Review- ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)

Review- ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)

When I first saw a still of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy I thought that whoever came up with that casting choice deserved an award. Not only do Ted and Zac look very similar but there was a sweet irony that the star of High School Musical had progressed to portraying one of America’s most notorious serial killers.

I first learnt of Bundy’s crimes after watching the brilliant 1986 TV movie The Deliberate Stranger which was released on two video tapes here in the UK soon after it aired in the US. This production showed that one thing is vital to any depiction of Bundy and his history- casting. Bundy was as all American as apple pie. He also goes against the stereotype of the type of person most think that a serial killer is. He was educated, handsome and extremely charismatic. Mark Harmon was cast as Bundy and this choice was brilliant. Harmon had been the star of many TV shows (most famously St Elsewhere)  and always as the dashing leading man. Harmon was using these very qualities to depict a man who used the same attributes for his own evil ends. It’s also worth noting that the man (Harmon not Bundy) who was voted The Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine in 1986 (the year that Deliberate Stranger was made and aired) should be portraying the serial killer who had multiple female fans who decided that his good looks and sex appeal outweighed his alleged crimes.

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Since this TV movie there have been other movies regarding Bundy but none have been especially noteworthy in terms of either casting or content (it’s a shame that the adaptation of Ann Rule’s amazing book ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ wasn’t either cast or made better. It’s still, in my opinion, the definitive book on Ted).

So when it was announced that Zac Efron was to star in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Wicked and Vile as Bundy I just wished that the whole film would live up to the genius casting decision. I resubscribed to Netflix in time for the premiere date of 3rd May only to learn that whilst it’s being shown on Netflix, that isn’t the case in the UK. The movie could either be seen on Sky Movies (no thanks, Rupert Murdoch) or at one of the few cinemas which were showing it.

This, however proved to be a blessing in disguise. The film looks gorgeous and deserves to be seen on the big screen. In fact, there is plenty to like about this movie.

I had never heard of the 1981 book The Phantom Prince by Elizabeth Kendall which was written by Bundy’s fiancee about their life together. This book is still out of print- a golden opportunity for a reprint to coincide with this movie missed. Although there is an online copy available to read (Google is your friend…)

The fact that this story is from the perspective of Bundy’s partner proves to be a major strength here. This isn’t a straightforward account of Bundy’s crimes resplendent with depictions of them but rather what happened as seen through someone else’s eyes. This is a novel take on one of America’s most infamous serial killers and because of this feels fresh and original. Bundy is depicted as charming, charismatic and utterly human. It also means that when Bundy’s partner (and the audience) hears the details of Bundy’s crimes they appear even more shocking and appalling.

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Careful with that knife, Ted

Zac Efron’s depiction of Ted is rightly garnering plaudits from critics. His performance is multi-facted, nuanced and utterly brilliant. He portrays Bundy as not only as the All-American success story but also as a human being wearing a mask or shell. Check out the scene in the courtroom as Bundy is rising to his feet to hear the first of many verdicts- the trumped up show of confidence is shown to be a facade by Efron as we see that this event is so traumatic that it has actually mined down into the darkest and genuine core of Bundy. The mask has slipped as Bundy is about to discover his fate. Also, check out the scene where Bundy has just had sex with his ‘girlfriend’ after Liz leaves him. Momentarily we see the revulsion on Ted’s face when he has just shot his load and realises with whom. We see more evidence that Bundy doesn’t love Carole at all and is just using her so she will extol his innocence to the outside world. His skills of manipulation and control have been brought to the fore and we get to see behind the huge smile and good looks. We also then see the shell come back into place as Bundy starts to recompose himself and falsely reiterate his ‘love’ for her. She’s important to him but not for the reasons she thinks.

But this isn’t just a one performance film. The rest of the cast are great with Metallica’s James Hetfield and The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons also shining. John Malkovich is as ever brilliant in his role as Judge Cowart presiding over the Florida trial. He makes parallels against the fact that himself and Bundy have a great deal in common with Ted being a law student whilst he was committing his heinous crimes. It is one of the most poignant scenes in the film in which the judge mentions that Bundy had decided to use his considerable judicial skills for evil rather than good and that if he had decided to go down a better path Cowart would have loved to have witnessed these skills used in his courtroom.

