Unmasking The Terminator: Its True Nature as a Horror Film

1984's The Terminator is considered one of the best science fiction and action films of all time. 1428 Elm looks at why The Terminator is also a horror film with slasher elements that were common in the era it was released.
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The horror genre is arguably the most unique in cinema. What constitutes horror is in the eye of the beholder; what one may find scary, another will deem merely amusing. When one thinks of The Terminator franchise, explosions, action, and memorable one-liners come to mind. 

The franchise's first installment, James Cameron's 1984 classic The Terminator, includes explosions and one-liners. However, the film has as much in common with the horror-slasher subgenre as any other. 

The Terminator's timeline is set in 1984, with a cyborg humanoid robot sent back from a future where machines have taken over the earth and enslaved mankind. The killer cyborg known as a Terminator or T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is on a mission to kill the human resistance leader's mother, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Resistance soldier Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is also sent back in time to protect Connor from the Terminator

While the killer cyborg doesn't use a knife or purposely kill its victims in a different style each time, the Terminator uses guns instead of a knife. Guns make the most sense for the non-human killer to use as they are the most efficient at killing and almost always guarantee death. However, the type of weapon used is inconsequential. It is only the manner in which the Terminator uses them that matters. 

Linda Hamilton stars in Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures' "TERMINATOR: DARK FATE." /

Numerous familiar slasher-horror tropes can be found throughout the film. In Kyle Reese's famous speech to Sarah Connor, he emphatically states that the Terminator will stop at nothing to reach her. Reese describes the machine as an emotionless killer with one purpose: to find and dispose of Connor. In this sense, the Terminator is a robotic version of Halloween's Michael Myers. Its only clear motivation in its programming—an unstoppable force that is just as much a monster as it is a machine. 

There are similarities in some of the common elements that The Terminator uses compared to slasher films of the early 1980s. Sarah Connor is, by any definition, a quintessential 'final girl.' Her parents and friends are all killed, and in the end, she transforms from being timid to stopping the killer cyborg tormenting her. The death of Connor's friend Ginger and her boyfriend after having sex is standard for any slasher film. The fashion in which the kill is done is also typical for the slasher sub-genre. Ginger is oblivious to her boyfriend being killed while she listens to music while making a sandwich. 

The synth-style music by Brad Fiedel provides the film with the perfect aesthetic that encompasses a horror film of the 1980s. The way the music slows down when the T-800 is on screen, almost to the sounds of a giant's footsteps, ignites a feeling of dread for the viewer. Juxtaposing this with the faster-paced music when Reese is on screen helps differentiate between the two as human versus machine. 

There are also elements of body horror throughout The Terminator. Killers like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers wear masks, but the T-800's mask is its human skin covering its true robotic skeleton. One of the notable scenes in The Terminator is one where the T-800 is doing maintenance on itself, specifically on its eye. It's one of the first visual moments where the audience sees the machine behind the hulking man that they've witnessed commit murder after murder. 

There is even a sociopathic nature to the killer machine. After it kills Connor's parents, it impersonates the voice of her mother to gain information about her location. While the T-800's physical presence is certainly part of what makes the machine terrifying, the emotionless, never-ending desire to complete its mission is just as scary. 

Horror is often overlooked when it comes to awards such as the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards. With only a few expectations, such as 1973's The Exorcist, films like Seven or The Silence of the Lambs aren't usually considered horror films. The Terminator, a film that launched the careers of Cameron and Schwarzenegger, blends science fiction and action but also has its foundation laid in horror. 

Currently, there isn't any demand for another sequel in the Terminator franchise. Yet a return to its horror-slasher roots could be the key to bringing the series back to prominence.

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