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Nightmare Fuel / The Terminator

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"Now listen! And understand. That Terminator is out there! It can't be bargained with, it can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!"
Kyle Reese

Behold, the very film that propelled James Cameron to stardom, and the one that left millions terrified of homicidal robots and A.I. to this day. Ironically, said movie was inspired by a nightmare of his.

WARNING: Spoilers are unmarked.

  • Of all the films in the Terminator series, this one feels like a genuine horror film. The T-800's relentless attacks are made even more terrifying by the fact that the protector is just a man, not another Terminator. The movie starts with a strong Serial Killer vibe, and the entire thing is basically part Slasher Movie. One of the last scenes is the T-800, now with its legs blown off, crawling towards Sarah in one last attempt to kill her. Even when being crushed, it makes a last-ditch effort to strangle her.
    • If you ever get the chance to read the script, it's written like it's a horror film. The death of Sarah's roommate is a footnote in the film and a moment of sheer gut-wrenching terror in the script.
  • Hell, Brad Fiedel's theme can inspire fear because there's something so primal about it. CHNKCHNK CHNK CHNKCHNK. CHNKCHNK CHNK CHNKCHNK. CHNKCHNK CHNK CHNKCHNK. CHNKCHNK CHNK CHNKCHNK. T2's more famous and arguably more accessible theme is written in 12/8, which is basically a variation of classic 6/8, but the original's is in 13/8. It's not immediately noticeable on the first hearing, but that extra tick in the rhythm creates an auditory Uncanny Valley sensation, a sense that there's just something "off."
  • The beginning, where the T-800 gets into an unintentional fight with several thugs. One of them stabs the cyborg who, in response, rips the thug's heart out, covering its right arm with blood. The surviving thug, knowing that he is next, decides to do what he's told, giving his clothes to it.
    • The T-800 doesn't just rip the guy's heart out; it punches through the guy's ribcage, grabs him, and lifts him into the air before dropping the poor bastard (which may be a bit familiar to 90s video game fans).
    • Arnold Schwarzenegger's utter lack of expression is unsettling, particularly without the trademark sunglasses. It's most notably shown when the T-800 starts parroting the thugs' mocking comments without even shifting an eye to them. It wasn't even talking to them; it was just assessing their mode of speech. They were never speaking to another human being and realized it too late when the T-800 did speak to them directly.
    • Because the T-800 looks relatively human, even in its endoskeleton form, it's easy to forget what it really is: A computer. It's not a villain in the traditional sense, because it's just a weapon that Skynet made. It kills because that is what it is supposed to do. There's no malice (no real malice, anyway), no sadism, no evil, nothing than what its master programmed it with. All it knows is that it is supposed to kill Sarah Connor and let no one stop it. It's fulfilling its programming, no more, no less.
      • The T-800 is indeed just a weapon, but a weapon driven by a cold, ruthless intelligence which kills because that is literally what it exists for. The saying goes that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." The T-800 is a gun that kills people of its own volition.
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  • When Sarah learns that every "Sarah Connor" in the phone book is being systematically murdered and she's next, she turns around to notice a man leering at her. He has absolutely nothing to do with the film, and isn't even a Red Herring as the audience knows exactly who's after her at this point. He's just a random creepy extra. But Sarah doesn't know that. All she knows is that she's being targeted, and she has no idea who it is.
  • The fact that Reese is not even remotely joking, exaggerating, or lying when he says that a Terminator will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER stop trying to kill you. No matter how badly damaged it is, it will not falter. No matter how many times you escape, it will not give up. No matter how many times you put it down, it will not despair. From its activation to its total destruction, that thing is programmed to be your death. Reading the page quote will be enough for you to be terrified.
    • The scene in Tech Noir really drives home what makes the Terminator such a nightmarish adversary, even before Kyle delivers his speech. Sarah has just called the cops to tell them someone is following her, and Ed Traxler gives her advice and reassurances (that if she stays in a public place where lots of people can see her, no one can hurt her) that would, under normal circumstances, be very reasonable. However, the Terminator doesn't care about witnesses. It doesn't care about collateral damage or innocent civilians. It doesn't care about consequences. It exists for one purpose and one purpose only: To find its target and terminate them. Everything else is meaningless. If it sees you, it will try to kill you, right in the middle of a crowded room. It has as much a sense of self-preservation and consequences as a cruise missile. Nowhere is safe while it's still walking around.