The film also brilliantly examines the celebrity status given to serial killers. Bundy’s trial is the first in which cameras are allowed in the courtroom and so the trial will be transmitted to millions of homes across America. Bundy knows this and fully exploits it whilst using his charm to bewitch and enchant his audience. He puts on a dazzling performance, makes sure that he peers directly into the camera at multiple occasions to establish a bond with his viewers and even on one occasion, proposes to Carole live on air. It’s showbiz, baby.

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The courtroom as TV studio

The film also examines the phenomena of hybristophilia- the term used to describe the sexual attraction to serial killers. Ted always has a strong female groupie contingent in the courtroom. This will be multiplied many times over with the cameras catching the carefully cultivated performance and sexual charisma Bundy is having broadcast across America and indeed the world.

Whilst the film isn’t a straightforward chronological timeline of Bundy and his crimes we do get to hear about his alleged crimes throughout the film, especially the Chi Omega sorority house that he invades before going on a one-man massacre of several of it’s occupants. But even with the details of these crimes being peppered throughout the movie, the ending in which Liz confronts Bundy is still a shock to behold. She has been given a photograph of one of Ted’s victims by a detective that has brought home the true evil of his crimes. We get to see the picture of a naked female corpse which has had it’s head removed. Bundy still protests his innocence as he has throughout the duration of the film up until this point. He even offers the flimsy explanation that wild animals could have inflicted that on the cadaver. Liz demands to know the truth. We then get to see Bundy take off his mask altogether. He argues that he couldn’t tell her the truth as the phone they are using to communicate with each other is probably tapped by the authorities. He then calmly puts down the receiver he is speaking into and writes the word ‘HACKSAW’ onto the plastic screen that separates them. It’s an immensely powerful scene as it shows that Bundy is ‘Bad’ and not ‘Mad’ and that he knew exactly what he was doing and that there are no multiple personalities at play here.

This scene is also one of the movie’s major aces up it’s sleeve. Up until that point we had never seen Bundy commit one of the crimes he has been accused of or even admit culpability for them. Here he has. The whole celebrity status awarded to serial killers and that grimy culture has now been placed under the spotlight. We have been watching High School Musical’s Zac Efron charm his way into our hearts throughout the film. And we have been duped. For all of his escape antics, winks to camera and good looks, he is a monster and knew exactly what he was doing. Just as Bundy charmed his way into Liz and Carole’s lives for his own ends, he has done to same to us. The film has also done this without glamorising Bundy and his deeds or trying to substantiate them. The audience was kept in the dark regarding his crimes just like Liz was, which is fitting as this story is told from her perspective and not Ted’s. We get to see the full impact of the full truth and how it must have felt for Liz.

It also brings up the question of if he truly loved her or if that was just a well manicured and cultivated lie. The film also begs the question that what we have seen during the movie might not be the whole truth. One early scene involves Bundy being next to Liz in bed under the covers using a torch. When she wakes up startled he gives the explanation of reading a law book ahead of an exam and not wanting to wake her up. We later see the same scene replayed but the audience is awarded the knowledge of what Ted was actually doing- looking at Liz’s dormant sleeping body under the sheets. Was he aroused by her unmoving form? Was he aroused by his victims in the same way? Was he planning to do away with Liz?

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The mask slips

The main question I had after seeing this film was whether Efron is eligible to be nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal with this film being a Netflix production. Now just imagine that- Ted Bundy winning an Academy Award.

4/5 out of 5 stars

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Review- ‘Rottweiler: Dogs of Hell’

Review- ‘Rottweiler: Dogs of Hell’

Ahh, the 3D craze of the early 80’s. Some films were great and used the gimmick really well (take a bow, Friday the 13th 3D) whilst others were films just a flat and mediocre in 3D as they would have been in 2D. This film belongs in the latter category.

