If there’s one thing the modern horror genre is lacking is a truly endearing antagonist that really captures the imagination of the masses. I mean the 70’s had Leatherface and Michael Myers, the 80’s saw the rise of Freddy, Jason, Chucky and Pinhead while the 90’s gave us Candyman, Ghostface and to an extent, Hannibal Lector, but since then any prospective horror hero who isn’t Jigsaw, Pennywise or who’s appeared in a Conjuring spinoff that’s hasn’t really managed to reach those same? dizzy heights. Some have come close, sure; the flesh eating gargoyle of Jeepers Creepers was memorable enough but the crimes of his creator, Victor Salva are too heinous to make that feel comfortable; then there’s the misshapen Victor Crowley who debuted in Adam Greene’s 80’s throwback, Hatchet, but he’s possibly too underground to truly hit big; finally there’s the Babadook I suppose, but that top hatted icon has only appeared in one movie to date – a relative drop in the ocean compared to the sheer amount of appearances some of his peers have racked up. I guess there’s no choice but to send in the clowns…
After a pre-credits sequence that sees a shockingly mutilated survivor of a murder spree that occurred a year ago get interviewed on a talk show about her unimaginable ordeal, we meet Tara and Dawn, two fairly drunk young women on their way home from a Halloween party who rightly determine that they’re both far too wasted to drive and opt to try and sober up in a nearby pizzeria. However, it’s here that they become acquainted with the Art the Clown, an unnerving figure dressed in black and white clown garb who takes an obvious shine to Tara, smiling at her with a set of toothy gums that makes Richard Brake look like he should be advertising Colgate on the telly. Dawn, being that reckless drunk friend we all know and tolerate, thinks it’s funny to egg this weirdo on but after the staff of the Pizzeria throw the clown out for smearing his shit all over the customer bathroom, matters take a far more deadly turn.
Art, unsurprisingly, is a total loon-bag who carries a heaving sack of bladed weapons with him wherever he goes and after impressively obliterating the pizzeria staff, he targets Tara and Dawn who are now stranded thanks to a slashed tire. Needing to pee, Tara pops into a derelict apartment building to relieve herself and it’s here that Art decides to make his presence felt in the worst way, stalking Tara through the maze-like building and gruesomely annihilating anyone who wanders into his sight line. As Tara desperately tries to survive, her sister, Victoria is on route to pick her up – but as Art is a serial slasher who doesn’t play by the expected rules, all bets are off as to how this night is going to play out.
Less a standard slasher film and more a nightmarish stream of consciousness with slasher tendencies, Terrifier doesn’t so much reinvent the wheel as batter conventions about the head and face with it – but there’s a fully formed feeling about the flick that radiates far more confidence that your average, sleazy, low budget kill-fest.
Of course, there’s a reason for that as Art made his first appearances in director Damien Leone’s orginal short films and his anthology feature, All Hallow’s Eve, which means that the malevolent clown feels more fleshed out in his “first” appearance than many other wannabe slicers and dicers. If it’s true that a film stands or falls on the strength of its villain, then Terrifer gets an almighty boost right out of the gate as David Howard Thornton avoids the typical clown shit this sort of role attracts and instead opts for more of a mime approach which affords the tombstone-toothed maniac huge amounts of personality without ever uttering a word. He’s insidiously smart too, as he knows how to drive a pickup truck, he’s not above using a gun and even knows his way around a smart phone, sending texts to attract more victims or even snapping the odd selfie.
He’s certainly got more personality than the procession of cardboard cutouts who line up to get stunningly violent ends and this is where the movie stumbles a little. Jenna Kanell’s Tara is only awarded a tad more personality that the rest of the cast chiefly because of her enormous dark eyes and the fact she gets more screen time than anyone else, but at least Leone realises that you get more impact from the deaths if you don’t make every single walking toe-tag cartoonishly obnoxious and it’s here we come to the true stand out of the film – those jaw dropping acts of slaughter.
Many modern horror movies claim to try and invoke the spirit of decades past with frenzied bloodletting and a grainy picture quality, but Terrifier does it better than most with its wilfully seedy production value accentuating the copious gore. And what gore! Be it a man’s severed head being retro fitted into becoming a macabre, makeshift Jack-o-lantern (stolen by the 2018 Halloween) or the woman who’s partially skinned and scalped in order for Art to temporarily pass as female, Leone goes balls to the wall with the merciless kill sequences. No one is simply “killed”, faces are shredded by multiple stab wounds or point blank bullets, heads get hacksawed off in gruesome detail and, in it’s most memorable scene, a naked woman hung upside down is sawed in half right down the middle in a moment that’s reminiscent and almost more gruesome than the one seen in 2015’s Bone Tomahawk. Talk about doing the splits… It’s all eyebrow raising stuff and I’m assuming the censors all had a fire drill or something the day they screened it because it’s a virtual miracle that such visceral spitefulness was allowed to escape unscathed. Aside from the impressive gore, the other thing that elevates Terrifier is its disinterest in following the expected rules of the usual kind of throwaway slasher which takes the kind of plot twists seen in films like Psycho and Scream and takes them to almost ludicrous extremes which makes it’s monochromatic maniac all the more unsettling. Freddy always get vanquished by a virtuous opposite number, but you’ll get no such relief from Art which makes his slightly surreal rampage feel slightly more Lynchian than anything seen in a Friday The 13th clone.
Of course there’s issues with the main problem being the literal non-existence of anything approaching a recognisable plot, which often leaves Terrifier feeling less like a real movie and more of a 82-minute sizzle reel. Also, due to the fact that the men in the movie suffer more straight forward deaths while the women’s suffering tend to focus around their sexual organs or breasts, the movie tends to regrettably holiday in the realms in misogyny more than once, but when it’s trading in more recognizable traits for a tangible sense of nihilistic sleaze you can taste at the back of your throat, Terrifier is horribly effective. In fact, you might say it’s state of the Art.