Sci-fi, horror collide in 'Predators'

Bacon and eggs. Stripes and solids. Lennon and McCartney. All perfect matches. And at the multiplex, there's at least one combo that can't be beat:

Science fiction and horror.

That's right. If you're looking for a solid case of the creepy-crawlies, nothing tops a flick in which some extraterrestrial slime thing is chasing a humanoid around a space ship, isolated Earth outpost or hostile planet. Like in "Predators," opening Friday, in which killer Earthlings are dropped on a distant orb and find that they're nothing more than chum for some nasty-looking ETs.

The "Predator" movies are "an evolution out of 'Alien'; the difference is that 'Predator' is us," says Scott Allie, editor of the "Predators" comic book series. "'Alien' is just a killing machine, and we don't presume it has any intelligence. The Predator is more physically dangerous than us, and they might be more resourceful. They do what we do, and they might be better than us."

"There are a lot of things (the Predators do) that compare to us," says "Predators" director Nimrod Antal. "They take trophies, which make them materialists. In our film, we explore another facet of the predator universe, and that is predators killing predators. And as human beings, we are really great at killing one another. They also hunt, which taps into our most primordial common denominator."

In other words, they might be a little like us, but the Predator is one scary off-worlder. And the feeling we're up against an implacably hostile alien force we can't communicate with is at the core of sci-fi horror.

Certainly that's been the case since 1898, when H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" jump-started the genre. In that book, Martians arrive on Earth, destroy everything they see and are only defeated when they prove defenseless not against our man-made weapons, but Earthborn viruses.

Science fiction and horror "both deal with the unknown, and science fiction tries to show the unknown within a rational framework," says Rob Latham, editor of the scholarly Journal of Science Fiction Studies. "Horror tends to push it in the direction of the unknown that's menacing or horrible. Some of the most famous science-fiction novels have horror elements to them."

But sci-fi horror is not just about terror. Ever since what is arguably the first science-fiction novel, "Frankenstein," which deals with issues like what it means to be human, the sci-fi-horror combo has also served as a metaphor for our deepest fears and desires. In the 1950s, for example, post-bomb concerns translated into a distrust of science, as seen in movies like "Them!" (giant mutated ants) and "Godzilla" (another atomic mutant).

Like the "Alien" series, the "Predator" films play with metaphor. The first, released 12 years after the end of the Vietnam War, takes place "in the jungle, and we're fighting an enemy we can't see," says Eric Rabkin, author of "Mars: A Tour of the Human Imagination." "During this time, Americans have started to pay real attention to what was going on in Vietnam. By the time we get to 'Predator,' we have seen footage of troops walking around and not knowing what hit them."

But, Antal says, the appeal of the Predator is more elemental than a military metaphor. "When we sit down and say, 'Let's make a list of monsters,' vampires, zombies and werewolves are forever on that list," he says. But after seeing the first "Predator" film, it was obvious "We were in the midst of a classic. We had seen a monster step in, introduce himself and forever take his place in the monster rogues gallery."