Game Design, Gamification, Learning Design and Assorted Other Strangeness

The Terminator as a Horror Monster

Reflections Noel Carroll‘s Philosophy of Horror.

The Terminator seems to be an ideal candidate for being a horror monster under Carroll’s conception. It is clearly threatening and physically dangerous. It fulfills the concept of being impure as it is a fusion of two incompatible cognitive categories, being both a machine and man at the same time. Finally it is a thing which does not occur in the nature of the world in which he is presented (at least not yet.) Why then does it not inspire horror from the start? And possibly more importantly, when does it become horrific?

The problem that the Terminator has in the beginning, is the lack of reactions of the characters around it. The thugs make fun of him and then threaten him, not showing any revulsion to contact with him. He successfully acquires weapons without the shop owner becoming suspicious or having a negative reaction. Finally the police and Rece’s responses are to attack. Thus, the audience is not being cued to view It as a reviled figure. It is established that the monster is dangerous and efficient, but it is not horrific.

Oddly enough in the novelization by Randall Frakes, there is a sequence where the driver of the garbage truck has the traditional reaction to a horror monster to the appearance. He becomes convinced that the thing is too perfect (thus fulfilling the beyond nature component) and he flees from it uncontrollably. This establishes a darker tone to the novelization than the movie.

The next problem is that, while the terminator is categorically interstitial, the audience is not truly confronted with this. At least that is until the scene in which the monster is truly revealed. When the Terminator is treating its damage and removes its eyeball, it triggers the audience revulsion reaction as the monster is suddenly both undeniably a fusion between two categories, but it is now also incomplete, which can act as another revulsion trigger.

A tonal shift in the film occurs from this point forward. Before this, the characters were standing their ground or directly attacking. Now the emphasis is on escape, with a clear disgust at the figure that is chasing them best seen in the final sequence as Sarah Connor is trying to keep the machine from even touching her.  

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