Apparently quite a few people are afraid of clowns. In fact, there’s even a term for it – coulrophobia. Years before Bill Skarsgard scared up big box office receipts as Stephen King’s Pennywise the Clown, Tim Curry donned the greasepaint for the first attempt at It. American Horror Story gave us Twisty the Clown just a few years ago. Even social media got in on the act a couple of year ago with the ‘killer clown’ fad.
But none of these clowns have anything on Art the Clown. Based on a short film and a segment from anthology horror film, All Hallow’s Eve, Damien Leone’s Terrifier has finally found its way to Netflix after a brief theatrical run courtesy of Dread Central.
Terrifier opens on Halloween night as an unseen figure watches a television interview with the horribly disfigured survivor of the “Miles County Massacre.’ The young woman was brutally attacked by a killer clown referred to as ‘Art the Clown.’ Though believed to be dead, Art the Clown is very much alive and is the unseen viewer watching the broadcast. Enraged by the television interview, Art sets off and finds three young women – Tara, Dawn, and Vicky – whom he immediately stalks and terrorizes..Lost in an abandoned apartment building, the three women must now fight to survive the random destructiveness of the grease-painted monster.
A Straightforward Exercise in Depravity
Forget subtext or subtlety, movies don’t get much more straightforward than Terrifier. Damien Leone’s feature-length expansion of his short film by the same name has no greater ambition than to disgust and frighten in equal turns. In this regard, Leone is completely successful as Terrifier is about as lean and nasty as one could expect. Little time is wasted with place-setting or unnecessary exposition. Leone gets his ‘gore fest’ churning along in short order.
Yet Leone’s simple story works in large part due to its relentless scares and tension.
There’s not necessarily anything new with how Terrifier sets about its business. In fact, there’s really no story of which to mention. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, Terrifier is basically an extended cat-and-mouse game that’s soaked in a lot of blood. Of course, the movie does eventually feel a little repetitive by the time the third act kicks in. Yet Leone’s simple story works in large part due to its relentless scares and tension. Credit also goes to the truly disturbing violence that Leone commits to the screen. Aside from this violence, Leone also introduces some truly idiosyncratic elements that disturb in an entirely different way. Audiences will have little time or interest in questioning some of the gaps in logic.
Good Old-Fashioned Practical Gore Effects Stun
While Terrifier is most certainly low-budget, there are a very few examples of those constraints becoming too obvious in the movie. Fans of old-fashioned practical gore effects made famous by the likes of Rick Baker and Tom Savini will find a lot to enjoy about Terrifier. Elisa Vecchio’s make-up effects are believable and gruesome in all the right ways. Every slash and stab looks real and Leone doesn’t hold back. Just when you think Terrifier can’t gross you out any more, Leone and Vecchio offer even more transgressive violence. One scene with Art the Clown and a hacksaw accomplished the rare feat of eliciting a gasp as I watched.
Horror Fans Have a New Villain To Fear
No offence to Pennywise the Clown and It, but Art the Clown is the most terrifying ‘killer clown’ in horror. Much like the movie’s story, David Howard Thornton’s performance as Art the Clown is simple and straightforward. With no dialogue, Thornton relies on body movements and facial expressions to get under the audience’s skin. And get under your skin he does. Even when he is just staring motionlessly into camera, Art the Clown delivers a maximum creepy quotient. Leone’s script also wisely chooses to give the ‘killer clown’ no motive or explanation, thereby making him more of an entity than just a psychopathic killer.
Terrifier’s score gives the movie an ’80’s horror vibe while still serving to distinguish itself from other imitators of the decade.
Everything else about Terrifier works quite well for what Leone intended. There are no Oscar-worthy performances from the rest of the cast. That being said, no one turns in a needlessly stiff or wooden performance either. Terrifer’s score also provides an 80’s horror vibe while still serving to distinguish itself from other imitators of the decade. The cinematography similarly evokes comparisons to classic ’80’s horror while never looking overly cheap.
Terrifier Does More With Less
Few horror films in recent memory are as likely to disturb as Terrifier. Equal parts tense, disgusting and, at times, weird, Damien Leone has taken an exhausted horror premise and twisted it just enough to make it feel new. Art the Clown may be the best addition to horror’s rogue gallery in years. Furthermore, Terrifier is a case of getting the most out every aspect of your movie on a low budget. There’s clearly some franchise potential here.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A