    • The presentation of the scene itself is also truly terrifying: imagine yourself sitting at a bar all by yourself, minding your own business. Then this enormous, muscle bound person walks up to you with a stone cold stare, and suddenly they pull out a gun, cock it, and point it right at your head. It's something that can absolutely happen in real life. In the movie itself, the scene plays out in slow motion so the audience can truly understand and draw out the suspense; but it happens so fast in-universe that Sarah Connor doesn't even have time to react until after Kyle Reese shoots the Terminator with a shotgun.
    • The Tech Noir shootout sequence contains one of the film's most easily overlooked moments of horror. The T-800 shoots at Sarah with a fully-automatic weapon and does not miss; the only reason Sarah survives is because an anonymous terrified clubber accidentally serves as her Human Shield.
    • Capping off Kyle's description of the Terminator, Sarah finally seems to believe him, and asks in meek terror "Can you stop it?" Kyle sighs dejectedly. "I don't know. With these weapons. . . I don't know." There are certainly weapons that exist in 1984 that can destroy a Terminator, but Sarah and Kyle do not have access to them. And what they do have access to is wholly inadequate for the task demanded of them. Every time the Terminator is fought, it proves Kyle's fears: almost nothing they can scrounge, steal, or construct has the potential to stop this thing. And that's before we see how truly indestructible it is at the police station. . .
  • This was the movie that helped make James Cameron's career, so it's likely that there was never a plan for the sequel, even if Cameron had ideas about how he'd like to continue the story which is why there is such a difference between this movie and the subsequent ones. The biggest difference is that the flesh shell of the T-800 was heavily implied to be temporary and something that could be applied to any T-800. Unlike later versions which had even more Artistic License – Biology by having the flesh shell capable of regeneration even if only gradually, this version of the T-800 is more realistic in that the flesh covering degrades, dies, and decays over time as there isn't a system of organs, circulatory system, or fuel intake (i.e., eating food) that would allow the organic parts to survive long-term or heal and rebuild. As the T-800 gains more injuries over the course of the film, it goes from being indistinguishable from human to resembling an undead Revenant Zombie. While the T-800 can slow this degeneration by applying some first aid, it's implied that, eventually, the whole flesh covering will die and rot off. Some notable scenes conveying this effect:
    • First, one hand isn't working right, so the T-800 placidly starts cutting its arm open to get at the endoskeleton beneath. We're thankfully spared the sight of it, but the close-up shots of bloodied implements as well as the sounds of flesh being cut and peeled all builds up to the sight of its arm opened, and the T-800 calmly reaching in to tinker with the pistons underneath controlling its finger movements. And the whirring noises of the pistons show the T-800's robotic nature, as it was designed specifically to terminate by being disguised as a human. Even a minor injury like this won't prevent the machine from completing its pre-programmed objectives. Then, staring into a mirror, it confirms that one organic eye has been badly damaged by the car crash. So, mildly, it takes up a scalpel and gouges the eye out, dropping it into a sink full of blood-tainted water. We then get a nice close-up of the hellish, burning-red cybernetic lens in the now-exposed socket. The T-800 looks itself over impassively, then reaches for a set of sunglasses to cover it up. It almost seems to preen itself before judging the disguise acceptable, then grabs its shotgun and assault rifle, and heads off to the police station.
    • After taking much more damage, the next day in the motel room it's using as a hideout, the T-800 has a very pale complexion, and there isn't any evidence of blood in its exposed eye, implying that, due to the shootout and damage to the flesh covering, the organic parts bled out and now the whole thing is quickly dying, which is confirmed by the flies gathering on its face and the janitor of the building even commenting on the foul smell like a dead animal. It's horrifying to think about the fact that this machine is now walking around covered in rotting dead flesh. Not to mention the T-800 is essentially on an accelerated deadline to kill Sarah, otherwise its skin disguise will rot off its endoskeleton, and the T-800 will stand out like a sore thumb anywhere it goes.
