Ginger Nuts of Horror
Given the existence of toy lines inspired by films such as Alien, Terminator, Robocop and even the “video nasty,” Mary Whitehouse-baiting Evil Dead, it was perhaps inevitable that Predator would inspire likewise.
In many respects, the sister franchise to the previously explored Alien range, there is a degree of overlap between the two, with “Xenomorph Hunter” Predators featuring largely, as well as various offshoots and permutations distinct to the range.
As was toy manufacturer Kenner's wont, the Predator toys are exquisitely detailed and imaginatively conceived; every effort made to infuse the line with a degree of variety; to build upon or extrapolate from cues in the original Predator design or throw-away references in the films.
As such, alongside your classic hunter and warrior Predators, you had toys inspired by the Predator's cloaking device, fashioned from translucent or luminescent plastic, Predators with variations in weaponry, armour and equipment, all of them calculated to stay true to the established aesthetic and ethos of the Predator race, as established in films, comics etc, whilst also providing enough variety in the line to make it collectible.
Most of the Predators came with their own sets of gimmicks, from firing missiles, grappling hooks, capture nets etc, as well as a whole range of accessories (including fairly gory items inspired by the films, such as human skulls with spines still attached, bone fetishes etc). Much of their variety derives from peculiar skin patterns, peculiar styles and fragments of armour, cloaks of animal hide...even peculiar configurations of their mandibles, dreadlocks etc. My particular favourite as a child (and the first in the line I ever owned) was dubbed the “Lava Planet Predator;” a figure of translucent red plastic that looked to be formed from molten hot lava, with areas that had solidifed and become black. It's an excellent example of how the line attempted to vary the core Predator design and concept, as well as enhance their background and mythology somewhat: though brief, the biographies on the backs of their blister packs suggest that there are numerous clans and tribes of Predator in operation around the universe; that any core homeworld or coherent civilisation has long since been lost or forgotten. The Predators adapt quite quickly to whatever environments they find themselves in, both organically and in terms of their equipment, clothing, modus operandi etc.
As a child, these splinters of story and back mythology were captivating, and sent my imagination into overdrive: I distinctly recall fairly elaborate games woven around these figures, exploring where they came from, what planets they eventually found themselves on; what game they specialised in hunting.
Inevitably, the line later diversified into an Alien Vs. Predator sub-release, which consisted of packs containing both alien-hunting Predators and varieties of Xenomorph (most of which were variations on the classic, anthropomorphic or human-born species). This particular part of the line is fairly limited, the Predators available little more than plastic renditions of the classic monster portrayed in the original film. For that, the figures are highly detailed and well produced, ommitting no detail with regards to the audience at which they are marketed.
This line, whilst quite popular, was extremely short lived, consisting of a handful of fairly truncated waves before filtering out. Even so, the series is fondly remembered, particularly amongst adult toy collectors and the figures are much sought after in complete state on Ebay.
Later, other toy companies would pick up the Predator label and produce far more elaborate, detailed figures that are aimed squarely at adult collectors; collectible figurines of far, far higher quality than the original toys, which were designed for play and the rough and tumble of children's games. These figures are insanely elaborate and fantastically detailed, not to mention articulated in ways that toys produced in the era of the original line simply could not be, owing to limitations in technology and production budgets. Most toya produced in these lines are simply renditions of the original Predator from the classic film and its sequel, boasting little in the way of invention or variety, but making up for it in terms of raw quality.
Like the Alien, the Predator has maintained an enduring place in cultural consciousness and a consequent impassioned following; a cursory examination of ebay or toy collecting comunities will turn up results of not one or two lines, but a host of them, from isolated projects specialising in a single, all singing, all dancing, exquisitely rendered figurine to those that take their cues from the original, child-oriented line and swell the mythology and variety of the creature beyond any original bounds.
For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s, for whom creatures like the Predator, the Alien and their contemporaries were as familiar as Optimus Prime, Cobra Commander and any numberof ostensibly “child friendly” toy ranges, the creature represents something even more especial; a touchstone with our own developing imaginations, when they were first exposed to ideas and images of the horrific, the bizarre and the monstrous. For many of us, the Predator was one of our earliest beloved movie monsters; a creature whose design is seared into our memories and informs the states of our imaginations.
For there to exist toy lines that tap into that association is little short of genius, and sadly a phenomena that is becoming much rarer, as concerns regarding children's exposure to horrific material become more pervasive.