1980’s-tacular. The tone present in this first Terminator film is unlike the rest of the other installments. It’s grungy, dirty, and sometimes horrifically violent. Set entirely over the course of 24 hours — the film is relentlessly paced, and the action scenes feel gritty, chaotic, and incredibly suspenseful; due to Cameron’s deliberate direction, this all works wonderfully. Never does the film feel unfocused.
Career starters for everyone! Everyone in the cast gives pretty believable performances, especially when putting into account how silly the material is (we’ll get into that later). Linda Hamilton has a fantastic character arc in the middle of the film that goes from screaming damsel in distress, to strong female badass — something that becomes a returning staple in Cameron’s future films. Hamilton is extremely believable as this badass and since we can tell that it’s really her doing her own stunts, we as an audience root for her even more. Schwarzenegger is also really great here. At this point in his career, he still couldn’t speak English fluently and this is utilized extremely well as he’s sort of a hulking presence with only a few lines of dialogue — some of the most iconic and memorable lines in the entire film too.
Goofed up. There’s no denying the goofiness of the screenplay. It’s a silly premise (time-traveling cyborg) that could’ve been easily screwed up with tons of plot inconsistencies and possible plot holes, but due to everyone’s commitment to it (especially Cameron’s) and how fast-paced the film is, we don’t really have time to stop and look at it.
Gore galore! The practical effects done for the wounds and the Terminator itself are super fun as well, despite how low-budgeted the film was. Cameron doesn’t mind giving us the full picture and the camera doesn’t look away during the more gory sequences.