    • The Terminator companion novel does give an explanation as to why the skin rots. The T-800 has an organic heart in its chest cavity, the only real organ it has in its entire body, for the purpose of pumping blood into the skin. The novel explains that when Kyle fired all of those shotgun rounds dead center into the T-800's chest, they ruptured the heart and thus blood was no longer being pumped into the skin. While later movies are presumably forgetting this was even a thing, it's possible that the T-800 and T-850 from T2 and T3 weren't given the chance to rot because they sacrificed themselves before it could happen.
  • The police station rampage. It really drives home how unstoppable the T-800 is, especially when the police break out the big guns and still get mowed down like grass.
    • Arguably the most chilling element of this is how strongly the destroyed police station resembles the massacred human bunker in the future, almost as if the T-800 was remaking the past in the image of its present in a sort of inverse of History Repeats.
    • Especially unsettling is how terrified the police are that nothing they do is killing the T-800, and how quickly they fall into a panic when they see the futility of resisting. By the time it's over, nobody remains to stop the T-800.
    • Someone took the time to place the T-1000's theme from T2 (itself an already disturbing theme) and synchronized it with the above-mentioned police station rampage. This makes it worse, as now a Drone of Dread permeates the scene, all while the T-800 continues to slaughter police officers that barely nick it.
    • Reese's rant to Dr. Silberman and the police officers about the T-800 is disturbing:
      • You could tell in that moment as she's watching Kyle on the monitor going off directly at the surveillance camera, Sarah knows deep down that he is telling the truth.
  • Before Sarah's dream in T2 stole the spotlight as the reigning king of Nightmare Fuel in the Terminator series, the future war scenes fill that role. These scenes feature a destroyed cityscape washed with blue moonlight, and massive tower-like tanks rolling over human skulls scattered around like debris.
    • Later on comes Kyle's flashback of a Terminator attack on a Resistance base. The door guards let a group of refugees into the shelter when, suddenly, one of them throws up his garments to reveal a massive gun. Before anyone can react, the cyborg opens fire on the soldiers, as well as on women, children, and guard dogs. Kyle attempts to fight back, but an explosion knocks him to the ground, sending his photograph of Sarah into the inferno. As he watches it burn, he gazes up to see the silhouette of the Terminator, eyes burning fiendishly red as it continues methodically gunning people down.
      • It's worth remembering that unlike the cops in the police station before, the Resistance soldiers were clearly better prepared. They only open the door to people who are able to identify themselves, the door itself is equipped with a circular opening closable from the inside through which you can fire, the guard post has heavy weaponry and dogs to sniff out infiltrating Terminators, and the soldiers' weapons are more advanced than those of the police officers... And in the end, it still wasn't enough.
    • Never mind Reese's female Resistance cohort in the future battle scenes, who comes out of cover for a moment to fire back at the advancing Terminators and is blasted apart by an energy weapon. Most action movies would stop there, but the film actually cuts back to Kyle's despairing face as he sees yet another of his friends mown down.
    • The way Kyle describes the Bad Future he came from and the recurring nightmares he suffers from show that he clearly suffers from PTSD.
      Sarah: Reese. Why me? Why does [the T-800] want me?
      Kyle: There was a nuclear war. A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it's gone. Just gone. There were survivors. [loads up shotgun] Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines, Sarah.
      Sarah: I don't understand.
      Kyle: Defense network computers. New... powerful... hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination.
      Sarah: Did you see this war?
      Kyle: No. I grew up after. In the ruins, starving, hiding from H-K's.
      Sarah: H-K's?
      Kyle: Hunter-Killers: patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put into camps for orderly disposal. [pulls up his right sleeve, exposing a mark] This is burned in by laser scan. Some of us were kept alive to work, loading bodies. The disposal units ran night and day. We were that close to going out forever.
  • The scene where Sarah is talking to her mother, before it's revealed that it's actually the T-800 using her mother's voice. It even does a good impersonation of a concerned parent!
    • The buildup to the reveal is also unsettling, as you see increasing signs that there was some sort of struggle at her mother's house.
