Director: Damien Leone (USA). Year of Release: 2022
A coroner’s surgery in a building on the wrong side of town. As police sirens scream past the window, the coroner looks at his latest body, which is dressed in a black and white pierrot/clown outfit. The body stirs, then slashes the coroner. He drags his way to the phone, and manages to dial 911, but his throat is too full of blood to make a sound. As we hear a voice on the other end of the phone, the clown picks up a hammer used to test reflexes and slams it down. Many times.
A nearby laundrette. A customer is sleeping near the doorway. The clown enters and does a Nick Kamen, stripping and putting his bloodied clothes into the washing machine. Suddenly, he sees someone else in the laundrette – a girl clown, who must be around 10 years old and wears the same black and white make up and costume. The clown plays pat-a-cake with the girl while he waits for his washing. The sleeper wakes up and sees the clown alone, waving his hands in the air.
A house in the same area. Sienna is planning for tomorrow’s Halowe’en party. She has spent months making a metal costume with white wings which is part Xena Warrior Princess. part Clare Danes in Romeo + Juliet. It is inspired by her late father who sketched the designs, and gave her a metal sword. Sienna’s brother Jonathan, who is currently obsessed with serial killers and the torture methods used by the Nazis, believes that the sword will help Sienna fight for her destiny.
Sienna flicks through tv channels, looking for something to fall asleep to. Most channels are showing horror movies, but she finds a kids’ programme about clowns. As she dozes off, she enters the programme in her dream. The kids are expecting a clown to arrive, but when he does, it is Art, the blood-strewn pierrot from the opening scene. As Sienna struggles to wake from her nightmare, her room sets fire. Her belongings are burned to a cinder but the sword is unscathed.
Many years ago, when I first heard that there was a word for fear of clowns (coulrophobia, for what it’s worth), I was somewhat perplexed. Then again, I grew up on Charlie Cairoli, and the most sinister clown I came across was Ronald McDonald. Seeing Art the Clown in Terrifier 2, you realise just how scary clowns can be. It is partly the rictus grin through black teeth, partly your uncertainty of what is really going through Art’s head, although he always looks like he is up to no good.
This is a bravura performance by David Howard Thornton, with dashes of Stan Laurel, Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx – in one scene, Art even picks up a horn so that he can communicate. Otherwise he is mute, although his face passes through a variety of emotions, from excitement through joy and impatience. There is a lot of slapstick in Art’s manner, and often his acts end peacefully. But he is always menacing, and, as we repeatedly learn, very capable of violence.
For Thornton’s performance as Art alone, Terrifier 2 is well worth a view. But there are some drawbacks – quite a few actually. Firstly, at nearly 2 hours 20 minutes, the film is way too long. This is the sort of mindless schlock which should be over within 1½ hours max. There is no profound message to the world, this is just a fun romp which should say what it needs to say and quickly leave. The longer Terrifier 2 goes on, the more it repeats itself, with little added value.
Secondly, much of the violence is not just gratuitous, it is unnecessary. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I’m barely worried by on-screen violence (possible exception, That scene in Marathon Man). But much of the violence here is just boring. People are killed, then scalped, then disembowelled by hand in a manner that adds nothing to the plot and is neither scary nor funny. It is as if the director is trying to see what he can get away with at the expense of being interesting.
The film also rehashes a number of tired horror film tropes. People escaping a killer inside a house always head upstairs, there is a denouement at a creepy deserted fairground (in the Terrifier House, natch), and characters are beaten to a pulp before rising, running away, and committing acts of random violence. Other characters are punished for taking drugs and making out. Then again, seeing as almost no-one with a speaking role survives, maybe they are not being singled out.
It is interesting that making out here just means heavy petting – there is no suggestion that a pair of horny teenagers might even think about having sex. For a film which is so laissez faire about its use of blood and gore, Terrifier 3 is incredibly puritanical about sex. This does not stop it objectifying its young female characters – Sienna is nearly bursting out of her costume (as her mother notes), and a shower scene shows her from behind, but with clearly defined tits.
Terrifier 2 is a strange film to judge. At its best, it can be an incredibly subtle silent performance by a villain who is able to scare us most while he is doing absolutely nothing. There are other scenes when it intelligently shows the faltering efforts of a family deal with the early death of their father. At other times, it is incredibly formulaic. It is particularly insensitive in its assumption that people with mental problems should be feared, and also often glorifies gore for no real reason.
So go, or don’t go. Enjoy the good bits, but be aware that not all the bits are really all that. And some are borderline offensive.