I only watched this as I saw the VHS art on a friend’s Instagram page and it looked luridly interesting. Oh, and if you’re on Instagram add us- www.instagram.com/meathookcinema

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A truckload of killer dogs trained by the army to fight like a whole battalion of men runs off the road and crashes releasing it’s deadly cargo in a small American town- the kind of town that has mud wrestling in the local bars. The scientist who trained the dogs arrives to try to make sure the dogs don’t kill too many people. Or is he secretly interested in saving his work?

There are no spliffs being passed to the audience, no eyeballs being popped out or snakes  in sense shattering 3D to look forward to here. In fact I watched this in less than stunning 2D and the film feels more like an early 80’s TV movie like The Savage Bees (but not as good) than like a proper film made for the cinema. In fact this feels like it was only  distributed as a film as it was shot in 3D and the gimmick wouldn’t have worked if it was shown on TV’s rather than on a cinema screen.

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This ad makes the ‘film’ (ahem) seem much better than it actually is

In fact the guy who consulted on the 3D for this film also worked on Jaws 3D. If theres any bigger warning against seeing this film then that’s it.

1 star out of 5.

Review: ‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

Review: ‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

Like many people the only thing I knew about ice skater Tonya Harding before this film was the incident of violence that she inflicted upon Nancy Kerrigan. This film deals with Tonya’s upbringing and her life in general leading up to this point.

One striking feature of the film is that it well and truly breaks down the fourth wall with characters speaking to the audience and even disputing their version of events as the alleged events are being played out. Theres even one sequence in which Tonya’s mother admonishes the film’s screenwriters as she seems to have dried up in the film’s narrative.

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‘This didn’t happen!’- differing versions of events are played out and refuted directly to the audience

The film depicts the sheer insanity of the events that led up to the fateful encounter with Kerrigan but it never feels like this has been exaggerated or that it descends into farce. Theres an air of authenticity as we see the craziness and dysfunction unfurl before our bewildered eyes.

The setting of working class America also feels real, warts and all. The film depicts the obstacles to true success and the snobbery that Tonya has to endure and overcome. Theres an irony to the nouveau riche mothers, skaters and judges of ice skating looking down on Tonya for being cheap and trashy when all of the contestants are encouraged to look that way but without the actual poverty. The mainstream world of the sport doesn’t like the real thing but rather a contrived and affluent ‘faux’ version of it. It reminds me of a Dolly Parton quote- ‘It takes a lot of money to look this trashy’.

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The right kind of furs, the right kind of sequins- the trash aesthetic of the world of ice skating

But whilst many events in the film are hilarious and surreal, the incidents of domestic violence depicted are as harrowing and serious as they deserve to be. These sequences still disturb, as well they should.

There are amazing performances from the central three actors of Stan, Robbie and Jenney as Tonya’s mother- a force of nature who is great entertainment on the screen but would be a nightmare in real life.

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Mommie Dearest- Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother

A special mention is needed for the soundtrack- any film that features both Siouxsie and the Banshees and Fleetwood Mac is something very special indeed.

4 1/2 out of 5

Review- Danny Says (2015)

Review- Danny Says (2015)

A documentary about Danny Fields, the record industry A&R man/artist liaison/cultural barometer who was the friend of so many great bands and artists and more importantly, had a hand in making sure they could get record deals and record their music so that their genius could be shared with the world.

This documentary gets it just right- there are moments of animation to illustrate the narrative but these don’t overpower the film, there are many musicians and personalities who are either interviewed or spoken about but it doesn’t feel like some kind of bragging rollcall. There are also perceptive and very interesting insights into being gay in a small town and also when Danny had left home and was carving his adult life.

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As for the artists, all of the groups and singers who changed my life are here. From hanging out with The Velvet Underground to working and socialising with The Doors, The Ramones, Jonathan Richman, The Stooges, Nico, MC5…This is a life spent in the thick an alternative American musical history and you feel privileged to be a part of this. There are also hidden gems that are priceless- a taped phone call with Nico, a recording of the first time Lou Reed is played The Ramones and how elated he is by it.

