Orion Pictures
Orion Pictures

The Terminator: 30 Years Later

Orion Pictures
Orion Pictures

This Sunday will be the 30th anniversary of the release of the movie The Terminator. Outside of Sarah Connor’s hair and clothing, there’s not a lot in the film that indicates how old it is. Oh, there have been some advances in special effects, but anyone who is old enough to have seen The Terminator in a first-run theater probably doesn’t see any problem with that. Those effects were astounding at the time. But in 1984, the star-studded cast and crew weren’t as star-studded as they seem now. The success of the film changed their lives, some of them exponentially.

Linda Hamilton

Orion Pictures

At its heart, The Terminator was basically about three people: a good guy and a bad guy fighting over a girl. She was your average girl-next-door who became caught up in circumstances she didn’t understand. When you think about it, the terminator and Kyle Reese could have gone back to the past and found any girl, but that idea may lead to a headache. Bridget Fonda and Rosanna Arquette were considered for the role of Sarah Connor, but Linda Hamilton landed the role. Before The Terminator, Hamilton found fairly steady work in short-lived TV shows, little-seen feature films, and made-for-TV movies. As the passive member of the triangle, the role of Sarah Connor in 1984 didn’t do much for Hamilton’s career. She returned to off-and-on movie and TV work, with the most memorable role of the period being one of the title characters in the TV series Beauty and the Beast, which ran from 1987 to 1990, although Hamilton quit at the beginning of the third season to have a baby.

Orion Pictures

The biggest benefit from playing Sarah Connor in The Terminator for Hamilton was the opportunity to reprise the role in the 1991 sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In Terminator 2, Sarah Connor had transformed herself into a buff action hero, which surprised and delighted the audience. Hamilton worked out for months preparing for the role, dieted to lose weight, and took martial arts and weapons training from an Israeli commando. After Terminator 2, we expected Hamilton to leverage her performance to promote herself as an action hero, but instead, she returned to ensemble roles on TV movies and guest appearances on TV shows. What changed Hamilton’s life during Terminator 2 was that she started a romantic relationship with James Cameron.

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The actress and the director moved in together following his divorce from director Kathryn Bigelow. They had a daughter together in 1993. Cameron and Hamilton got married in 1997, despite his affair with Suzy Amis, who appeared in Cameron’s movie Titanic (and later became his fifth wife). Hamilton’s marriage to Cameron came to an end in 1999, and she was awarded a settlement of $50 million. Hamilton doesn’t need stardom.

James Cameron

Photograph by Towpilot.

When he came up with the idea for The Terminator, James Cameron had directed only one feature film, the forgettable Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)—and he was fired from that project. He was 26 years old and the majority of what he knew about filmmaking, he learned from Roger Corman. Cameron said the idea of The Terminator came to him in a dream, which he took to another Corman employee, Gale Ann Hurd. The two hashed out a storyline and agreed to do the movie together, with Hurd producing and Cameron directing. Both got the writing credit, although Cameron disputes that Hurd had any significant input. When you type “Who wrote The Terminator?” into Google’s search engine, the answer is Harlan Ellison, which is a whole other story. Ellison sued, saying The Terminator was taken from several of his TV scripts, and a settlement included adding him to the credits over Cameron’s objections. The Terminator cost $6.4 million to make, and made over $78 million in box office receipts. While a modest success, the movie was only the beginning of the Terminator franchise, which spawned four sequels (the next due in 2015), a TV show (The Sarah Connor Chronicles), video games, comic books, novels, and action figures and other merchandise.

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After The Terminator, James Cameron was able to pick and choose his projects, which became bigger with each blockbuster film he directed. They include Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar. He also got a wife: Cameron married The Terminator’s producer Gale Ann Hurd. That marriage lasted until 1989, after which he married director Kathryn Bigelow, then Terminator star Linda Hamilton in 1997, and Suzy Amis in 2000. The money that Cameron’s ever-bigger blockbusters brought in allowed him to indulge in his other passion: deep sea diving. He built and learned to operate submersible vehicles while filming Titanic. He then founded the company Earthship Productions to make deep-sea documentaries. In 2012, Cameron became the first person to reach the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, called the Challenger Deep, on a solo expedition (and only the third person to ever reach the bottom).

