I was not exactly clamoring to see Terrifier 2, the sequel to the barely noticed (by me) 2016 movie Terrifier, about a slasher Killer Klown-type terrorizing a…I mean, honestly, does it matter? Not really. And when (the great) Darcy The Mail Girl said it was the goriest movie she had ever seen, that didn’t really move it up my scales much. In fact, it moved it down. I’m not really a gore guy. I don’t like to rule things out on the basis of gore, but if I feel like gore is all a movie has to offer, I have concession stand popcorn (with artificial butter flavoring) to make me nauseous. (This was not playing at our beloved Laemmle, at least when we were looking.)
But it was Halloween and the pickings were slim, as they had been pretty much all year. (Although, as noted previously, it was a pretty good year for horror films of various sorts.) So the Boy and I trundled off to see Art The Clown have his way with the hapless residents of Manalapan, New Jersey?
Well, whatever. Off we went, and the otherworldly clown immediately launched into some savagely gory nonsense. It had a distinctly supernatural feel to it (which a lot of movies mishandle by making the literalness or the reality of the killer a matter of plot convenience). But Terrifier 2 gets that part right: Art The Clown is a demon of some sort. This also sets the tone for the movie: The director, Damien Leone, wants you to have fun, so he immediately tells you “this isn’t real…just relax”.
He’s no faceless killer a la The Shape or Jason, and he’s no wisecracking goofball like Freddie. He’s just pissed. Really, really pissed. (Courtesy of David Howard Thornton who right now is running around as the Grinch in the holiday horror Seuss rip-off The Mean One.) So the first couple of kills are really, really gory. To the point where you have to laugh at how over the top it is. It’s not a scoffing laugh, however, it’s a kind of uneasy laugh—the movie uses this extreme violence to create an air of menace around Art that permeates all of his subsequent actions, no matter how innocent. (One of Art’s characteristics which we have to assume is for himself, or for us, the audience, is to occasionally function as a non-homicidal clown. As if such a thing existed.)
The movie drips with style and blood as literal proceedings are peppered with nightmares that feel very real. The quality of the film is sort of nightmarish, so this trope is rather effective on its own, but like much of the movie, it doesn’t rest on being just a competent spooky slasher. The supernatural elements get amped up as our heroine discovers through her dreams a kind of anti-Art status.
Look, you guys know how I feel about long movies: Every minute you spend over an hour-and-a-half had better be well justified. This movie clocks in at nearly 2:20, but that last third of the film elevates it from fun, gory slasher to something that has an epic fantasy feel.
And here we, perhaps, see a kind of resonance with the extreme gore: The movie that isn’t afraid to go completely HAM on kill scenes then musters enough creativity and budget to posit some kind of cosmic struggle between good and evil—not in the “final girl vs. the slasher” sense but in demons vs. angels. In this case, our angel is Laura LaVera.
Commercially, it doesn’t make any sense. No one wants a 2:20 minute slasher. As Malignant showed us last year—and as any bold or daring horror movie shows—people have a real limit to what they’ll tolerate. On a $250,000 budget, why would you ever stretch the length out rather than focus on a shorter film.
Well, because writer/director Damian Leone wanted to. Apparently, this was his goal from the get-go over ten years ago. And The Boy and I could do no more than clap appreciatively and respectfully at the result. We were surprised on multiple levels: The quality of the film as a slasher, the scope of the film as something more, and the fact that it flies by despite being as long as it is.
I suppose I should say something about the effects: The best thing I can say is that I didn’t notice them. I understand they were almost entirely practical with a few digital tweaks, and the movie does have an almost “throwback” feel. But they do what effects are supposed to: They get the story across. (Leone is a big FX guy, too, apparently.) You tell me why a guy with a quarter-mil can do this while the bigwigs throw money in to CGI. Probably it’s just harder and messier. But it works super well here.
Obviously, it’s not for the queasy. But I found myself taking the extreme gore in the spirit it was intended. Art is a badass mime, and you don’t mess with those guys. And soon it was just part of the experience, the universe, and it comes across as more weird than sensational, if that makes sense.
A pleasant, even shocking surprise, well deserving of the $12M it earned. Doubtless destined to be a seasonal classic.