I bought Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges at the age of 14 and it changed my life. And Danny Fields is partly responsible for this. This documentary helps to shed light on a hidden force who made this possible.

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4 out of 5

Review- Spotlight (2015)

Review- Spotlight (2015)

A film that was on my ‘Haven’t got round to seeing it yet’ list. Until now.

Journalists at the Boston Globe investigate sexual abuse of children by local Roman Catholic priests- and uncover much more.

This is based on a true story and feels authentic and not over-dramaticised for the big screen.

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The locales are pinpoint perfect too. Note the cramped offices of The Globe compared to the splendid locations frequented by the higher echelons of the church and those paid to defend them. Corruption pays well- but only if you have no soul.

Notice also the Boston street scenes- this is a film that loves the city.

The performances are also amazing. Mark Ruffalo deserves special praise here- the best performance I’ve seen in a film in a long, long time. Batman was pretty damn great too 🙂

A brilliant film that indeed casts the spotlight onto the darkest of places. This deserves all of the many accolades it received and continues to receive.

4 1/2 out of 5

Review- ‘Better Watch Out’ (2017)

Review- ‘Better Watch Out’ (2017)

A movie that goes one way but changes direction massively.

In fact before the plot twist that occurs I thought this was a film about the most unlikable and privileged kids I’d ever seen on screen. In fact they’re so privileged that when they got to college they would be the biggest social justice warriors, I thought as I drifted away from the dull film.

In fact the only tension or frisson in the first half hour was more centred around the couple next to me who kept talking throughout the film. They stopped after I suddenly shrieked ‘For fucks sake! Shut the fuck up!’

But then the film has a huge volte face regarding its plot and it touches upon something that is still taboo in real life and on film- killers who are children. In fact, as soon as the film started to touch upon this film I instantly thought of the case of James Bulger. I was genuinely shocked to see the use of a can of paint in the film. Anyone who knows about the proceedings of Bulger’s death will know that paint figures predominantly. Was this coincidental or intentional?

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The film could have now developed into something much darker, brutal and savage. It doesn’t exploit this brilliant plot twist and is a bit too obsessed with gloss rather than grit. The last 15 minutes are extremely contrived and more Hollywood than horrorshow. This is a shame. The very end of the film is funny but this should have been a vivid display of gallows humour rather than a jokey conclusion to a good but not great movie.

A wasted opportunity. But not a failure- in this era of reboots and reboots (the curse of modern film), any trace of originality and innovation should be cherished.

If you want to see a much better ‘killer kids’ film watch Bloody Birthday. The best Christmas horror films are still Black Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night and Christmas Evil. If you want to watch a movie about vapid, overprivileged kids, you’re asking the wrong person.

2 out of 5.

No Homo: John McTiernan’s Predator (1987)

No Homo: <em>John McTiernan’s Predator</em> (1987)

I had the honour and privilege to be able to see Predator (1987) in 4K and on the big screen the other day. It felt like visiting an old friend.

Predator belongs in Arnie’s Imperial Phase which for my money runs from the Conan films up until Red Heat. At this time he was making action movies that defined the genre, pushed its boundaries but fully exploited their future status on the medium of video- in other words they were violent and gory as hell.

Predator works on so many different levels.

The film is the perfect example of a comic book come to life on celluloid. The film possesses the kind of exaggeration and imagination that normally couldn’t satisfactorily be translated to film. Predator shows that these forays into the surreal and its larger than life action sequences can be successfully conveyed. All of the characters could equally be seen in comic book panels as much as they could be on film. The film is so gung-ho that it feels like a war comic crossed with a shoot em up video game at times.

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The Predator’s thermal vision that the audience is privy to is also a comic book device.

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Another sequence that is reminiscent of a comic book is when Dillon’s arm is cut off but continues to fire a gun.

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Also, just as action and horror movies were massively successful on video in its infancy  and its growth as a medium, Predator combines elements of both genres and turns them up to 11. The sequence involving Dillon’s arm is a great example of a sequence that appeals to both action and horror fans.

