Predator is an important movie to me, and indeed to many children raised by muscles and aliens and explosions in the decade when VCRs first began stealing food from the mouths of hungry babysitters. A landmark of beefcake cinema, Predator is primarily a movie about being vascular and sweaty in the jungle. But in many ways, it is also a film about several future politicians who would all essentially roleplay their Predator characters during their respective gubernatorial bids.
Without question, the most important element of Predator is hubristic action figure excess. It’s like watching a kid who just learned swear words after enduring his parents’ divorce play with G.I. Joes in the backseat of a Camaro with all the windows rolled up. One of the film’s most iconic images occurs within the first five minutes: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers violently locking hands in a glisteningly muscular greeting, the thunderclap of their palms meeting sending out a shockwave so powerful it knocks me further down the Kinsey scale like a rudderless ship in a hurricane every time I watch it.
Right up front, Predator wants you to know it is a movie about the burliest dudes in recorded history getting together to do some serious Man Shit in the jungle. Also, Shane Black is there; beefcakes must always keep at least one string bean nerd in their numbers to handle all the logistics, like making the necessary travel arrangements and ensuring everyone has made the proper deductions on their tax returns. Like a brave canary, he is the first to be killed.
Because Predator is an action film made in the 1980s, it begins with our team of heroic marble statues getting hired by the C.I.A. to invade a fictional Central American country to prevent the spread of Communism. The first half of the movie is so focused on these gigantic slabs annihilating scores of hapless insurgents that you could shut the movie off at the 40-minute mark and live the rest of your life having no idea that Predator is about an alien monster that kills earthlings for sport.
The biggest hint of science fiction contained within that blessed first third of movie is how an elite squad of comMANdoes with the combined weight of more than one elephant could ride in a helicopter without it plunging into the Earth’s core moments after takeoff. The movie ends with a montage of candid footage of each actor, alternately laughing and flexing in celebration of the joyous time they spent together as Jungle Dudez toppling regimes in the name of capitalism.
The point I’m making here is, Predator’s deafeningly violent war on subtlety is the most defining of its many characteristics, which is what makes this guy’s lip stand out like Robosaurus in the drive-thru line at In-N-Out Burger.
R.G. Armstrong, playing a character allegedly named General Phillips according to the aforementioned credits montage although I have seen this movie roughly eleven-hundred times and you cannot convince me his name isn’t simply “War Grandpa,” is sporting a mustache so thin I legitimately did not notice it until Predator came out on DVD and I saw it for the first time without the characteristic grain of tobacco stains and hundreds of rewinds unique to rental videocassettes of the era. The ghostly whisp of facial hair haunting this man’s face was so slight that I never saw it over a decade of regular viewings. Predator, a film so averse to half-measures that it ends with Arnold Schwarzenegger diving out of the way of a nuclear explosion, somehow features an actor who felt his character of Grizzled Old Soldier would be better realized by the hypnotic suggestion of a mustache. It’s like Don Ameche suddenly appearing to seduce elderly widows in the middle of Michael Bay’s Transformers.
There’s a clear hierarchy of facial hair in Predator. Sitting comfortably at the top are Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura, sporting the kinds of bushy ticklers required to wear khaki pants in the 1980s. There was a two-week waiting period if you bought a convertible during the Reagan administration, during which you were handed a photo of Carl Weathers’ mustache and sent home to cultivate the proper lip ornament before the dealership would hand over the keys.
Below them on the mustache totem pole sits Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rugged five o’clock shadow, a compromise I believe was reached after all parties agreed that the sight of Arnold sporting a full Selleck would’ve knocked the planet off its axis. Meanwhile, Mac is so clean-shaven that he literally carves the flesh off his face with a safety razor.
But then, in slides R.G. Armstrong with his cat burglar sandpaper strip, representing the only understated choice in the entire production. Not only is his mustache understated, but it is so understated that I literally could not see it until dawn broke on the year 2000 and we embraced digital video like the apes circling the monolith at the beginning of 2001. Similarly, I have beaten several people to death with bone clubs since discovering Armstrong’s mustache, so frenzied is my obsession.
As you can see, it’s not totally invisible – there is a telltale shimmer.
What does the faded memory of lip hair on General Phillips’ face mean? Is it a cowardly display of fealty to the moist beefcakes thundering past him towards their jungle destiny like a wildebeest stampede, leaving him behind, discarded and forgotten, like Mufasa’s corpse? Does his gossamer-thin face warmer belie a sad truth about his character: a proud warrior, past his prime, too old to join in the fight against Communism and aliens but pitiably clinging to his last remaining participation badge by desperately shouting, “Hey guys, I have a mustache too”? Is this the decaying shadow of former glory? Did Sting’s “Fields of Gold” play in his mind when he trimmed it?
Or is it a bold power move? According to modern philosopher and 9-11/moon landing truther Marion Cotillard in The Dark Knight Rises, it is the slow knife which cuts the deepest. It took me nearly half my life to spot the shimmering, nigh-invisible wraith on R.G. Armstrong’s face. I cannot conceive of a slower knife than that. Somewhere, deep in his old, useless bones, General Phillips knew that his weird combover-adjacent mustache would have the last laugh. “I may be lost in a sea of beefcakes now, in the year 1987,” he arguably said to himself. “But years from now, in the year 2022 to be exact, people on something called ‘the internet’ will revisit this day and finally notice me. They’ll see me for the grand peacock that I am and raise their voices in unison to ask the universe a single unanswerable question: ‘What the fuck is on that guy’s face?’”
Flinging the Predator DVD into my compatible playback device like a Busey-sectioning smart disc and discovering that ethereal nose cape for the first time was like stumbling into an unexpected summer romance on a riverboat gambling cruise with your legal guardians. Never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted it. It’s like doing a word search on the back of a cereal box and accidentally decoding a message from the Zodiac killer. In a movie about an invisible demon on safari, the real apparition was the powdered sugar landing strip painted on this wizened old soldier’s leathery face. I award War Grandpa’s insidious mustache with 17 salutes from Carl Weathers’ severed arm, on a scale of zero to whatever number I just wrote.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme, John Dean: Who also has a secret mustache and you will never guess where.