I love Art the clown, ‘Terrifier 2’ is old-school movie magic

Don’t judge me! This is art! Images courtesy Bloody Disgusting.

10/10 Terrifier 2 is like a two-hour video nasty, a loving Giallo film all the way down to being created by a guy named Damien Leone. It’s like whipped cream on film, light, airy, not a ton of substance, but pretty and very flavorful. This movie literally makes me forget my troubles, I love it so much.

Miles County, Halloween night- It’s a year to the day after the Miles County Massacre, in which a murderous demonic mime known as Art the clown (David Howard Thornton) eviscerated about a dozen people and then disappeared from the scene. The town is abuzz with morbid obsession, but they don’t know that everything is happening exactly as it did before – Art is enraged by reports of his demise and excited to go killing again, but this time, he’ll face a tougher test. A young woman called Sienna Shaw (Lauren LaVera) has seen him in her dreams, and it’s intimated that she is destined to kill him.

Why the need for Terrifier 2? Because it’s so much fun, Jan!

Terrifier 2 is fun, gleeful and dirt-cheap. You can tell this isn’t a Hollywood production just by looking at it, because there’s much less contrast and range of color than we’re used to seeing, as if it were going for a 21st century equivalent of 16mm film look. The listed budget is just $250,000, though we know it was more – that was the total from a Indiegogo campaign to finish what Leone said was the most expensive scene in an otherwise completed movie. For the other end of the individual scene budget scale, we see the Russo brothers boasting about their $40 million moment in The Gray Man.

As studio films reach ever further toward tipping points of both centralizing resources into major tentpoles and wasteful, exploitative practices within those tentpoles, Terrifier 2 is a monument to what you can still do at an extremely high level with more passion than money. It is a work of passion to an almost comical extent – this is Leone’s third movie to feature Art the clown, with Terrifier 3 and possibly 4 already on the way, and he’s credited as writer, director, editor, co-producer, sound designer, special effects artist and for additional visual effects, and several Indiegogo contributors appear in the film as extras. Art is the muteness and pure evil of Mike Myers crossed with the joy and flamboyance of Freddy Kruger, and the film is filled with homages to Leone’s favorite horror movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s, especially A Nightmare on Elm Street, but I find it most echoes The Evil Dead in overall tone.Thornton is electric as the villain. God, I just love Art so much! He has so much fun being evil!

Olga Turka’s costume design is killer, and not just when it comes to Art. The lighting and George Steuber’s cinematography is terrific, and the set design is amazing.

One of Leone’s keys to Art is that he isn’t initially threatening. That certainly doesn’t hold true to his terrifying design, but it does with his behavior, as he usually tries to get belly laughs out of his victims before he tries to get their bellies.

The film’s surprising complexity is built on its not-so-complex appeal – Terrifier 2 gives the people what they want. Terrifier 2 gets straight to it, opening on a blood-covered Art winding down from the previous film’s rampage by doing the laundry. The opening scene alone, as well as the early dream sequence made possible by the Indiegogo campaign, each have more blood than the entirety of many modern horror movies.

The keynote scene, the one that has reports of people fainting or running out of the theater vomiting, is a scene about an hour in where Art gleefully tortures Shaw’s friend Allie (Casey Hartnett) to death, skinning her, removing her limbs and bleaching and salting her wounds, all while she’s visibly still alive. The scene was accomplished with a dummy filled with chicken and pork meat, a latex chest that could be breathed into to simulate Allie’s breathing and a whole lot of fake blood, then digitally stitching Hartnett’s face, and eventually just one of her eyes, onto the dummy – this quick digital touch on an otherwise completely practical effect, repeated on other kills, is what gives the otherwise cartoonish kills of Terrifier 2 their unnerving realism. It’s the stuff of cinephile legend, the one, deft expensive touch in a dirt-cheap movie that makes all the difference.

The blood and guts look like canned tomatoes. I’m not trying say anybody put off by the level of gore and violence in this movie is a pussy, because it really is up there the way you’d hope for a movie that was entirely sold on its gore and violence, but I am saying it’s grocery store meat and canned tomatoes. You can probably handle it.

I talked a lot in my review of Bodies Bodies Bodies about how much contempt that movie has for its characters and the problems that creates, and Terrifier 2 is a really specific positive example of how to do the same thing right. It’s a slasher, a genre where hating a lot of the characters you’re about to see gutted is traditional and appropriate, and there’s certainly reason to dislike everyone, but they don’t feel like caricatures. There are people here with dominant flaws, understandable if extremely selfish, but they aren’t effigies wrapped and ready to be burned.

OK- it’s a lot of canned tomatoes.

As much as it looks like it’s playing out in a seasonal Halloween pop-up at times, the spaces Terrifier 2 takes place in also play a big role in making it feel small-scale and human. Miles County’s location is not disclosed, but the film really captures the air of a good-sized city that’s still the only thing in its county, an urban oasis that is necessarily limited by surrounding wilderness that just never backs down. It’s a middle-American odyssey, taking us from a secure suburb to a high school, presumably in the interior of the city, to a completely sick Halloween house party in what’s implied to be a slightly more run-down suburb, all the way to the outskirts, where Art reigns with impunity. 

LaVera is as fiercely interested in her character as Shaw is in protecting her family. There’s a surprising amount of meat to Shaw’s character in particular as the film sort of falls down the stairs from a simple slasher into a climactic, bitter confrontation of good and evil that takes 138 minutes to unfold, an astonishing runtime for a genre known for cheapness, which often expresses itself by keeping as close to 90 minutes as possible. You could argue that Terrifier 2 is the first epic slasher film, and it would have a place in history on those grounds alone.

Terrifier 2 rode an ecstatic word-of-mouth campaign from a pittance release in a handful of theaters, which was already seen as a major step up, to a 1,550 peak release and four weeks in the box office top 10, collecting $10.6 million domestic. That’s more than Oscar favorites like Babylon, The Banshees of Inisherin and Tár made. Leone and other producers have been taking it on a wild victory lap ever since, with celebrations ranging from an official Academy submission to a VHS release, and damn right they should! Terrifier 2 is a triumph of independent cinema and a monument to what filmmakers and fans can do with enough work and passion. This belongs in front of the Academy and in any VCR still operating, and if you like horror even a little bit, it belongs in front of you, too.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com. 

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