In fact the film is extremely subversive as it starts as a jungle commando action vehicle but then suddenly changes direction. This could have failed to work and come across as forced and completely contrived if handled in the wrong way. But instead it works brilliantly.

The horror and more specifically the slasher conventions within Predator show that the film wasn’t just appealing to the fans of action movies. The Predator’s handiwork is shown as the jungle crew discover the skinned bodies of others hanging upside down. The crew soon find themselves to be the quarry rather than the hunters in the same way that a group of teenagers would be in a stalk n slash movie. They are easy meat.

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The film also contains the same kind of kills found in a slasher movie with skulls, intestines and exploding heads all featuring.

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Another slasher staple that features in Predator is the unmasking of the killer which of course prompts Dutch to exclaim ‘You are one ugly motherfucker!’ The unmasking sequence is especially a staple of the Friday 13th films in which Jason Voorhees is regularly unmasked to reveal his true face.

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A mug you wouldn’t chug- the unmasking of the predator

Predator also goes the extra mile when it comes to its action genre ingredients. There are guns and muscles aplenty. But where Predator tries to excel when it deals with these components, in doing so it instantly becomes very very homoerotic.

There must have been something distinctly gay in the air in some Hollywood quarters in 1986/7 as two other unintentionally/intentionally homoerotic films were also made around the same time- Top Gun and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

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The homoeroticism of Top Gun (1986) and
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A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1986)

In fact, Predator is so proudly masculine, homoerotic and therefore camp that to take any of these variants further would topple the film headlong into the genre of gay pornography.

It doesn’t take a lot for the ultra masculine to turn ultra homoerotic and camp. Let me illustrate- think of a clockface as representing all of the different variants of masculinity- 1 represents the camp, effete and effeminate (two examples are Quentin Crisp and Julian Clary) and 12 represents the ultra masculine, musclebound and testosterone soaked (Arnie, your average MMA fighter, the larger WWE wrestlers). There isn’t that much of a distance from 1 to 12 on the clockface is there? Also, just because a man might be camp or effeminate doesn’t mean that he isn’t without balls of steel. Do you think it was easy for Julian Clary and Quentin Crisp to be openly gay and effeminate when they first came to light in the public gaze? No- it took guts and moral fortitude. They are far from being submissive sissies. There are paradoxes at the more extreme positions on the clock.

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Whilst number 12 on the clockface is seen as the most masculine its also, paradoxically very camp and homoerotic also. The male who wishes to assert his masculinity more potently will build up his physique and muscles. To display this ‘uber masculinity’ he will expose his body more thus paradoxically instantly appeal to the some members of the same sex. He wants to accentuate his masculinity and has at the same time become more camp, desirable and homoerotic because of this.

This heady brew of the masculine and homoerotic is first seen in the film when Dutch comes across his old friend Dillon again. A handshake turns into an epic display of biceps and a very manly (and very camp) arm-wrestle. You could be forgiven that this is in fact some kind of 1980’s gay porno movie.

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The camera seems to relish and luxuriate upon the male cast in the film. There are many shots of gleaming muscles, sometimes clutching huge guns. Predator is a glistening, sweaty jerk-off fest for the gay gaze.

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The bead of sweat rolling down the ample chest of the character of Billy is one such example of this. The same character later on in the film decides to ‘take it like a man’ by slitting open his well built chest to prompt the predator out of hiding so that they can go one on one. Its a startling display of machismo that is instantly appealing to the action fan and those who are sexually aroused by such testosterone fuelled exhibitionism. ‘Taking it like a man’ means something very different in gay circles. The pitcher becomes receiver. He decides to ‘receive’ the alien.

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Within the film there is also the spectacle of the slow striptease of Dutch. Throughout the course of the film Arnold appears in varying degrees of undress and displays more flesh and more muscle. There is also an unbelievable shot when the crew arrive in the jungle. Dutch crawls through undergrowth with the camera just above his body as he does this, resplendent with an amazing shot of his arse. Ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on top of the film’s lead character? The camera realises this for the spectator.

