Something of an obscurity here – I’d never seen or heard of this flick from 1980 until recently. I was watching a documentary about the making of Predator 2 on YouTube and this came up in an interview with the late (and great) Kevin Peter Hall. It demanded my interest for a couple of reasons. Firstly it stars said actor himself, here credited as Kevin Hall, in a role that could’ve been a practise run for Predator. Admittedly a very primitive one. Secondly, the story is also incredibly reminiscent of Predator, with a lofty alien hunting humans in the woods.
Trophies and hunting references are thrown onto the screen at every opportunity. The alien’s first victims are an irritating, overbearing NRA-type and his reluctant, arty-farty son, who’d rather stay in the camper van and read classic literature than traipse around the woods shooting at defencelss animals that pose no threat. Unfortunately, the alien in this movie is less discriminating than ol’ Pussy Face. In this movie you get it whether you’re the fighting type or not.
Later, we’re introduced to a quartet of teenagers headed into the woods for a bit of R and R. One of them is the young David Caruso. Kind a of practise run for him too – a few years later John J Rambo would be stalking him through the woods. Just a quick word about about Dave’s Addidas shorts. If you needed anymore proof that this movie was made in the 80’s look no further – they’re so small he must have constantly had to keep checking to make sure his balls weren’t showing.
This is one of those films where almost everyone has a familiar face, either because they were old stars at the time, or because they were newbies who went on to do other things. Even the prosthetic head of the creature looks familiar. It’s one of those classical looking aliens with an enlarged head, big black eyes and a blank expression. It’s not very animated, but I thought it’s costume looked kind of cool. You only really get to see it at the end, in earlier scenes it either casts a shadow over a room, or, more frequently, the scene is shot from the creature’s point of view as it stalks its prey.
Where the Predator has it’s shoulder cannon, this critter puts the hurt on it’s victims by lobbing these gooey starfish-frizby type things at them. If they hit you on the arm or the leg you can stab them and carve them off like leaches, but if they hit you in the face you’ve had it. The special effects are kind of gross and it’s all practical of course, which you’ve got to love. Like the Predator, the baddie here also likes to string up it’s kills and we get to see several bodies, in various states of decay, hanging up in an old shack which the hunter is using as it’s base. But this monster actually eats it’s victims, apparently, which in my view makes the whole exercise much more ethical.
Is it any good? Not exactly. Although I’ve talked about the similarities in the story, this is a million miles away from Predator, both in terms of quality and production values. The acting is hammy and the script is corny as hell. It’s an over-used phrase, but there are moments where it’s so bad it’s good. Other times it crosses the line into downright fucking tedium. There’s a few plot twists and red herrings, one of which in particular is never explained. And there are moments where you’ll be doing a double take and scratching your head in disbelief. For example, when the girl is waiting in the car and she’s attacked by the alien – why does she choose to run blindly into the dark woods rather than into the bar which they were parked directly outside of? And that brings me to the scene in the bar. This part reminded me a bit of Tremors – an oddball collection of locals holed up together discussing what they should do. One of them is a twitchy ex-soldier, simply dubbed ‘Sarge.’ Sarge has seen the alien himself and has his own theory about it. This leads to some, possibly intentional, hilarity later, when he’s convinced that these two kids are aliens disguised as humans. He holds them at gun point and demands to know about the invasion plans. In desperation one of them finally goes along with him. “Okay, okay, I’ll tell you all about it. Where should I start?” the kid cries. “At the beginning!” barks the Sarge. And another thing, earlier on in the bar, the Sarge pulls out a gun and shoots the sheriff (silhouetted in the doorway, but still pretty fucking clearly a Sheriff) allegedly mistaking him for the alien. An ambulance comes and takes the Sheriff away, but no police – the Sarge is left to go free with his gun after he’s shot the Sheriff. How the hell does that work?!
Another thing I’ve got to mention – the nut-case Scout Master and his troop, who he refers to in a haughty voice as his “soldiers.” When he goes to smoke a cigarette he realises he’s forgotten his lighter and tries to light it by banging two rocks together. Really? I know he’s a Scout Master, but really?!” When the monster appears the boys scatter, running away and literally screeching like little monkeys.
I wasn’t around in 1980, so I’m not sure quite how bad this would’ve looked back then. But I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have looked all that good. As a little kid,and I do mean little, I think I would’ve dug it in the same way I dug shit like ‘Killdozer.’ As an adult, well, I managed to sit through it after a long day at work, which is more than I can say for a lot of films nowadays. It’s got some curiosity value, but don’t expect too much.