Ah, the divisive Terrifier. A modern slasher if there ever was one, beloved and hated by many a passionate horror lover. I’ll make it clear where I stand: it’s one of my favorite movies. But no matter what I think or what you think, no one can deny its strong presence, especially that of its villain, conjured in only four years of being. It takes a special something to do that.
So, what is that special something? That would be Art the Clown, of course, along with aspects of the film itself that only amp up his appeal. In this article, I’m going to explore what led to this success, and what’s keeping Art on top.
Having Art the Clown make his feature debut semi-alongside the massively iconic Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Terrifier’s 2016 release next to Its 2017 launch) turned out to be very good for him. The two character designs are almost perfect opposites; Pennywise sports traditional red hues and a vintage costume, whereas Art is completely monochrome, resembling a mime more than a clown. When placed side-by-side, Art stands out, whereas many other creepy clowns fall under Pennywise’s shadow. Art’s look alone sparks interest in his origin; that is, after all, what lead me to seek out Terrifier during the October of 2018.
And when you go to watch it, you find earthlier horror, what seems to be a simple fellow in a costume terrorizing folks in the grisliest fashions imaginable. This aspect gives the film a grittier aura than that of It, helped exponentially by its use of extreme practical gore. By all means, it’s one of the most off-the-rails clown horrors ever put to screen, and fans are into that. What certainly could’ve been just another copycat flick trying to cash in on a popular craze turned out to be so much more.
During a time when the slasher genre was barely alive, only peeking through in scattered wide releases that just didn’t get the same traction as the famous slashers of the ’80s and ’90s, this movie was a breath of fresh air. Not only was it a slasher, but a slasher with an attractive (take that how you will), charismatic, and unique character that could just about singlehandedly launch his film of origin into the spotlight.
When it comes to slashers, a great villain is more than half the battle. Having lovable protagonists is great, sure, but villains are the lifeblood of most successful horror franchises. When I say, A Nightmare on Elm Street, what do you think of? When I say, Friday the 13th, who comes to mind? Halloween? Child’s Play? Iconic killers are the glue that holds these franchises together—they are visually appealing, disturbing, and entertaining. Art is much like a perfect combination of all these things.
Like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, he’s totally silent, which might’ve been a weak point if he didn’t have the wit of Freddy Krueger and the gleeful malice of Pennywise. I’m not trying to say he’s a rip-off of any of these characters; I’m trying to say he’s a perfect mix of all their best attributes, portrayed flawlessly by David Howard Thornton. If I taught a “How to Make a Slasher” class, he’d be front and center. I’d go as far as to say he’s the greatest slasher I’ve ever seen, according to the driving factors I’ve observed in other successful villains, as well as what I personally look for in a slasher (yeah, yeah, you’re invited to stop by my house and beat me up. I do not care).
There is a key detail in the film as a whole that, while not specifically about Art himself, still helps propel him forward. To elaborate, I have to make a quick example out of Rob Zombie: House of 1,000 Corpses is stated to be “by horror fans, for horror fans.” Instead of having something to say or a special story to tell, it focuses on incorporating as many beloved horror aspects into itself as possible. According to this, fans want the gore, they want the shock, they want the crazy characters, and if the Firefly family’s success is telling of anything, that is true to an extent. Terrifier’s team expresses this exact idea, a real love for horror and the people that keep it alive, a desire to provide little more than a good time; an escape. Circling back to Art, this tone is a part of what has caused so many to attach to him, as they have attached to Zombie’s array of kooky characters.
Terrifier does not shy away from showing us its monster. Art is front and center for most of the movie, never in the shadows, never “teased.” Terrifier knows he is its strength, and I think that was the case from the start. A lot of the time, a horror movie with a compelling villain opts to focus more on its protagonists, seldom showing its bad guy to the disappointment of many viewers. This is another angle at which the film meets the Zombie criteria of “give the fans what they want.”
Art is unconventional and conventional in all the right ways. Certainly, clowns are a popular antagonist, as I’ve somewhat touched on already, and Art exhibits many attributes that make our favorite horror names so great. But he also bends the rules and spices up the slasher formula in his killing of the lead long before the end of the movie and in his use of a gun. Just more layers building him into the giant he’s become!
Like many of my favorite horror films, it strives to be fun above all else. As I said, there isn’t a message, nothing to say—just a fun character slashing some bodies, and sometimes that’s all you want. Not every horror fan will appreciate the pure off-the-wall, fanservice style of Zombie and Leone’s individual works, but that doesn’t make them any less deserving of the love they receive—nor should more “sophisticated” horror flicks be scoffed at by fans of a good bloody romp. I’d like to see a day where we can all agree that every breed of horror is inherently deserving of respect.
Ultimately, it seems like people either loathe what Art the Clown is packing or love it. Not every horror fan is someone who desires what Damien Leone brings to the table, but as proven in the past by Rob Zombie’s huge success, there are an equal amount of people who absolutely gobble it up—I’m one of them.
With Terrifier 2 on the horizon, it looks like this monochrome menace of a villain isn’t going anywhere soon. So, whether you love him or hate him, you’d better get used to him. He’s here to stay.