Arnold’s striptease cumulates with his character covered in mud (!) with a lit torch in one hand and giving a manly bellow to the heavens to alert the alien that he is ready for battle. Man vs alien- and no ugly extra-terrestrial is going to kick Arnie’s alpha-male butt. Whilst this scene is intended not only to signify the potency of the masculinity on display its also the ultimate in homoeroticism and camp iconography- a distillation of the whole film in one sequence.

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Theres also the bromance/relationship between Mac and Blain. After Blain is killed there is a palpable longing on the part of Mac which suggests that he misses him for being more than just a fellow soldier. This pining between two male characters is reminiscent of Peter being distraught by the passing of Roger in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Or the ending of Brokeback Mountain. Yes, nothing gay here.

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Male longing- Brokeback Mountain

In fact Blain recalls the ‘macho man’ archetype in the same way that The Village People’s leather-clad biker does- moustache, sexually potent (Blaine describes himself as a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’), whilst looking down on others who aren’t as masculine. Blaine refers to those people as ‘slack jawed faggots’ the way a leather fan might look down on the camper constituents of his community. Also, notice the use of the word ‘faggots’- Blaine doth protest too much. Or hes just trying to deflect from the obvious conclusions.

With the character of Blaine there also the issue of guns, the size of those guns and the ‘gun as phallus/symbol of manhood’ baggage that is imbued with such imagery. Just as Blaine has stated that he is a ‘sexual tyrannosaurus’ he qualifies this with the gun he carries- a huge gun that can fire countless bullets at once and has a barrel that rotates as its doing this. Blaine calls the gun ‘Old Painless’ and at one point says that its time to bring it out of its bag. This recalls the way a man might say its time to ‘unleash the beast’. Never has a gun represented a penis so obviously.

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Blain and his impressive weapon

Also within the film there seems to be a celebration of gun size as an extension of manhood for each character. There are many shots of gleaming muscles and equally huge guns held proudly by each character. Theres also the incredible scene in which the muscled components of the crew fire their guns into the jungle when they happen to see the alien. The scene goes on for way too long, prompting the audience to question why this is. A joyous piece of action genre abandon? A display of unabashed masculinity? Or the film’s equivalent of a circle jerk? This scene is as close as the film can come to each character having his cock out to show who really is King Dong.

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The Predator circle jerk

In fact the film early on introduces a female character into the proceedings to seemingly try to stop the film being a solely male musclefest. Shes also introduced to make the film homosocial- a female distraction from the otherwise all male action and to show that, ”y’know, we’re not actually faggots or nuthin’ ”.

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Predator’s all male cast. Nothing gay here.

Anna Gonsalves however isn’t the kind of weak and spineless female character who requires a man to save her from any encroaching danger. She is resourceful and an equal. She spends her formative scenes trying to escape from the crew but then is seen as someone more than willing to pitch in to save herself and the lives of the others in the crew from the predator. She is self-sufficent and with this all male crew, thats pretty much for the best. Saving women would take away from their self-love and exhibitionism.

Ultimately what was Predator’s demographic and who it was made for- the laydeez? Of course not. It was made for male action and horror fans. This vehicle of muscles and macho posturing with the odd splatter scene was made for men. It makes the film even gayer/homoerotic.

Even the behind the scenes stills from Predator were homoerotic. Hers a picture of Arnie holding a huge snake.

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But whilst most of society was a homophobic cesspit when Predator was released the world seems to have changed since. Homophobia is thankfully being seen as unjust, outdated and as never being valid in the first place. Arnie is now a successful Republican politician. Whilst everyone was celebrating the amendment that allowed Gay Marriage in America people on Facebook were changing their profile pictures so that they had a rainbow flag filter. Arnie did the same. Most welcomed this. However some old school action fans did not. Arnie’s comeback was epic.

Things really were changing. Just as Arnie was finally embracing gay marriage and equality, was it possible that he knew that Predator was in fact a homoerotic musclefest all along? It would be great if someone from the Predator crew came forward to say that that this was actually the intention. Just imagine the uproar!