Back in 2013, I rented the horror anthology ALL HALLOWS’ EVE and walked away extremely impressed. It was fun, dark, creative and each tale had compelling elements that kept me interested. By far, Art the Clown was the most fascinating character. He had a macabre and violent sense of humor that resonated and succeeded in both making the viewer laugh and feel very uncomfortable at the same time.
When I saw that Damien Leone directed TERRIFIER (2016) making Art a focal point for a full-length feature, I was pretty pessimistic. As much as the clown fit the anthology format, I didn’t believe he was strong enough to carry an hour and a half production. I only recently delved into TERRIFIER, and I sadly have not changed my mind. That said, there’s a sequel coming out soon so it’s safe to say that enough people disagree with me.
Still, TERRIFIER isn’t without its charm. The opening scene shows an old television with rabbit ears on an otherwise empty wooden floor that is surrounded by the illumination of a dull red light. In-between breaks of static, we see a newscast in regards to one of Art’s severely mutilated victims. Nothing is vibrant or striking, but it fits and sets the tone perfectly. What catches the eye of the viewer is the simplicity and emptiness of the room before them. The unnerving and unsettling feeling is stirred by how little is going on. At the very least, Leone knows how to evoke unease.
Sadly, the initial reveal of Art (David Howard Thornton) doesn’t pack the same punch. We see him putting on makeup and readying himself for his evil deeds, but the whole event is too subdued. Whereas the TV report was calm in a creepy way that built up to a violent showdown, Art’s intro is without payoff. The scene was reminiscent of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) where Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) made his glove, but it didn’t carry the same weight or summon the same fear. With Krueger, the creation of the weapon, the sounds Wes Craven utilized, the chosen music and the level of uncertainty all came together to make the hairs on the back of the neck of everyone watching stand on end. None of those components existed here, so instead we have an inconsequential and lackluster introduction to the antagonist.
His second appearance is far creepier and would have been a much better first impression. When drunken hotties Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) see him in an alley on Halloween night, he is seen in all his maniacal glory. His crazy smile and insane look are enough for Tara to understandably freak, even if her blonde bombshell friend is too wasted to worry.
Sadly, Art isn’t consistently scary. Sometimes, he’s legitimately disturbing, which is great. Other times, he just acts like a dude high on bath salts. For example, spreading shit all around a pizza shop’s bathroom isn’t scary. It’s gross. It’s messed up, but it doesn’t make me afraid. It just makes me want to beat the fuck out of Art because I know someone is going to have to clean up the bathroom and it’s not going to be that deadbeat homicidal prick. I’ve worked in retail. I’ve come across enough weirdos with freaky ass fetishes and repulsive behaviors. That poor pizza dude is now stuck on the worst janitorial duty of his life. Slicing and dicing, I can overlook. Being a gross-ass motherfucker with bad bathroom habits, is where I draw the line!
When Art returns to the restaurant and the bloodbath begins, the kills are solid. The gore is topnotch, especially for the budget restrictions. Sadly, so much is taken away by a strange stylistic choice Leone made. While Art is hacking away, the film continuously cuts to Dawn and Tara chitchatting. It was most certainly an artistic attempt, but it doesn’t work. To continuously break an action sequence for non-dramatic dialogue ends up confusing the tone of the movie and the reaction of the viewer. Perhaps, it was to give the illusion of a rollercoaster’s ups and downs, but instead it takes so much away from Art’s first rampage.
The majority of the film thereafter is simply Art stalking, terrorizing and mutilating Dawn and Tara. This is where it all falls apart. First, the protagonists aren’t interesting. Dawn isn’t sympathetic or likable at all. She’s obnoxious and self-centered. When she tries to take a selfie with Art, my thought was “Oh, fuck her! Just kill the bitch now.”
Now, Tara isn’t as bad, but I also don’t care what happens to her. There’s zero emotional connection to any of the characters. I felt far more protective over the babysitter (Katie Maguire) in ALL HALLOWS’ EVE (2013) than either of these two whiny bitches. When Tara works to escape from Art’s grip, I’m just not invested. Whether she gets away or is hacked up doesn’t matter to me. I’m already checked out. I think back to other horror showdowns like Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) or Michael Myers (Nick Castle) and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), and how much I cared. I not only wanted those fem goddesses to prevail, I worried about them. I related to them. I was scared with them. That element is sorely missed in TERRIFIER.
On the plus, some of the gore is crazy enough to momentarily pull me back in, but that only hold me for a few seconds. Also, Art’s mannerisms can be wonderfully off-putting. Finally, the twist at the end isn’t bad. It isn’t necessarily unexpected, but it does tie things together a bit.
Overall, this isn’t my cup of tea. It isn’t the worse film I’ve seen, but very far from the best. It just misses the mark on nearly every attempt.