The horror and sci-fi genres are home to some of the most memorable characters in cinematic history, and sometimes, they never have to show the actor’s face. "The Last Starfighter" director Nick Castle became a horror legend when he first donned the white mask of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s "Halloween," and stuntman Kane Hodder became synonymous with Jason Voorhees after playing the hockey-mask wearing slasher in four "Friday the 13th" films. Chances are, if an actor is the first or most storied performer of an iconic monster, they are beloved by generations as new audiences are introduced to their work. This month saw the release of "Prey," with the prequel film becoming the seventh feature film in the "Predator" franchise. The film debuted 35 years after the debut installment, which took an action-packed approach to sci-fi horror and introduced one of the greatest creature characters in cinematic history.
The original Predator was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. The Yautja alien from another world stood at an otherworldly height, armed with technological weapons beyond our wildest dreams, and with a face that would inspire nightmares for decades. The original choice to play the beast was an at-the-time unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme, who exited the project during the early stages of production when the Predator costume was still a laughable mess and impossible to work in. Following a complete character redesign, Van Damme was replaced by the 7′ 2" Kevin Peter Hall, who would reprise the role in "Predator 2."
Who is Kevin Peter Hall?
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the gargantuan Hall was born into a very tall family, with his father, brothers, and even his mother all surpassing six feet in height. Naturally, his tall stature pushed him toward a career in athletics, playing basketball for both Penn Hills High School and George Washington University where he studied theatrical arts. Shortly after obtaining his degree, Hall moved to Venezuela to play professional basketball for a time, before heading back to the states to pursue his true dream of becoming an actor. Hall’s first role came in 1979 in the horror film "Prophecy," where he played the deformed grizzly bear Katahdin, paving the way for a successful career in monster suits.
Hall’s follow-up performance was as an alien in the 1980 sci-fi horror film "Without Warning," and he made his non-creature suit debut in the Tom McLoughlin teen horror film "One Dark Night" two years later. That same year, Hall stepped into a creature character role once again as Gorvil, the Dungeons & Dragons-esque antagonist of the television movie "Mazes and Monsters," which is also the film where Tom Hanks made his leading performance debut. Hall would pop up in random guest spots on TV from time to time, before landing a starring role as Dr. Elvin "El" Lincoln on the short-lived superhero fantasy sci-fi drama, "Misfits of Science."
After the embarrassing results of the first Predator suit, legendary creature designer Stan Winston was brought in to craft the look of the new alien. He specifically designed the suit with the intention of casting the tallest actor they could find, which made Kevin Peter Hall’s 7′ 2" frame the perfect fit. The year prior to "Predator," Hall was cast to play the titular role in "Monster in the Closet," which required him to perform in a hulking suit that depended on body language to effectively scare audiences. Around the same time, Hall would don the lovable sasquatch suit for "Harry and the Hendersons," another role that could only work with dedicated physical acting.
Hall was more than capable of playing the Predator, and his history as an athlete only worked to his benefit. Considering the world was not designed with such height in mind, tall individuals often have difficulty with their mobility. This was not the case with Hall, who could effortlessly terrorize the cast and audiences alike with his body language. Hall’s background in theater studies provided him with dance and mime training, which is why the Predator is able to stalk its prey with ease. "Even though the role was totally non-verbal and totally physical, I saw some great acting possibilities that would encompass pronounced gestures and what I call silent acting," he was quoted as saying. Hall delivers one of the all-time great creature performances as the Predator, able to emote the character’s thoughts and feelings to the audience without ever having to say a word.
Gone too soon
Unfortunately, Kevin Peter Hall’s story does not have a happy ending. He would return to play the alien creature in "Predator 2" as well as reprise his titular role in the "Harry and the Hendersons" TV series. He also played Warren Merriweather on the sitcom "227," where he met co-star and eventual wife Alaina Reed Hall ("Sesame Street," "Cleghorne!"). Tragically, Kevin Peter Hall contracted HIV following a blood transfusion, and passed away of AIDS-related complications in 1991, just a year following the release of "Predator 2." Kevin Peter Hall had the makings of being cinema’s premier creature performer, and was on his way to spawning a career like that of Doug Jones ("The Shape of Water," "Pan’s Labyrinth," "Hocus Pocus") or Javier Botet ("Slender Man," "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark," "REC"). Hall was a remarkable talent lost too soon, but will be remembered forever for his immeasurable contribution to the world of physical acting as the Predator.