12. The Terminator (1984)

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen

“The Terminator” is another movie that left an undeniably huge impression on me. There’s something compelling about artificial intelligence becoming sentient and deciding that man is too dangerous to be allowed to survive. Many of us have our own myths and theories about Judgment Day, whether it means the literal end of the world or just the end of everything which we hold dear. What’s generally accepted though is that Judgment Day is unstoppable; when it comes along, all we can do is prepare and hope we last the night.

Thanks to the all-together creepy as hell performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger (proof positive that spoken dialogue is not always needed in order to be effective as an actor), this movie had me checking around dark corners of my own house for some time after my first viewing. I was a small boy when I originally sat down to watch “The Terminator,” and it was also my first R-rated movie. But something else came out of that experience that wasn’t at first apparent, yet I should have seen coming. Nowadays, I can watch pretty much any kind of movie there is and they won’t even phase me, including the slasher film. Now, why on earth would I bring up that subgenre of horror here? That’s easy to explain.

In a slasher movie, you have the menacing soulless monster who rarely (if ever) says a word, and kills without any feelings of pity or remorse. There is a damsel in distress who the killer stalks and is the main objective of his bloody rampage. She is known as the “final girl.” Anyone else he comes across is little more than cannon fodder. Authority figures who show up are generally well-meaning, but utterly useless against the killer. They’re mostly cannon fodder, too. Most slasher movies make their killers superhuman, and so you shouldn’t be surprised to witness several moments where it appears as though the killer is dead/defeated, but then he gets right back up to continue the chase. You pretty much have to decapitate, blow up, disintegrate or crush the bad guy (possibly all of these things at once, just to be sure) in order for him to finally die. Does any of this sound familiar? Just add science fiction elements like time travel and cyborg technology, replace the knives with guns, and you’ve got “The Terminator.”

Linda Hamilton, as Sarah Connor, is your “final girl.” Sarah is naïve, innocent, and just a little clumsy. She lives in her own little world, and has not a clue of the horror that is descending upon her. Yet, it’s not her, but her unborn son John which the machines perceive as a threat. Following the Terminator into the past is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), sent by Sarah’s son to protect her. This is a plot element that’s generally uncharted by the slasher, although it’s not an uncommon story among sci-fi circles. Just ask Harlan Ellison, who was so convinced that his “Outer Limits” episode entitled “Soldier” had been plagiarized that he filed suit, and an acknowledgement of his works was added to the credits.

There have been other movies in the meantime which I’ve found disturbing and characters who make my blood run cold. A recent example of the latter is Javier Bardem’s performance as Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.” Absolutely chilling. But only one character from only one movie has ever legitimately scared me: Arnold Schwarzenegger as the title character in “The Terminator.”

  1. Ian Shuirr says:

    Nice man. Sequel is amazing too!

    • I agree. Robert Patrick is almost as creepy as the T-1000 as Arnold is here. If it weren’t for the cute crap between Arnold and John Connor, and the way too neatly wrapped up ending, T2 could well have been the better movie. I should probably stop right there, because I’m sure I’ll get around to a “Terminator 2” review sometime in the future.

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