For a horror movie to really stand out it has to have that scene. The scene could be one of great acting, absolute horror or outrageous bad taste. Without it, or with too many attempts to get that particular scene, the movie can be a dull and forgettable affair. There are only so many ways an annoying teenager can meet their end after all.
Terrifier doesn't have annoying teenagers, but it does have that scene. Director Damien Leone is quite aware of that because, although there are other scenes that come close throughout the movie and plenty of graphic murders, none of them even attempt to outdo it. It happens about halfway through the film and literally hangs around through the rest to remind the audience of what happened. It's absolutely gratuitous, uncalled for and in horrible taste - and it is one of the best kills I have seen in horror films in decades. While the other scenes don't match it, the rest of the movie as a whole is certainly worthy of it.
A disfigured woman appears on a talk show with a condescending host to discuss the night when she barely survived an encounter with Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton), a man of unknown origin that dresses up as a variation of a whiteface clown who has murdered a number of people. We are then introduced to Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran), two young women returning from a Halloween party that encounter Art during an argument about whether or not Dawn should drive. The two decide that instead of going immediately, they should get something to eat and sober up.
At first the girls dismiss the encounter, but Art follows them and begins his string of killings. The girls return to the car to find the tires slashed, and Tara calls her sister Victoria (Samantha Scaffidi) to pick them up. Tara asks an exterminator (Matt McAllister) to use the bathroom in an abandoned building he is treating, which leads to her getting locked in. Soon she finds that the whole building has been locked down by Art so that he can take his time with her and anyone else that he can find.
There is not a lot of plot to this movie other than people getting chased and killed by a killer clown. While I have seen that as a complaint, I believe that it is the movie's biggest strength. Like the original conception of Michael Meyers, Art the Clown simply murders people for whatever reason. He's just creative about it, which is the other thing that elevates this movie above just being a bunch of murder and torture scenes. David Howard Thornton has training as a mime and used that to bring the killer to life. Art the Clown debuted in All Hallow's Eve, played by Mike Giannelli, whose unavailability led to Thornton taking over. What he does in this case is draw not only on mime but also on old silent film performances. Damien Leone's desire was to make sure Art in no way resembled Pennywise, and successfully sets this apart from the more popular adaptations of Stephen King's It.
The acting isn't as horrible as it could be, and after the beginning really all anyone is required to do is scream, cry and yell out each other's names. Like Art it is largely physical performance, although there is some laughably terrible writing and delivery toward the end by Cory Duval as a coroner. The exception is a wonderful performance by Pooya Mohseni, who plays a homeless woman living in the building who thinks her doll is a real child and tries in some way to connect with Art.
Most of the effects are practical, with digital help here and there. They are done well, and there are several parts here that go against the grain of the typical slasher film. The only real problem I have is the color grading, which is similar to the second and third Saw films, and seems to be something too many directors did in the 2000s and 2010s to add more "grit" to the movie. It's not needed to make one want to take a shower after watching this.
This movie gained a cult following over the last six years, resulting in the inevitable sequel that Art the Clown was made for. It's been a long time since a true horror villain has popped up and, while the new movie is supposed to be better than this one, at some point poor Art may find himself murdering people and doing pratfalls and honking his horn like a demented Harpo Marx in order to make up for the fact that being mute prevents the usual Freddy Krueger-like one-liners. Until then this definitely deserves its status, even if it does still have a bit of 2000s baggage.
Time: 85 minutes
Starring: Jenna Kanell, Catherine Corcoran, Samantha Scaffidi, David Howard Thornton
Director: Damien Leone