Michael Biehn

Orion Pictures

Michael Biehn, who played Kyle Reese in The Terminator, actually had quite a few acting credits going into the production. He was in several TV shows, then played a bit part in the 1978 musical Grease. A few movies followed, but he was mostly on TV, and played a recurring character on Hill Street Blues while The Terminator was in production. There were quite a few different actors considered for the role of Kyle Reese, but Cameron thought they were all too tough. Biehn had the humanity to pull off a love interest and the versatility to keep the audience in suspense as to his character’s intentions through the first half of the film. If you can think back to the first time you saw the movie, no one knew Reese was the hero for the first hour.

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After The Terminator, Cameron called upon Biehn again, for Aliens in 1986 and The Abyss in 1989. Strangely, Biehn’s hand was bitten in all three Cameron films. He was shot by Val Kilmer’s character Doc Holiday in the 1993 movie Tombstone. You might be forgiven for thinking that Biehn dropped off the face of the earth after those, but he has been working steadily in film ever since. You have to look for him; he doesn’t quite look like the teen idol he once was.

Gale Ann Hurd

Photograph by Towpilot.

The producer of The Terminator has less name recognition than the others on this list, but Gale Ann Hurd has plenty of accomplishments under her belt. She worked her way up the ladder at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, then formed Pacific Western Productions. The company’s first production was The Terminator, after she bought the rights from James Cameron for $1. The Terminator was a money maker, mainly because the budget was relatively low. Hurd said, “Success for us meant being able to make another movie. It didn’t mean box-office success or critical success—our goal was to be able to do it again. Anyone who doesn’t feel that way should not be in the business.”

Photograph by Angela George.

The success of The Terminator did exactly that: it allowed her to produce movies such as Aliens, Alien Nation, The Abyss, Tremors, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Armageddon, The Hulk, and a slew of other films. Hurd also married James Cameron in 1985, although they divorced in 1989. She was then married to Brian DePalma from 1991-93, and to screenwriter and director Jonathan Hensleigh since 1995. In 2010, Hurd landed a gig as executive producer of a new TV series called The Walking Dead. She’s been there for all 53 episodes so far. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Orion Pictures

Orion wanted the production to have a star, even though The Terminator was a relatively small-budget film. Orion chief Mike Medavoy suggested O.J. Simpson as the terminator. Cameron didn’t think it was a good idea to have a black man chasing a white woman down to kill her, and nobody would believe that O.J. could do that. This was in 1982, remember. Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for the role of Kyle Reese, but Cameron came to see him as the terminator. Not the terminator he had originally envisioned, but a better one. Schwarzenegger had made a few movies already, although the only film of note was Conan the Barbarian (its sequel, Conan the Destroyer was filmed during a break in The Terminator schedule). Schwarzenegger didn’t like being assigned the role of the terminator because he would only have 18 lines in the entire movie—around 100 words in all. However, Schwarzenegger’s command of the English language was insufficient for the role of Reese.

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The success of The Terminator sent Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood career into high gear. In the next ten years, he starred in ten action films and several comedies. The biggest of them all was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in which he again played a terminator, but this time he was the good guy. Schwarzenegger played a similar cyborg in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and is set to reprise the role in Terminator: Genisys. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger married NBC journalist Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, in 1986. They were married for 25 years and had four children together. In 2003, Schwarzenegger entered the special recall election to replace California governor Gray Davis. He defeated over 100 other candidates on the ballot to became the governor of California. He was reelected in 2006. Schwarzenegger’s stint in politics earned him the title of “The Governator.”

The 1984 film The Terminator wasn’t the blockbuster we think of when we look back at it now, because it takes time and hindsight for a movie to become a classic. But it performed better than Orion expected: It made money and it established a franchise that now seems so familiar to us all.

The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.


As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.


Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.


A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.


Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.


The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.


The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 


All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters


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