PG Cooper’s Movie of the Month: The Terminator (1984)

Posted: October 30, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Movie of the Month, PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

*This review contains SPOILERS!


Release date: October 26th, 1984

Running time: 1 hour and 48 minutes

Written by: James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, and William Wisher Jr.

Directed by: James Cameron

Starring: Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger

So it’s October, and I wanted to review a horror film for my “Movie of the Month”. Of course, a few of the classic horror films jumped to mind. The Exorcist, The Shining, and Halloween were the main films I considered covering. Unfortunately for me much more well prepared bloggers have already covered those films. I figured I should do something different; a horror movie that no one else (that I know of) had reviewed for this Halloween season. I found my horror film in The Terminator.

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is a young woman living in Los Angeles. She lives an honest and mundane life, working as a waitress. Her world is destroyed however when she finds herself being hunted by The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a cyborg from the future sent back to kill Sarah. Her only hope is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), another entity from the future. Reese informs Sarah that he is a soldier from the future who’s been sent back to protect her. Sarah is a target because her unborn son John Connor will grow up to become the leader of the human resistance fighting the machines.

Some people are probably scowling now, saying, “The Terminator isn’t a horror movie!” Well, I think it is. I’ve argued why before, and I’ll quickly reiterate those points now. The film has a very chilling atmosphere and dark cinematography which evoke a horror feel. The structure is also very reminiscent of a slasher film. An evil and unstoppable force of death seeks to kill a young woman. On his path of destruction he brutally kills several others. The Terminator himself even wears a mask, though in this case the mask is an actual face. Like all slasher villains, every time you think he’s dead, he returns. Look at the climax to The Terminator; a young woman is in a frantic final showdown with her would be assailant, desperately trying to survive. Sounds like the climax to a slasher film, doesn’t it?

Is The Terminator your typical classic horror film? No, of course not, but the elements are certainly there. Whether you agree that the film is a horror or not doesn’t matter. In truth, finding a horror film was a secondary goal for me. Finding a great film was what was truly important, and The Terminator is a great film.

The film’s premise alone is brilliant. An assassin from the future. It’s a simple idea but one that’s been reused and morphed time and time again since The Terminator. The film’s story also handles a lot of heavy and interesting themes, particularly the advancement of technology and the dangers of nuclear warfare. In that respect, the film is very similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike 2001 however, one does not need to appreciate these themes to appreciate the film. The film works on several other levels. Probably the most blatant is just how cool the film is. The Terminator futures time travel, action, excitement, and a badass killer cyborg that can’t be stopped. That’s pretty awesome.

Another element I really admire about the film is the romance. As Kyle attempts to save Sarah from The Terminator, he and Sarah fall in love. It may seem strange, odd, or even rushed that in a film about a killer cyborg there’s also a tragic love story. But there is one, and it works very well. Despite they’re short time together, the love story feels real and believable, especially when you consider the characters. The men in Sarah’s life seem uncommitted and shallow, and don’t last long. You get the impression she’s never had anyone in her life really loyal to her. In comes Kyle Reese, a stranger from the future whom she knows for a very brief period of time. And yet Reese is willing to put down his life for her. That’s far more dedication than anyone else had ever shown her. For Kyle, Sarah is someone who saved his life a long time ago. She taught John the skills that allowed him to lead the human resistance and give people like Reese a fighting chance. Kyle also comes from a life of misery, fear, and pain. Sarah represents courage, heart, and strength, the very traits he would like to have.

The lead actors are all great. Michael Biehn gives Reese the appropriate amount of badassery a soldier from the future should have, but he brings the role a bit more too. Biehn has a look of a man who has seen and lived through true terrors. He looks at the world he’s found himself in with weary eyes. Linda Hamilton is also great as Sarah Connor. She brings the innocence to the screen well and I also think she handles Sarah’s arc from innocent girl to hardened soldier very well. The two play off each other well and both characters are very likable. In fact, most of the cast is really likable. Even the small parts are filled with talented actors like Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen, Bill Paxton, and Dick Miller. All of these actors are able to give their characters a lot of life. Not that the minor characters are completely three-dimensional, but they have personalities and are likable. This likability gives the film much more tension.

Finally, there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. I love Arnold, and I always have, but he isn’t exactly great actor. Very few of his characters are truly iconic, but The Terminator is of course, the exception. Quiet, simple, menacing, and unstoppable, the T-800 is one of the greatest villains in the history of cinema. The Terminator is a character who shows no remorse and is truly scary. This isn’t a character that will wait around or have fun with its victims. The Terminator will simply kill its target any way it can. This is what makes him so scary; its logical and unrelenting nature. Schwarzenegger is great in the role and the film really turned him into an icon.

The film also features some amazing scenes. I love the future scenes which depict the war against the machines, and the police station shootout is one of my favourite scenes in any film. Of course, some people criticize the effects and technical details. The thing is, while you can tell the effects aren’t seamless, I do admire them. All of the effects were physically done using other models, minatures, rear projection, puppetry, and stop motion. I like seeing how the James Cameron and the effects team put everything together. It’s also to important to consider the film had a pretty low budget and for them to pull off what they did is pretty astounding.

The Terminator is one of my all time favourite films, and James Cameron’s first masterpiece. It works as intelligent science fiction, exciting action, tense thriller, tragic love story, and yes, as a dark horror film. It’s got almost everything you could want from a motion picture. Whether you’re looking for an unconventional horror film this Halloween season or you just want to see a great film, The Terminator is the way to go.

Rating: A+


Other Great Movies

  1. Chris says:

    Like any slasher film could hold a candle to this classic!

  2. Thomas Bond says:

    Fantastic article!

  3. brikhaus says:

    I never considered this a horror movie until now. But you are definitely right. A cold, calculating, nigh-indestructible robot from the future is chasing you, and won’t stop until you are dead. Yeah, that is pretty horrifying.

  4. I’d certainly be willing to call this a horror movie; it uses a lot of the standard horror tropes. Good review, PG.

  5. I completely agree with you about this being a horror movie. I never really thought about it before but good job!

  6. I tend to be a little OCD regarding my categorization, so I’ll just say not on board with the Terminator as a “Horror Movie”. Was it a scary watch as a first time viewer? Sure… yeah. Definitely.

    Aside from that, nice write up of a great flick. Great pick for a MOTM

  7. CMrok93 says:

    Good review PG. This is a great pick for Movie of the Month because it’s just one of the best sci-fi movies of all-time, even if it is a bit corny in some parts. Then again, that’s all 80’s movie and I guess it sort of comes with what the product.

  8. I’m part terminator (and part alien and part human) Please remember those films only show us as stereotypes. Most of us are normal folks, not killers!

  9. ckckred says:

    This was one of my favorite films as a kid and still holds up today. One of the best sci-fi films ever made. Nice review.

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