While watching The Predator, the very mediocre new installment of the film franchise that started back in 1987, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the Predator. But it wasn’t because he’s a magnetic, frightening figure — quite the contrary, I spent the whole movie thinking, Wow, this guy really isn’t that scary. The more I looked, the less terrifying he seemed.
I’m not saying that to brag: I actually have a pretty low threshold for scary stuff. Give me a movie with creepy creatures with big teeth or spider-like tentacles, and I’ll usually freak out. But the Predator of the new Predator film — actually, there are two — didn’t do a thing for me. Suddenly, it struck me: Is the Predator actually pretty lame? Sure, he’s got a cloaking device and is pretty good at killing, but so what? With his goofy dreads and his rubber-looking suit, he can’t come close to competing with some of the all-time great movie monsters, like the alien from Alien. It’s almost as if the characters in The Predator know he’s dumb: One of them even refers to him as “an alien Whoopi Goldberg,” a description that isn’t going to strike fear into too many hearts.
But where does the Predator rank among the all-time worst movie creatures? I decided to do a quick survey of some of the most notoriously terrible Hollywood aliens, monsters and critters to determine which (if any of them) are worse than the Predator. To make it fair, I ignored all the really pathetic low-budget genre films, like Squirm or Attack of the Eye Creatures, that never rise about Mystery Science Theater 3000-level dreadful. No, these are real movies with real monsters that are real bad.
Film: Ring (1998)
Why do people think she’s scary? Japanese horror ruled in the late 1990s and early 2000s thanks to international hits such as Audition, Cure, Ju-on: The Grudge and Pulse. But the film that really knocked down the door to Hollywood was Ring (or Ringu), an ingenious thriller about a weird VHS tape that killed everyone who watched it. Played by Rie Inō, Sadako was Ring’s freaky villain, a young woman in a white gown whose face was covered by her long black hair. (It almost looked like her head had been turned around 180 degrees.) When you saw Sadako, you had just moments to live, even if she tended to move really damn slowly.
Is she lamer than the Predator? No way. What hurt this character, who was revived for the American remake that starred Naomi Watts, was that, because she was such a simple construction, her effectiveness at scaring you quickly diminished from overexposure. (By the time Scary Movie 3 parodied Ring in 2003, Sadako was little more than a dated punch line.) Still, she was at least scary at one point — the Predator was never scary.
The Alien in ‘Signs’
Film: Signs (2002)
Why do people think it’s scary? M. Night Shyamalan had enjoyed back-to-back hits with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable when he released this intimate family drama that just so happened to also be an alien-invasion thriller. Much of Signs’ tension — as is often the case with movies like this — comes from the suspense of wondering what these aliens want, and more importantly, what they look like. For most of its runtime, Signs keeps you on the edge of your seat, finally unveiling its extra-terrestrial during the very-divisive ending. In case you forgot, here it is:
Is it lamer than the Predator? Yes. Years later, “swing away” would become a shorthand for people to mock Shyamalan’s pretentiousness — although, if we realized at the time how much worse his films would get, we’d probably have been more forgiving of Signs, which is mostly a really good thriller.
But this alien? Yeah, he’s pretty mediocre. He’s supposed to be frightening, but he mostly just looks like early-21st-century CGI — which is to say, like hot garbage. If the Predator and the Signs alien showed up at your house, you’d probably be more freaked out by the Predator. I mean, if all it takes is a baseball bat to defeat an interstellar being, how scary can it really be?
Film: Hellraiser (1987) and a bunch of sequels
Why do people think he’s scary? Dreamed up by author Clive Barker, who introduced the world to the Cenobites in his novel The Hellbound Heart, Pinhead is an entity from another dimension who has a nasty habit of traveling to Earth to collect human souls. Barker wrote and directed the first Hellraiser, casting his buddy Doug Bradley to play the movie’s unnamed villain. It was only after the crew started giving the character the nickname Pinhead that the moniker stuck for the subsequent films. Amidst the gore and terror of the Hellraiser films, Bradley played this menacing force with British reserve, which made his occasional bellowing all the more upsetting.
Is he lamer than the Predator? No, but it’s a closer competition than you might think. Pinhead is one of the most iconic horror-movie characters, but there’s also something sorta stupid about his look. Lots of things are scary — I’d respectfully submit that a dude with lots of pins in his head isn’t one of them. First of all, they’re put into his head in this tidy, symmetrical kind of way. It’s actually kinda soothing! Like acupuncture! (It must be very stressful being a Cenobite with all that soul-harvesting to do.) Plus, it’s not like any of those pins are going through his eyes or other delicate body parts. What’s supposed to be scariest about Pinhead is, in reality, kind of just a fancy fashion accessory. Still, Bradley’s intimidating face gives the character the slight edge over the Predator, whose face is really stupid.
Film: Child’s Play (1988) and a bunch of sequels
Why do people think he’s scary? Horror has succeeded in making us terrified of lots of seemingly innocent things, including dogs, kids and blobs. But in the era of Teddy Ruxpin, My Buddy and Cabbage Patch Kids, Fright Night filmmaker Tom Holland gave the world a scary-ass talking kids’ doll named Chucky who goes homicidal. (Such things can happen when the soul of a serial killer gets transferred into a seemingly harmless toy.) Subsequent sequels would play up the comedy, but the original Child’s Play was a mean, nasty slasher film that preyed on our childhood fears that our beloved playthings secretly wanted to murder us.
Is he lamer than the Predator? Hell no, Chucky is awesome. Again, yes, the sequels are wretched, but Chucky’s eerily plastic face is eternally creepy. (The designers did a great job tapping into the uncanny-valley scariness of actual dolls, which look loving but whose frozen smiles come across as pure evil.) To this day, lifelike dolls (especially ones that talk) unnerve me.
Film: Leprechaun (1993) and a bunch of sequels
Why do people think he’s scary? That delightful little Irish fellow with the pot o’ gold? What’s frightening about him? Apparently, lots: The original Leprechaun aspired to be a horror-comedy that played with the iconography of the impish little fellow, transforming the harmless creature into a bloodthirsty, vengeful monster. Still, the film was meant to be scary, casting Warwick Davis and giving him gross teeth, wrinkly skin and sharp claws.
Is he lamer than the Predator? Oh god, yes. My vision of hell isn’t Alien vs. Predator but Predator vs. Leprechaun. Two dudes with bad skin fighting to the death. Whoever wins, we all go home and be sure to moisturize.