THE STORY – Resurrected by a sinister entity, Art the Clown returns to Miles County to terrorize a teenage girl and her younger brother on Halloween night.
THE CAST – Lauren LaVera, Elliot Fullam, Sarah Voigt, Kailey Hyman, Casey Harnett & David Howard Thornton
THE TEAM – Damien Leone (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 138 Minutes
In the last decade, the horror genre has had the most fluidity in terms of variations and wavelengths that catch the attention of the movie-going public. Whether it’s the found footage/demonic craze in the early 2010s to Warner Brother’s blockbuster horror franchises of “The Conjuring” universe and the “It” films, to the current trend of Blumhouses’ low-produced, high-concept releases mixed with the dramatic psychological mixtures born from A24’s auteur-driven model—horror seems to be the one genre that can be easily malleable to the sensibilities of the market. However, Damien Leone’s 2018 “Terrifier” is unique. Made on a minuscule budget of $100,000, the film never had a major platform release. Still, throughout the years, it has remained very iconic, developing a loyal fan base thanks partly to the creation of horror’s newest villain, Art the Clown, a silent, wide-mouthed sadistic demon played to gleeful perfection by David Howard Thornton that would come to rival Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise from “It.”
The original “Terrifier” worked solely to establish Art as a presence. The film lacked a semblance of a narrative, likable and semi-developed characters that couldn’t make an intelligent decision to save their lives, and any sense of stakes from Art’s presence. Cut to 2022, and Damien Leone successfully addresses all the criticisms with mild success but at the expense of jumping from an 86-minute runtime to 138 minutes. Unless the film is by Stanley Kubrick or Luca Guadagnino, infusing a horror film—let alone a slasher—with a near two-and-a-half-hour runtime would seem excessive. Yet, Leone’s “Terrifier 2” works in a similar vein to Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2.” It’s a film that takes what worked in the first film, enhances the production value & storytelling, and reintegrates the supernatural elements of the original into expanding the universe and introducing a final girl protagonist worth pitting against Art.
Taking place a year after the events of the first film, “Terrifier 2” wastes no time in its violence, as we have a flashback to Art resurrected in the morgue, where he brutally gouges out a doctor’s eyeballs to replace his damaged ones, followed by splitting the head open and retrieving the brain to replace his shot-up one. This is Leone giving the audience a friendly warning at the type of ridiculous, over-the-top, ultraviolence that will take place.
This Halloween, Art has his eyes set on a new final girl, Sienna (played wonderfully by Lauren LaVera, in a star-making role), and her younger brother, Jonathan (newcomer Elliott Fullam), as they prepare for their Halloween festivities. Both are still reeling from the recent death of their father, while their mother tries her best to keep them both from emotionally imploding. It is established through a deranged nightmare involving a clown cafe TV show Sienna has that she and Art are connected in some manner. They’re tied to a notebook sketch her father drew, where he made drawings of Art, collected news clippings of his sightings, and a fantasy costume Valkyrie-look for Sienna as a gold-plated warrior. All this backdrop would indicate that Sienna and Art will clash into a Halloween night of gruesome death and carnage, as Sienna will have to venture into an abandoned carnival to save her brother from the clutches of Art and his new assistant: a devilishly-girl version of Art, played to unsettling effect by newcomer, Georgia MacPhail. While her addition isn’t explored beyond the creeping effect of having an evil minion by Art’s side, there is a non-verbal indication of her being a caretaker for Art, a dispatcher of sorts for Art’s damned spirit.
There is a tremendous amount of set-up regarding the familial drama between Sienna and her mother and Jonathan’s fears of Art and his connection to his father’s sketches. “A lot of people are going to die tonight,” laments Jonathan as Sienna dons her Valkyrie costume, initially designed by her father. While not many people die in significant numbers, the poor souls that cross Art’s path suffer fates worse than death. For Art, killing is not just an act or an obligation; it is a showcase. For every kill, Art treats it as a performance with a 3-act structure: a fun set-up with Art being silly and wacky with his silent gestures and physical comedy, then a turning point where his antics become dread-inducing, and soon the blood, guts, body parts, and everything in between start being dismembered, as Art’s genuine passion for mutilation and inflicting suffering and pain onto his victims take full effect. There’s a mean-spiritedness to Art’s acts, and through Thornton’s pitch-perfect performance, you get the sense that Art will figure out a way to destroy the human body without being repetitive. There’s even a sly meta-manner of acknowledging we are watching him without ever breaking the fourth wall. Art takes a jubilant approach to his slaughters. There’s self-awareness of how comical and nonsensical the killings become. It’s not enough to kill someone. He will use a person’s head to hold candy for trick-or-treaters to pick candy from; he will wear a kitchen apron and carry a bowl of mashed potatoes to his victim too. Leone and Thornton have no delusions; their imagery is meant to be scary but repulsive to stomach, and it helps to give Art a delighted disposition to his murders to help break the tension.
It is clear the higher production value and the elongated shooting schedule disrupted by the pandemic allowed Leone enough time to work on the practical effects (Damien Leone is something of a maverick: he wrote, directed, produced, edited, and did the practical gore effects—this is truly his vision). It also shows how much Leone wanted to explore this world of Art beyond the gratuitous violence by developing a compelling lead in LaVera as a fantastic final girl. She is assured but empathetic; strong-willed but vulnerable. She endures so much pain and infliction by Art yet is strategic and smart when she needs to be, and her strength is derived from her love of family and protection. Sienna is an excellent foil against Art as she goes through her journey of self-actualizing what her father imagined her to be, possibly to set up in a future third film of the fantastical elements of Sienna being a warrior angel to defeat evil. Newcomer Elliot Fullam is a wonderful addition to the cast, as he doesn’t devolve into the typical annoying child behaviors in many horror films. He is young but has a keen sense of what’s going on and exhibits his own strength against unfathomable pain, and as the obligatory child in danger, he makes it easier for the audience to root for him to make it out alive.
Leone delivers more character development, more world-building, and more gore. However, at 138 minutes, the film isn’t efficiently paced. Certain scenes linger longer than they should, and tighter editing would strengthen the film’s pacing while not feeling sluggish in its storytelling. Some of this is tied to some of Sienna’s friends who are devoted to more extended scenes of development that don’t go anywhere. There also seem to be two different climaxes that clash, as they happen back-to-back. The film feels exhaustive by the end when we see Sienna finally come into her actualization. And while it’s satisfying to see the mythology properly established with Leone leaving several breadcrumbs waiting to be explored in a future sequel, there are a lot more unanswered open-ended questions that make the film feel incomplete.
Is “Terrifier 2” a step up from its predecessors? Absolutely. Will horror fans be satisfied by the gnarly gore and horrific murders? I sure hope so. (Audiences will likely not leave disappointed, considering the stuff that Leone and Thornton accomplish.) While the runtime is the film’s biggest detriment, it is a worthy sequel in taking what worked and amplifying it to an immense level that introduces an enthralling lead worth being invested in and utilizes its minuscule budget (this film was crowdfunded through Indiegogo to $250k, 430% above the initial goal). This is as much of a micro-budget horror slasher as it gets, and yet, to see it not only have lasting power among the top ten at the box office but evoke strong reactions amongst horror fans in an age where horror can be one of the few titles that can inspire audiences to sit in a packed theater and be grossed out and have a visceral reaction, you can’t help but root for this small crazed success.