by Patrick Bromley
When I first saw Damien Leone's Terrifier back in 2016, I was not a fan. I checked it out because it was one of the first offerings from Dread Central Presents, which was a then-new label being curated by podcaster and friend Rob Galluzzo. He didn't have anything to do with picking up Terrifier, but I needed to see it all the same. After all, the title is pretty great and the clown looked cool.
I didn't really like it. I thought it was very well-made and had good gore effects (by Leone himself), almost to a fault. The showcase sequence, in which SPOILERS Catherine Corcoran -- who I really liked in Return to Nuke 'Em High and whose participation in the film was one of the major reasons why I wanted to check it out -- is hung upside down naked and then hacksawed in half vertically from vagina to skull was so effective and off-putting that I almost bailed on the movie. There is mean-spirited and then there is this sequence. Overall I found the movie upsetting and cruel, and my polite dismissal at the time was "movies like Terrifier are not why I watch horror movies." It was a diplomatic way of saying that I recognize that there is an audience for the film, but I'm not it.
In the years since it was released, Terrifier has become a cult sensation and Art the Clown (played by David Howard Thorton) has become an icon of the genre. While attending Flashback Weekend in August, I saw cosplayers dressed as Art. Terror Threads has a whole line of Terrifier t-shirts. Naturally, I started hearing talk of a sequel not long after the original was released. After six years, it's finally here: Terrifier 2, which reportedly runs two and a half hours, is being released into theaters unrated beginning this week. It's one of the biggest indie horror success stories since Adam Green's Hatchet (both movies are known for their gore and created new slasher icons from scratch) and even though I wasn't crazy about the first film I started getting geared up to see the sequel. That led me back to revisit the original for the first time in years, wondering if I would feel any differently about it.
In short, I think I do. At the very least, I admire what Leone does with Terrifier much more than I did the first time around. At the very most, I legit like the movie. I know this because I rewatched it to write this column; then, about a week or two later, I watched it again, this time because I wanted a refresher but also because I wanted to. If I've learned anything watching movies all these years, it's that when I find myself drawn to rewatch a given film again and again, it means I probably like it.
I guess Art the Clown actually started in a couple of Leone's short films that were gathered together into an anthology feature called All Hallow's Eve in 2013. He was played by a different actor in that movie (Mike Giannelli) and his makeup was a little different, but apparently it's the same character. I tried to watch it as research for this piece but didn't make it very far. Despite its low budget (listed as $35,000), Terrifier looks like a Michael Bay movie compared to All Hallow's Eve. That's one of the things I like about it, actually: Leone has a real eye and gets the most out of his limited resources. There's a grungy slickness to the movie that's kind of cool. It's also set and shot in New York, giving it real East Coast energy that I haven't seen in many horror movies since the early '80s. I didn't realize I missed it until I was watching Terrifier.
Friday the 13th Part V, where the encounter with the slasher was so traumatic that it made her a killer. Or maybe it's something that's going to pay off in the sequel, I don't know. I'm not losing sleep over it.
So, yes, I guess I've done one of my textbook turnarounds on Terrifier. As a showcase for incredible practical effects, it's excellent. As a vehicle for the sadistic Art the Clown, it works. As a pure slasher, it's very effective -- the kind of horror movie that made many of us fans in the 1980s without a bunch of signifiers that it wants to be "old school" or a "throwback." It succeeds at just being the thing without having to announce that it wants to be the thing. I wish more indie horror would do that.
I already have my ticket to go see the sequel in theaters because I hear pretty good things (it's played a few festivals, including Toronto and Fantastic Fest in Austin) and I think it's important to support unrated theatrical horror. I waited a few days to see the similarly unrated Hatchet 2 in theaters back in 2010 and by the time I went to buy tickets it was already too late. The movie had been pulled from theaters. I'm not saying the same thing is going to happen to Terrifier 2 but I don't want to take my chances. Now that I guess I'm a fan of this movie I have to put my money where my mouth is.
Terrifier 2 opens October 6th.