Horror movies can do much more than simply scare us. They can give a fresh perspective on life and death, or life beyond death. Opening doors inside us to points of view or possibilities never considered. Maybe we'll gain some sort of understanding of a tortured soul. Or maybe we're spitballing ideas on a theoretical “what-if” mental checklist, should we ever find ourselves in a similar situation. Sometimes we just really want to be frightened or unnerved by what we consider unknown or what we couldn't possibly comprehend. Then again, sometimes we don't want any of that and just really want to see a murder-clown saw off a man's head and kick it down a dirty hallway like he's making a game-winning field goal. This is that movie. This is Terrifier.
Coming at you dark, fast, and grimy, Terrifier gets right down to business. Writer/Director Damien Leone is back with his pal Art The Clown, previously seen in the auteur's 2013 horror anthology All Hallow's Eve. With a tight 84-minute run time, there are no moments to waste world building or exposition. We're thrown instantly into that most relatable situation: a drunken night of partying leading to an after hours pizza craving. Unfortunately for Tara and Dawn, the two female protagonists we're introduced to, this night happens to be Halloween. And extra unfortunately for them, they happen to bump into a psychotic black and white clown jauntily walking down a creepy alley. After being unnervingly followed by Art The Clown into the pizza place, and dooming some other poor souls while also taking a couple of incredibly foolish selfies with him, they find their car outside with a slashed tire, in front of the semi-abandoned housing project where they parked it and where we'll now spend the crux of the film. Tara calls her sister Victoria to head over and give them a lift, and bada bing bada boom, it's MURDER TIME.
I really dug the lo-fi look of the film, and the throwback electronic music design. It really gave Terrifier a dirty 80's slasher feel. Jenna Kanell as Tara was believable as someone trying to escape a nightmare they unknowingly stumbled into. Meanwhile, Catherine Corcoran and Samantha Scaffidi played Dawn and Victoria, respectively, in the exact tone needed for their moments of screen time.
To me, this kind of movie is inherently dependent on the killer capturing my interest, and hot damn, did Art The Clown deliver. A lot has to be said for the work done by actor David Howard Thornton taking a character who never speaks, for which we're also given no backstory or motivation, and making him feel incredibly convincing and well, terrifying. Looking like a late-90's Marilyn Manson wet dream (he even poses wearing stolen breasts at one point, like a twisted homage to Mechanical Animals) Art conveys bone-chilling menace simply through nonstop smiles and fantastic mime work. The exaggerated hand gestures, the bloody-mouthed grins lighting up his face anytime his victims react; they really worked in marrying the entertaining childish appeal of a clown to a remorseless killing machine. At one point he rides a comically small tricycle aimlessly in circles while honking the horn, only for his own amusement. Almost like it's okay to laugh for a moment, but don't forget about the pile of corpses we're working on here.
Speaking of bodies, Terrifier gives us plenty. Despite the film taking place almost entirely in an empty apartment building there are more than enough pizza guys, exterminators, mentally disturbed doll mothers, and of course the two female leads, for the killer clown to go through. And lest we forget, a sister still on her way to help; the tantalizing first few minutes of the film assures us that this is not going to be a “Final Girl” situation. I mentioned earlier that some horror movies offer the possibility of opening doors emotionally and intellectually, while others are completely visceral thrillrides. If you're looking for the latter, holy hell. This movie is for you.
The way Art tears through victims is unforgivingly violent, and seemingly unstoppable. We're not told explicitly whether he's borne of some supernatural force but if he's not, then dude has definitely not been skipping upper body days at the gym. There's a primal strength to his kills, and at least one that is surprising in its simplicity and realness. A couple of the deaths are very creative and interesting, one of which is ABSOLUTELY FUCKING BRUTAL. Damien Leone has a long list of special effects and makeup experience, and it really shows with the fantastic practical effects used here.
This felt like a movie that knew exactly what it wanted to do, and I really appreciated that. Get in, let Art rack up a body count while making you more intrigued about him, and get out. If the post-rampage final scene is any indication, we're in for more of Art The Clown's gory shenanigans in the future, which I would be delighted to watch. Terrifier revved me up enough last night to make it into a coulrophobic movie night, as I subsequently watched Clown and Stitches afterward. It also compelled me to look into Damien Leone's All Hallow's Eve just to see some more of ol' Arty (which, by the way, is 100% worth watching). If you like slashers, if you like evil clowns, or maybe even if you're actually terrified by clowns but feel like punishing yourself for any undisclosed sins, you should grab some popcorn and check out this circus.