I continually second guess the intelligence of this advanced race.

So even though I’ve tearing them up, I still have some respect for the Predator and still think they have their awesome moment. Because, even though they screw up and get their asses handed to them, we encounter them because they kill us for fun. It is a sport. And our skulls are the trophies. That is what makes them awesome.

Up next, the most persistent and consistently unsuccessful hunter of all time: Wile E. Coyote. Th-th-that’s all folks!

Celebration of Wickedness: Day 1 – ALIEN #atozchallenge

It’s no secret the movie Alien changed my life. That should actually read “scared the piss outta me.” When I was 6, my brother and I convinced my father to take us to see Alien because it scared my mother. Instead, it terrified me.

While I can wax nostalgic about the graphic nature of the monster or the foreboding, ominous atmosphere of the film or even second-guess my father’s acquiescence to the whims of elementary school kids. The point of this is it changed everything.

For me, after I had an opportunity to change my underwear and had escaped the safe confines of my parents’ bed, it changed how I looked at entertainment. Alien frightened me to the core: it was the first time I’d seen anything that gory, that intense, that painful (honestly, everything about that animal hurt, right?). Until Alien, all my cinematic adventures centered around a group of meddling kids and their big ass dog solving mysteries; a cat and mouse duo devising ever-expensive, increasingly devastating ways of destroying one another; and answering the age-old question of Duck Season or Rabbit Season.

Instead of these traditional hijinks I got an organism that impregnates by attaching itself to your face, is born by bursting out of your chest, and spends the rest of its existence hunting down anything that breathes. So it can eat and make more. That’s it. No galactic domination. No reaching for the stars to see what else is out there. No raising the species to the next evolutionary level. The Alien has one imperative: to exist.

This is what makes the creature so frightening—aside from the buckets of thick saliva, the baby teeth that shoot out and crush skulls, the acid for blood—its sole adherence to the first law of nature: self-preservation. The thing exists simply to exist. And its entire structure is predicated and designed for existence in any and all circumstances. Let me put this in better terms: just about everything else we encounter on our own world, including us, has competing priorities—we want to eat, sleep, reproduce, see who’s in charge, flirt, dance, make music and build skyscrapers. Most living things have lives to live. And the things that do simply exist to eat and reproduce are small enough for us to step on. The Alien is like 7 feet tall. Bigger than Big Bird.

Check out this exchange from the 1979 film:

Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: Look, I am… I’ve heard enough of this, and I’m asking you to pull the plug.
Ash: [Ripley goes to disconnect Ash, who interrupts] Last word.
Ripley: What?
Ash: I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.

“You have my sympathies.” It’s going to win. It’s going to survive.

As an author, the Alien is the quintessential villain: it simply is. When writing, it is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of complicated villains whose purpose isn’t crystalized or who rationale is murky. The Alien is clear, unambiguously clear. And, its clarity of purpose brings out the best in its hero. In fact, the Alien is the villain only because we sympathize with Ripley. Ripley and the Alien actually want the exact same thing—survival—but survival for one means death for the other.

We all understand that, life or death stakes, self-preservation. When writing I try to go back to the Alien, to ensure my villain has such clarity of purpose and that my story has such singular focus. Everything else is subplot, every other character expendable, all other priorities rescinded.

Thus ends Day One of the Celebration of Wickedness. This is Christopher Starr, sole author of the blog, Crooked Letterz, signing off. Tomorrow it’s the Hulk!