What the f*ck is Art the Clown? I’d be lying if I said, “As I was sitting in the theater for Terrifier 2, this was the number one question on my mind.” No, I came to Terrifier 2 fully aware of what to expect. Despite a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% with thirteen reviews in place when I entered, I didn’t enter the cinema with the presumption that Terrifier 2 would be an instant classic. Rotten Tomatoes only rates positive reviews versus negative reviews. Terrifier 2’s Metascore of 68% is far more on the nose of how to gauge your excitement, but, as any horror fan knows, that’s still kind of rare. Terrifier 2 has been rated favorably on an old-school report card level while also being universally enjoyed so far, so, of course, I wanted to check this out.
I remember first seeing Art (David Howard Thornton) in the All Hallows’ Eve movies. He was quickly the best part of the first anthology, and it was obvious when he basically took command over the second film that Art was going to be huge. If you’re wondering how this history lesson bridges over to Terrifier 2, Art goes a little meta. Simply engaging and recognizing Art gives him power in the sequel that takes place right following the events of the first film. Like Freddy Kruger, Art’s power is derived from those who feed into him, and in Terrifier 2, Art’s everywhere. Now, one year after the “Miles County Massacre,” the black and white clown has grown into a curiosity, and possible idolization, for true crime follower Jonathan (Elliott Fullman) and a horrifying nightmare of possibility for his sister Sienna (Lauren LaVera).
Terrifier 2 follows Sienna, a do-it-yourself costumer with a majestic-looking angel costume she’s designed from her father’s notebooks. Her brother Jonathan is less imaginative, deciding to attend this year’s Halloween festivities as the real-life murderer of nine people a year ago: Art the Clown. With the mere Candyman utterance of Art’s crimes, Sienna begins seeing Art in her dreams and then in real life. This time Art is getting help from a demonoc Little Pale Girl (Amelie McLain) who shares Art’s sinister sense of humor.
Leone utilizes the surreal in the film as if meshing fantasy and reality, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Early dream sequences where Art is a cult-like provocateur, as well as a beloved household name and face, attempt to orient the story in a They Live setting of branding and consumerist ideology. A Mandy–styled Cheddar Goblin commercial for phony cereal Art Crispies appears amid a dreamscape of Saturday Morning programming for children that seems to mainly serve as a place to sell fattening candy and food.
I think the biggest surprise of the film was the jump in the runtime. The first Terrifier clocked in around 84-minutes while Terrifier 2 is an opus at 138. While the film isn’t very quick, it’s still kind of a breeze. I mean, say what you want about the original Terrifier film. In Terrifier 2’s case, it exists almost like a prequel where Terrifier 2 is the main event. Like Empire is to A New Hope. While many will remember next to nothing from the original film, save for its jaw-dropping sawing sequence, Terrifier 2’s replay value is much higher than that of a single scene. The stakes seem higher, the practical effects budget seems endless, and the comedic timing of the film is just better. I laughed out loud through many sequences, especially when they seemed aimed at nostalgic horror films.
If Terrifier poked at anything, it was probably The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, though, in its case, it was more likely the New Jersey Hand Saw Halving. I’ve already mentioned the pseudo Nightmare on Elm Street vibe Terrifier 2 gives off, but there are also little jabs in the film aimed at other slashers. Like a Halloween 5 party scene and a Halloween II hospital scene, a Jason Goes to Hell bit where a hand from the beyond reaches back into this one similarly. And a Scream comparison where a mother returns home to see a glass door busted in, and her daughter weakly calls for her the way Drew Barrymore’s character did in the bloody original opening.
For as brutal and gruesome as we may have once considered Scream’s disemboweling scenes, Terrifier 2 ups that sequence tenfold, and Art’s there to riff on your nostalgia by pulling the viscera through his fingers. Where fans have seen the clown take on Scooby Doo in fan artwork, Leone aims to do the same for classic horror titles. Best of all, his effects team is killer. Making every disgusting, gory, and disturbing grotesquery look like it belongs to the world of John Carpenter or Tom Savini. But that’s the point. No matter the bloody, unsettling lengths: that’s Art. And that’s why the clown signs his name on every blood-soaked canvas of a crime scene.
There will likely be two sets of people that emerge from Terrifier 2, those who got the joke and those who didn’t. If you’re sitting in your chair squirming and leave, ranting that the film is bad, I have no idea why you showed up. But if you saw Terrifier, and knew that it was likely not going to contend with the likes of The Exorcist or Halloween but showed up interested in what crazy, f*cked up thing Art was going to do in the sequel, then you were bound to laugh along with Art’s murderous hijinks.
The only source of real contention I had for the film was in its third act when suddenly, an unsubstantiated act of mysticism is presented. While it’s long foreshadowed and compounded with a familial psychosis plot that never comes to fruition, it’s still a stretch for the audience to consider. Then again, if we’re presented with an entity that embodies evil that can’t die, I suppose what transpires at the end of Terrifier 2 is equally likely. Between that and a couple of other small idiosyncratic transitions, like a bridging scene missing when Jonathan leaves home only to immediately return after getting spooked and the mother being encapsulated as a nagging two-dimensional momsploitation character, Terrifier 2 isn’t going to be taking home any Best Picture awards. Leone, however, has become more patient behind the camera, and it shows in how he captures the comedic atmosphere of the first half of the movie and the tonal shift into terror at the end.
While my theater may not have been packed, I have to think that this long weekend showing on 800 screens for an unrated independent film is likely going to do better than anyone expects, which is great. I like movies like Terrifier, and I hope Damien Leone makes it to the stage where Art takes Manhattan. Hey, if Jason and Ghostface can do it, why not Art?
My verdict on Terrifier 2 is a positive one. Overall, it’s an enjoyable roller coaster ride of non-stop murder and mayhem, ending in a macabre funhouse of frightful delights. While there are a couple of head-scratching moments, it’s largely a fun experience. I think what the film wants to achieve is just giving the viewer a good time away from the commercialization of big box office films while delivering a slasher experience that is eerily reminiscent of one you’ve seen before, yet simultaneously poking fun at it.
If I tried to compare it to anything, I would likely come up short, Terrifier 2 is a marvel of its own making. Though maybe, in contrast, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II attempts to do some similar things, and somehow Leone has done them better. In my opinion, Zombie’s Halloween II is a pretentious allegory that alienates its audience by first giving them what they want and then, in rock star mentality, saying, “Screw you for coming for the hits. We’ll play the songs we want,” then proceeding to jam out to the deepest cuts from the most obscure albums. Leone, in contrast, is playing the hits and having a bloody good time shoving them into our mashed-up and mangled faces. Could it be shorter? Of course, there is some fat lingering here that could be cut. Regardless, it’s a better film than its predecessor and leaves a hell of an impression.
Terrifier 2 is now playing in theaters. Look for it soon on Screambox.
Looking for more on Terrifier 2? Check out Jay Rohr’s review: “Terrifier 2 Brilliantly Brings the Blood”