Predator is back in cinemas this month to mark the iconic action movie’s 30th anniversary.
Even now, its testosterone-fuelled tale of an elite special forces team coming face to face with a technologically advanced alien remains tense, riveting viewing.
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But events behind-the-scenes were just as tough as those depicted on camera.
Thanks to arduous filming conditions and technical difficulties, it tested the patience of its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and put Jean-Claude Van Damme through hell in pre-production.
To catch a Predator
Predator’s creature became an instantly recognisable movie monster on release. But it wasn’t always so convincing.
The original design was more along the lines of a giant insect; cumbersome and difficult to manage in the jungle environments used for filming.
Action-star Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast to star as the Predator opposite Schwarzenegger, but according to special effects expert Steve Johnson, “he had no idea what he was getting into”.
Van Damme thought he could show his martial arts abilities to the world and fight Schwarzenegger. “He didn’t realise he was just a stunt man,” said Johnson. “He was so angry.”
Baffled by the bright red costume he was asked to wear – used to achieve the cloaking device effect, which he thought was the final look of the monster – Van Damme also complained of excessive heat inside the suit.
The role was recast when producers realised they needed a more physically imposing man to square up to Schwarzenegger. The extremely tall Kevin Peter Hall got the part, and the suit was redesigned.
Schwarzenegger’s previous commitments meant that the start of filming was delayed for several months.
Once production got underway, the film struggled to keep the action hero in one place.
In April 1986, filming was put on hold while Schwarzenegger flew to Massachusetts to get married.
Even when filming was up and running smoothly, it certainly wasn’t easy.
Night scenes proved to be problematic, involving Schwarzenegger swimming in cold water, the low temperatures exacerbated by Mexican jungle.
He also had to spend three weeks covered in pottery clay – used as a substitute for mud – which became cold and wet. The heat lamps needed to keep the star warm between takes just dried it out.
The actor shivered constantly, and things became so desperate that he resorted to drinking schnapps to keep warm.
‘A survival story for all of us’
Schwarzenegger complained in a 1987 interview with sci-fi film magazine Cinefantastique that shooting was “always on a hill”.
“One leg down, one leg up. It was terrible,” he said.
Hall, as the Predator, had his own unique challenges. He was essentially blind when in costume, the design of the creature obscuring his eyes.
This proved especially difficult when shooting physical scenes with Schwarzenegger.
“He’s supposed to slap me around and stay far from my face,” Schwarzenegger told Cinefantastique. “All of a sudden, whap! There is this hand with claws on it!”
Hall said the making of the movie was “a survival story for all of us.”
One scene where the Predator chases Schwarzenegger’s special forces leader was shot in stagnant water full of leeches.
Hall – unable to see out of the mask – rehearsed his scenes with it removed, memorising where everything was so that he could replicate his movements with it back on.
The production of Predator was certainly an eventful one.
Cumbersome character suits at the mercy of the elements. Stories of bodybuilding contests (the actors would reportedly wake up at 3am to secretly work out).
Schwarzenegger even suffered food poisoning during shooting.
“While I was on a run, the runs hit,” he revealed, in a Reddit Q&A.
In turn, at least, the star became synonymous with a genuine action classic. Even if he was put through a similar ordeal to his on-screen hero.
Predator is re-released in cinemas on November 9
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