Full Circle Flashback: ‘Terrifier’ Review
Freddy. Jason. Michael Myers. Leatherface. Pinhead. Ghostface. The pantheon of legendary slasher villains is far from empty. Nevertheless, going into the 2020s, audiences were ready for new blood. Ask and ye shall receive: Pearl from X and her own spin-off/prequel film and Gabriel from Malignant have dominated the cultural conversation amongst horror fans. Yet, for the real sickos out there, 2016 brought its own perverse icon of its own: Art the Clown, from Damien Leone’s Terrifier. Since the sequel is now cutting its way into audiences’ hearts, causing reports of passing out and vomiting in the theater, let’s take a look at Art’s blood-spattered debut.
Terrifier gets to the point with its premise. It’s Halloween night. Tara (Jenna Kannell) and Dawn (Catherine Corocan) are walking home from a Halloween party drunk. They get the feeling a man in a very off-putting clown costume (David Howard Thornton) is stalking them. Their suspicions become true when they end up in his lair in a nearby slum building. While they are in the clown’s clutches, Tara’s sister Vicky (Samantha Scaffadi) tries to save them. Frankly, as a screenwriter, at least in this film, Damien Leone does the bare minimum. Other than an opening fifteen or so minutes with some fun dialogue, there’s not a whole lot to hold the disparate gory set pieces together.
Therefore, Terrifier is put in a live-or-die position off the strength of those set pieces. There’s no disputing the craft at work here. Under the morbid eye of Damien Leone’s direction, it stacks corpses with increasing nastiness. The violence comes hard and fast, with Leone asking “what is the most violent way we can dispatch each victim?”. A mid-film kill where an upside-down woman is completely sawed in half down the middle (use your imagination) left my jaw permanently dropped.
The sheer unpleasantness of that kill is indicative of a make-or-break aspect of the film: its gratuity. It’s high, high, high on the bloodshed and nudity, and tends to be the cruelest to the women in terms of the kills. For all the films that claim to be homaging the grindhouse genre, this one is a full-on exploitation flick. I don’t doubt that was the intention, and as an authentic product of subgenre, it’s overwhelmingly successful. And thoroughly entertaining at that. But I don’t think I’ve seen a recent horror that comes this close to fitting the moniker, well, torture porn. You’re here to watch victims suffer while a depraved clown smiles wider than wide.
There’s no disputing the effectiveness of the film or its central menace, Art the Clown, though. As a matter of fact, as someone who has no fear of clowns, Art is a disgusting specimen. David Howard Thorton instills in him a permanent, lecherous grin. Before the killing even starts, his clown antics are rife with a leering perversion. Once he is unleashed, he views humans as meat, mangling them with reckless abandon. Humans are slabs of meat he tears apart like a dog with a chew toy. Art the Clown is, pardon my french, fucking terrifying.
Therefore, it’s fitting that the film is called Terrifier. Damien Leone’s film is a scuzzy picture that throws any notion of good taste out the window. It’s bile in feature-length form, not for the faint of heart. The notion that the sequel is even more disturbing shakes me to my core. Yet, its vicious exploitation nature really works for me. Whatever objective rating I assign to this film is purely based on the nature of what it is. Make no mistake, as an experience, Terrifier is a blunt object that every horror fan should try out once. Just, uh, know what you’re getting into. – James Preston Poole