“What? Did You Think He Was Gonna Hack Me up Into Little Pieces or Something?” – Dawn
Grisly, taut and seasonally atmospheric, Terrifier, released in 2016, aims to pay homage to the inexpensive slasher flicks of the 1980s, relishing in the same simplistic approach and over-the-top gore that classic horrors like Friday the 13th and Blood Harvest specialised in. And while the film does admittedly fall prey to many of the usual limitations low-budget horrors tend to have, Terrifier is preserved through a genuinely terrifying performance from David Howard Thornton as Art the Clown, in addition to plenty of fantastically gruesome effects and a willingness from writer-director Damien Leone (All Hallows’ Eve, Frankenstein vs. The Mummy) to push on-screen violence to its limit.
Plot Summary: On Halloween night, Tara Heyes and her best friend, Dawn, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time as they become the unfortunate targets of Art the Clown, a demented serial killer with a morbid sense of humour…
With coulrophobia (the name allocated to the fear of clowns) being one of the most common phobias in the world, it makes sense that the horror genre would try to capitalise on this widespread fear of individuals with white face paint, comical horns and oversized shoes. And if there’s one area Terrifier more than thrives in, it’s fully realising this common phobia as Art the Clown is consistently frightening. The film jumps from moments of complete silence as Art stares down his victims to Art violently murdering the poor souls, showering the sadistic clown’s black and white costume with blood. Terrifier isn’t actually Art the Clown’s first appearance, however, as Damien Leone first introduced the character in his second short film, which not only shared the Terrifier title, but is essentially the same story just condensed into a brief twenty-minute runtime.
Regarding the characters, the conceited Dawn, somewhat sensible Tara Heyes, and loyal sister, Victoria Heyes, portrayed by Catherine Corcoran, Jenna Kanell and Samantha Scaffidi, respectively, all serve an important purpose within the narrative. Yet, the characters themselves never attain a status beyond generic slasher victim, and although each of the actress’ screams of terror sound as suitably realistic as a director could hope for, the delivery of some lines (specifically from the supporting cast) feels rather clunky. But, the true star of the film is undoubtedly David Howard Thornton as Art the Clown, as Thornton stays in character ceaselessly as the psychotic murderer, portraying Art as a fun-loving mime whose killings involve a combination of predatory sadism and joyful glee. So much so, that Art will make many audience members nervous purely due to his unpredictability, as the character’s manic actions make it almost impossible to predict what he’ll do next.
On a technical level, Terrifier is top-notch considering its thin budget, as whilst the cinematography by George Steuber is far from groundbreaking, the film has a reasonable amount of creative shots, the majority of which are enhanced by the film’s highly saturated colour palette, thin layer of granularity and scenes primarily lit by natural light, truly providing the film with a low-budget ’80s appeal. And, as mentioned previously, Terrifier does not hold back when it comes to brutality and depravity, certifying the film as one not for the faint of heart as the gore effects are gut-churning and grotesque, with the amount of labour and detail that has gone into each effect being more than deserving of applause, especially when once again acknowledging the film’s budget, which is estimated to have been around £73,000.
The original score by Paul Wiley is a triumphant blend of 2010 and 1980s horror scores, with tracks such as In Pieces and Clown Car standing as daunting and metallic-sounding pieces similar to many modern horror scores, whereas tracks like Kill Horn and the film’s main theme, simply titled; Terrifier Theme, are reminiscent of the original Halloween score in more ways than one, which by no means a poor comparison when it comes to unnerving horror soundtracks.
These connections to past genre films continue further into the film’s visuals as Damien Leone inserts many explicit nods and visual tributes to everything from Psycho to Hostel to everything in-between. And whilst some may not like when a film relies so heavily on pastiche, it never feels overdone in Terrifier, as the film strikes a satisfying balance between throwbacks and unique ideas, occasionally playing with the conventions of slashers by adding some twists to the killer and final girl dynamic, which will most definitely catch some audience members off-guard.
In summary, Terrifier has plenty of entertainment value should you fit into the film’s principal audience as this modern slasher is an unabashed reminder of the bloodthirsty horror films that populated the 1980s, a.k.a. the kind of nasty flicks that were banned during the video-nasty era. The film has its issue, undeniably, most notably with its shortage of interesting characters and often oversimplified story. But, Terrifier does make the most of its foreboding atmosphere and unsettling killer. While watching, it also quickly becomes clear that Damien Leone wants Art the Clown to join the ranks of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers as a horror icon in the future, which I think is more than feasible given his appearance in Terrifier, so I’d say it really depends on how the horror community feel about the film years down the line. Rating: high 6/10.