Terrifier can’t manage the imaginative gore of similar recent slasher throwbacks.
Do you expect some storytelling, or at least perfunctory plot, with your killer clown trope? You best look elsewhere, because Damien Leone brings nothing but a mindless onslaught of grease-painted sadism in his grindhouse-slasher tribute Terrifier. The creepy, mime-like Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) hacks his way through body after (mostly female) body on Halloween night for no other reason than he relishes the opportunity. And that’s about it.
While this schlocky, low-budget gore-fest is mostly joyless and often ugly in its brutality, it’s not altogether artless. Effective practical effects make the skin crawl while recalling the similarly mangled flesh and leaking viscera of so many bloody horror flicks from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Despite his distinctive sartorial flair, a cross between attire befitting a French circus and Captain Spaulding attending a Marilyn Manson concert, Art the Clown hews closer to silent slashers like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees than he does Pennywise or his other psycho clown forebears. And yet, where the muteness of Michael and Jason coincides with an expressionless mask, Art’s perpetual silence—even when enduring sudden pain—is made all the more unnerving by the rubbery movements of his luridly expressive visage. Think a dolled-up Freddy Krueger without the one-liners.
Based on a short film of the same name, which appeared in Leone’s 2013 cult anthology All Hallow’s Eve, Terrifier wastes the modest potential of its villain and its throwback horror homage on a complete dearth of story or character development. The film’s flimsy setup involves two drunk girls (Jenna Kanell and Catherine Corcoran) getting creeped out at a diner by Art sitting wordlessly in a nearby booth before he ends up jamming all manner of rusty implements into them.
He turns a hacksaw on one of the girls (Corcoran), splitting her down the middle in a lengthy, gratuitous scene that makes the notorious, similar death in Bone Tomahawk look relatively restrained in comparison. And at that point, the film’s shock factor—somewhat exhilarating in the first few graphic kills involving blades ripping raggedly through flesh—begins to grow unpleasant and tiresome. But perhaps the film’s greatest shock occurs when, at its midway point, Art dispatches the seeming final girl (Kanell) by pulling out a gun. Sure, he turns her face into Swiss cheese in keeping with the film’s graphic gore, but there’s just something unseemly about a slasher villain resorting to a firearm.
Terrifier can’t manage the imaginative gore of similar recent slasher throwbacks like the Hatchet franchise, and it offers absolutely nothing new to the killer clown subgenre. Flawed films like 2014’s Eli Roth-produced, cursed-suit-themed Clown at least make an effort to bring something new to the table. Art’s garish sadism leaves little room for the over-the-top gleefulness inherent to many low-budget bloodbaths. And the film’s more elaborate death scenes only manage to ape other films, such as The Silence of the Lambs, Saw and the aforementioned Bone Tomahawk. Since Art is thrust onscreen almost immediately and doesn’t lurk in the shadows so much as constantly mug for the camera, there’s no tension in this film outside of the viewer bracing for the grisliness of the next inevitable kill.