2022 | Unrated and R versions | starring Lauren LaVera, David Howard Thornton, Casey Hartnett, Kailey Hyman, Elliott Fullam | written & directed by Damien Leone | 2h 18m |
It is interesting how the horror genre reinvents itself every few years, allowing the pendulum to swing and a new subgenre to bubble up to the surface in reaction to oversaturation from a previous subgenre. The self-referential slasher 90s gave way to PG-13 J-horror which gave way to torture porn which cleared the ground for Elevated Horror. But as much as we love Scream, The Ring, Saw, The Babbadock, Hereditary and the movies that usually kick off these trends, they get copied into infinitum by studios looking to replicate them for a quick buck. I feel the same is currently happening with Elevated Horror with the recent Halloween Kills and Ends attempting to turn The Shape into metaphors for grief and social paranoia. It’s in that environment, with the original scrappy, micro-budget film at it’s back, that homicidal Art the Clown emerges in Terrifier 2 to hack, slash, mutilate, eviscerate and gross-out the audience in a way that almost feels dangerous and punk now. The pendulum swings again, with ferocity.
The film opens immediately when the first Terrifier ended with Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) making short work of a morgue attendant. Then the silent, psychopathic mime mows his way through town destroying and dismembering everyone in his path over Halloween night. His mission has something to do with Sienna (Lauren LaVera), a high school girl whose mother (Sarah Voight) and brother (Elliott Fullam) are still reeling from her father’s suicide, having inherited his creativity and planning an elaborate cosplay costume for a Halloween party with friends Allie and Brooke (Casey Hartnett and Kailey Hyman).
Terrifier 2 is a rough and scrappy movie, not as dingy and frayed as it’s predecessor, but still an indie film in the truest sense. It’s going to frustrate internet critics that take a checklist to a movie. The acting is sporadic, with LaVera, Hartnett and scene-stealing Hyman chewing into their roles perfectly, but Voight giving a standout bad performance. The story is surreal , leaning hard into a magical supernatural bend to cover up holes in the plot. I’m not 100% sure I even know what is going on in the 3rd act of the film, plot-wise, other than that it was dutifully set up in the first half. It’s cheesy in a way that isn’t cool and writer/director Damien Leone indulges in a walloping 10-minute dream sequence early on just to make the promise of what’s to come as clear as blood.
Now that all that’s out of the way – ultimately it doesn’t distract from the joy of the film. Terrifier 2 is an awesome movie. A work that feels built from the ground up out of love of the genre, their creation and sheer independent filmmaking resourcefulness that produces something that is special beyond the sum o fit’s parts. At the risk of sounding as hyperbolic as a Bloody Disgusting writer, this thing really does feel like a game-changer. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Terrifier, a no-plot exercise in bloodshed the lined up characters for the slaughter without a lot of wit and cleverness beyond the sheer deliciously nasty nature of it’s kills. Terrifier 2 is better in every possible way, down to the nuts and bolts. The story, the dialog, the characters, the acting, the visual pallet, the development of Art as a villain, the relentless violence, creativity of the kills and the sheer otherworldly nuttiness of it all. As a sequel, this is like the Terminator 2 of slasher movies, taking what worked about the first film and dialing up everything else to an 11. Part of the reaction I had to this movie was the joy seeing something from such humble beginnings rise up to knock it out of the park. Something one wouldn’t get from jumping right into T2.
Starting at the top, story and characters are usually 2nd thoughts in the slasher genre. The first thing left on the cutting room floor for more kills. Leone dares to cut nothing here. Terrifier 2 puts it’s 4 kids, and 3 leading ladies front and center. The first half of the film is structured a bit like Halloween with Sienna, Allie and Brooke at school, readying for a Halloween party. You can see the tropes that would have defined them in a lesser movie: Sienna would be the virginal artist, Allie the protective older sister type, Brooke the sex-crazed one that wants her to just get laid. There are shadows of all of these in the girls and yet through the time Leone spends with them, their chemistry as actors and the realism given to their characters we actually don’t want any of them to die and it matters when or if they do. When Brooke spikes Sienna drink it’s not to get her to loosen up, it’s to bring some happiness in her life if only for a night. This wind-up is one of the things that lends to Terrifier 2’s exceptionally rare 2 hour and 18 minute running time (with Terrifier and All Hallow’s Eve barely cracking 90 mins). The movie is indulgent to be sure and it also flows almost effortlessly and the time spent is rich and satisfying.
Then there is Art the Clown, played beautifully and silently by Thornton. Where the first film was clearly enamored with Art and sided with him, this one loves him even more, but puts him on a collision course story to parallel the girls. Thornton is ferocious, frightening and frequently hilarious in the role, giving Art an 80s horror icon mix – all the personality and humor of Freddy Krueger, the sinister, silent mystique of Michael Myers and the hell-bound supernatural edge of Jason Vorhees. All the little theatrical touches he adds to Art give him more character than any monologue. Watching Art crumble into fits of silent laughter over a news headline about a family killed in a head-on collusion or crack himself up at his own savage destruction is often hilarious. Leone has something unique here – crafting Art’s kills into gory tableau’s of that go beyond the simple stabbings of the genre and into elaborate body horror and even torture porn. Art isn’t going to jump out of the darkness and get you with a knife for a jump scare, he’s going to spend the next 20 or 30 minutes using household items from his garbage back of tricks to turn the human body into a post modern science experiment that he is either proud of or naive to the consequences.
The violence in this film is slow, operatic and visceral. The work of practical effects that elevate it beyond current standards into squishy territory somewhere between gritty 70s grindhouse and 80s Italian Giallo. But it hasn’t been since the French new wave horror of the late 2000 that I’ve seen a horror movie that was so perfectly tone balanced between the intensity and the goofiness. It’s fun! and outside of the Scream franchise, bringing the fun in such a gruesome package is a rare feat to pull off. Leone replicates the style of gritty 80s horror films, powered by a terrific synthwave soundtrack that burns at both ends of dread and teenage emotion. It does so without slipping into ironic trendy homage territory. It doesn’t want to homage those films from the perch of 2022, it wants to turn back the clock and be one of them.
In a time when Elevated Horror is defining what’s good about the genre, and David Gordon Green’s Halloween reboot trilogy would rather be anything than a horror movie, it’s pure pleasure to watch Terrifier 2 happily be nothing more than what it is. It slips into the slasher movie formula, then pushes and stretches what it can be from the inside out until it is left permanently larger by it’s influence.
I was wound up for the rest of the night on the fumes that come off this thing. Terrifier 2 is an epic virtuoso that celebrates all things horror, thrilling, relentless and inventive. The amount of love and care poured into this thing shows in every frame and it’s a treat for gorehounds to see. Whether that feeling is anger, disgust, excitement or love, Art’s misadventures are guaranteed to inspire a reaction. Warts and all, I absolutely adored this movie.
5 out of 5 stars