  • A very subtle detail occurs as the film progresses. Although the T-800 is not fully destroyed until the end, it takes moderate damage over the course of the film; its flesh coating is slowly injured, and its endoskeleton also receives minor damage. Slowly but surely, it accumulates a collection of injuries and scars that slowly deform it, making it look ever more menacing as time passes. It is especially noticeable at the climax, when it has been reduced to half a metal skeleton...and yet still continues to pursue its prey.
  • And now the context behind the page image: After the T-800 is run over by a truck, it is left with a limp, optical damage, and even more flesh wounds. It then proceeds to incapacitate the driver, get into the truck...and slowly turns over to the passenger.
    T-800: ...Get out.
    Passenger: [obliges, panicking]
    • And keep in mind: This is the kindest thing the T-800 has done in the film, apart from not killing dogs.
  • The flesh-less, tissue-less metallic skeleton of the T-800 with glowing red pupils "rising like Death rendered in metal from the fires" of a burning wreck. James Cameron had a nightmare that inspired the entire franchise. It's even the Nightmare Fuel's trope picture, for goodness sake. Here, for nostalgia...
    • So Kyle just threw a pipe bomb in a tanker, and it causes a chain reaction that consumes the T-800 in a giant fireball. Surely it must be dead, right? You'd think so since it stumbles out of the truck, Wreathed in Flames that melt its skin right off its endoskeleton, and despite its attempts to fight through the flames, it just collapses. There's no real sense of relief or satisfaction that comes seeing this thing seemingly die. The music sounds like the demonic love child of Satan and the end of the world, as you see this metal demon wade through flames. And then on top of that, it gives a menacing Death Glare at Sarah as it's lying down on the ground, turning its exposed skull in Sarah's direction as flames come out of its mouth. That this still fails to kill the T-800 just makes the situation worse.
    • The Hope Spot also counts. Sarah and Kyle hug each other, believing that the T-800 is finally destroyed...and then in the background, it slowly rises from the debris. It then looks at the two with probably the closest a Slasher Smile a skull could ever get, and thus resumes its hunt. And aside from its skin burning off and having a damaged hydraulic on the back of its calf, it's still fine. Repeat; the damn thing just had a gas tanker blow up in its face, and the only damage inflicted that means anything is a sprained ankle.
      • It's worse than that. The damage done to the T-800's leg came from it getting hit by the tanker's cab and caught in the transmission as it was run over. The force of the explosion didn't do anything to it at all.
    • The T-800's endoskeleton is also animated in stop motion that clashes with the rest of the film.
      • Except for a single over-the-shoulder shot of the T-800 where it appears to lose its jerky movements and almost looks real, which is arguably worse than the stop motion.
  • The mere fact that the T-800 is seemingly unstoppable. True to Kyle's description, it looks like anything they do will NOT stop it. Shotgun blast that knocks it over? It takes a few seconds to get back up. Get it into a traffic wreck? It repairs itself and goes right back to the chase. Run it over with a truck, then blow the hell out of it? It stands back up, without its flesh or even full use of both legs. Even blow off its entire lower body? The screen screeches with a deafening Scare Chord as it reactivates to possibly the most nerve-shattering Jump Scare in history, as it slithers over Kyle's corpse like a gleaming metal scorpion to strangle the life out of Sarah with what little remains of its shattered form.
  • In the moments before the intact half of the T-800 wakes back up, Sarah is crying over Kyle's corpse. Right now, it still looks like it's all over, the Bittersweet Ending ready to set in. Behind Sarah, you see the chassis move, only slightly, but noticeably. Seconds before it happens, it hits you that she's still in grave danger.
  • In the first script draft for the film, Kyle wasn't the only human solider sent back in time, as another one named Sumner was sent in as well. Unfortunately for Sumner, he ends up materializing in a fire escape room ''fused'' with a fire hydrant, suffering a horrible and agonizing death in the process.
  • Even at the end, with the T-800 destroyed and Sarah victorious, there is no hope. The same Predestination Paradox that ensured John Connor's conception has also ensured that the nightmare vision glimpsed in Kyle's memory is going to happen. There's a storm coming. For all of us.