So, here is a rarity: a modern slasher that largely avoids the traps its contemporaries often fall into. Terrifier echoes the eighties classics when the violence was ridiculously over the top, and the antagonists had personalities distinct enough to make them equivalents to today’s superheroes. It was hard to take those movies too seriously, yet they were still suitably scary and macabrely entertaining, without going borderline snuff like many do today.
Terrifier’s seemingly straightforward plot is set during Halloween, with Tara and Dawn (Jenna Kannell and Catherine Corcoran) getting ready to head home from a party. On the way to the car, they encounter a silent clown whose behavior switches between being playful (albeit creepily so) to giving dead-eyed stares. As the clown’s actions grow increasingly bizarre, the girls head off to the car, only to find their tires slashed.
If the setup sounds like a slasher trope, it’s because it is, yet Terrifier is a stylish entry to the genre. Director Damien Leone has a background as a makeup artist, and he has put his talents well into use with Art the Clown (as his name is). The character looks downright demented.
Visually, too, the movie is well executed. The apartment building where the brunt of the movie takes place is claustrophobically filmed. The narrow hallways and sharp corners are aesthetically similar to many Italian gialli, and particularly Dario Argento’s Deep Red looks to be an aesthetic reference point.
David Howard Thornton’s performance as Art is terrific. The actor is a trained mime, and he shows a natural comfort with a clown’s movements and mannerisms, giving the character a real menace. Art shows similarities to an early Freddy Krueger—macabrely funny, with just the right amount of ominousness thrown in—and Thornton channels his inner Robert England well.
It is too bad there is one scene in Terrifier that is unnecessarily cruel. One can claim that’s the nature of the slasher, but the best of the genre tend to go over the top to where it is hard to take it seriously. The scene in question (and you’ll know it when you see it) is a distraction from the many things that make this a good movie, which it really is, sitting at 73% certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad for a film that seemingly was designed not to be a mainstream hit.
Terrifier is a sequel, of sorts, to All Hallows Eve, an entertaining anthology film not unlike Tales from the Crypt. There was an actual sequel to it, too, but it was produced by a different team, and Art is not featured in it.
Images borrowed from IMDb.