Terrifier 2' Doubles Down on the Gleeful Sadism That's Given the Franchise a Cult Following

Terrifier 2' Doubles Down on the Gleeful Sadism That's Given the Franchise a Cult Following

- By Nicolás Delgadillo

Art, the murderous clown, returns in a sequel that goes bigger and bolder

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that something as mean-spirited and jaw-droppingly violent as Damien Leone’s modern day slasher series Terrifier has become the cult phenomenon that it has. More to the point, it’s no surprise that a character like Art the Clown - an immortal, silent killer skilled in the art of death, torture and macabre slapstick - has become one of the most recognizable clowns in horror next to the likes of Pennywise. People just can’t get enough of the stuff; that creepy inversion of childhood delight turned into pure nightmare fuel can go a long way.

Played with menace and sadistic glee by David Howard Thornton, part of the appeal of Art as a villain is his unnerving ability to constantly be unpredictable. Similar to other slasher icons like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees, Art never speaks a single word. Instead, he relies on the comically exaggerated expressions of mimes to taunt his victims in his own ghoulish ways - silently laughing at their torment, playing an imaginary violin as they bleed out, using their decapitated heads as props, or just lingering in doorways and grinning at them as they debate whether to run or try to fight. Both options seem to end in death either way.

While it may be obvious that you’re gonna get maimed and killed by the vicious clown, it’s impossible to know exactly how he’s gonna get the job done; what his weapon of choice will be, how long he’s gonna prolong your suffering, or whether he’s gonna do it with a smile or a glare. Art’s previous two appearances in Leone’s sorta-anthology 2011 flick All Hallows’ Eve and the first Terrifier in 2016 made him an underground favorite of the genre. I wouldn’t call either film particularly good despite their impressively grisly practical gore effects, but I do see the obvious appeal in a movie monster like Art and the 'Fuck It, Why Not?' attitude of a filmmaker like Leone for fans of the ol’ blood and guts.

David Howard Thornton stars as Art in 'Terrifier 2'
Courtesy of Dark Age Cinema

Which brings us to 2022, a time where horror, especially slashers, have been basking in the crimson glow of an undeniable renaissance. After six years and a COVID-delayed production, Leone, Thornton, cinematographer George Steuber and other members of Team Art have returned with Terrifier 2. Any sequel worth its salt (you don’t wanna know how salt plays into this movie) knows that you have to go bigger and bolder. Terrifier 2 does exactly that, reveling in its own excess and can’t-look-away carnage. This is a nearly two and a half hour slasher that loves to push the limits of its R-rating in terms of its violence; please make no mistake in what you’re getting yourself into when you watch this film. It can be a lot, even for seasoned horror veterans.

In our current age where fans now often dictate the direction of franchises, Terrifier 2 is an interesting example where its clearly catering to those bloodthirsty fans who made the film happen in the first place (a large portion of its budget literally came from a successful crowdfund campaign) but also seems to have taken earlier criticisms to heart by attempting an actual character-driven story in addition to the expected gorefest. By the time this beast of a movie reaches its carnival-set climax and sprinkles in some Rob Zombie-esque avant garde type imagery, it’s earned it in its own way.

Thornton is as delightfully scary as always, seeming more at home in the role than ever before. There’s a lot more of the darkly funny clown / mime gags this time around (the film’s in no rush, after all) that let the character really breathe. In a particularly fun move, he’s backed up this time around by a mini demon girl played by scene-stealing Georgia MacPhail. Who or what exactly is she? Not important. What is important are scenes where she plays patty cake with a naked and blood soaked Art at the laundromat or tosses a dead possum back and forth with him in a school hallway. Scenes with the two of them together have the exact kind of energy you wish could be sustained through the rest of the film.

Lauren LaVera stars as Sienna in 'Terrifier 2'
Courtesy of Dark Age Cinema

But the real MVP of Terrifier 2 is Lauren LaVera’s Sienna, the hero of the story who becomes a character you can really root for. Nearly all of Art’s victims across his multi-movie massacres have been framed with a cruel indifference or even worse, an outright kind of masochism. LaVera’s character is someone you want to see not just survive to the end of the movie, but kill Art once and for all. You’ll find even the most diehard fans of the murderous clown cheering on Sienna this time around. That’s an accomplishment in itself, even if most of the film’s actual narrative fails to keep up with the level LaVera’s star performance.

Despite its improvements all around when compared to its predecessors, like them, I still hesitate to call Terrifier 2 a genuinely good movie. There’s plenty of talent behind and in front of the camera, that’s hard to argue with. But the stiff writing makes things feel overlong more than any bloated runtime can. Scenes can feel like they’re dragging on and the violence inevitably loses its edge due to sheer tediousness. I wish there was a more consistently fun, tongue-in-cheek vibe in these films; the sadism too often comes across as directionless. It’s bigger and it’s better but Terrifier 2 shows that this horror franchise has yet to strike that perfect balance of shock and enjoyment that could make it great.

Then again, as of this writing, the film has already become an unprecedented indie legend. On Thursday night previews alone, Terrifier 2 has made as much at the box office as major studio releases out the same weekend. Despite A-list casts, millions spent in marketing, and opening in over three times as many theaters, this two and a half hour R-rated fan-driven slasher movie is the one rising to the top. Clearly, it’s Art and company who always get the last laugh.

‘Terrifier 2’ is now playing in select theaters.

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