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Nightmare Fuel / The Terminator

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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. Fitting, as said movie was inspired by a nightmare.

WARNING: Spoilers are unmarked.

  • Hell, the theme can inspire fear because there's something so primal about it. CHNKCHNK CHNK CHNKCHNK. CHNKCHNK CHNK CHNKCHNK. CHNKCHNK CHNK CHNKCHNK. CHNKCHNK CHNK CHNKCHNK.
  • Of all the films in the Terminator series, this one feels like a genuine horror film. The Terminator'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 Terminator, 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.
  • 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 left 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).
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    • 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 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 Terminator 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 Terminator is a gun that kills people of its own volition.
  • 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.
    Kyle: 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!
    • 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. Nowhere is safe while it's still walking around.
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    • When the Terminator kills the first Sarah Connor, it pumps a few more bullets into her corpse. Think about that for a moment; This thing is fully aware that its target might play dead in the hopes it would leave them alone and it's not taking any chances.
  • The two scenes of the Terminator tending to its battle injuries after Reese and Sarah are taken into police custody.
    • First, one hand isn't working right, so it 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 Terminator calmly reaching in to tinker with the pistons underneath controlling its finger movements. And the whirring noises of the pistons show the Terminator'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 preprogrammed 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 Terminator 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.
  • 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 Terminator were 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 Terminator, 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 theme from Terminator 2 (itself an already disturbing theme) and synchronized it with the above mentions 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 knew deep down that he was telling the truth.
  • Before Sarah's dream in Judgment Day stole the spotlight as the reigning king of Nightmare Fuel in the Terminator series, the future war scenes fill that role. These scenes featured a destroyed city-scape 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 base of La Résistance. 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 Terminator 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 Terminator is run over by a truck, he is left with a limp, optical damage, and even more flesh wounds. He then proceeds to incapacitate the driver, get into the truck...and slowly turns over to the passenger.
    Terminator: ...Get out.
    Passenger: [obliges, panicking]
    • And keep in mind: This is the kindest thing the Terminator 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 dead...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 calve, 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 skeleton 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 Terminator 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, motors damaged beyond repair and flesh destroyed. 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 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 and is fused with a fire hydrant, suffering a horrible and agonizing death in the process.


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