Part of me and my girlfriend’s 30-movie Halloween marathon.
When it comes to low-budget horror of the 2010s, Terrifier was the little engine that could. Writer/director Damien Leone expanded the murderous character of Art the Clown from his 2011 anthology All Hallows’ Eve. He unsuccessfully attempted an Indiegogo campaign, but wound up securing the $35,000 funding he sought thanks to the generosity of producer Phil Falcone. A low key theatrical release in 2016 and several midnight and festival screenings later made Terrifier a modern cult film in what seemed like no time.
If you’re searching for a no-frills splatter film that offers you practical depictions of gruesome, bloody brutality, you needn’t look further than Terrifier to find your fix. In a landscape rife with horror films burdened by their overreliance on CGI, their inexplicable desire to keep the monster(s) mostly hidden through quick-cuts and low-lighting, or possibly their increasingly redundant commentary on grief and trauma, Leone’s low-budget exercise in old-fashioned slasher-splatter conventions proves somewhat refreshing because it doesn’t require you to indulge it for anything more than what it provides: gleefully gnarly goriness.
The film opens with an interview between a news anchor and a woman with several facial injuries that make her resemble a monster more than a human. She is the lone survivor of a massacre that occurred on Halloween night. The perpetrator, she says, was Art the Clown (David Howard Thompson), a lanky man dressed in circus attire sporting black-and-white clown makeup. Following the interview, the woman hears the anchor telling her boyfriend on the phone how hideous her subject is. The disfigured woman turns the anchor into a violent, bloody pulp.
Flashback to the evening of the massacre. Two friends, Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) and Tara (Jenna Kanell), are drunkenly leaving a party when they encounter Art, whose creepy grin and ominous attire instantly send shivers down their spines. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t grunt. He simply grins, mimes, and menaces. At first, it would appear that Leone is simply eager to have Art make his move and mutilate these unsuspecting women. On the contrary, however. We surprisingly spend quite a bit of time with Dawn and Tara before the inevitable. Despite this, Terrifier doesn’t rely on a singular protagonist nor “final girl” in the conventional sense.
Such news should delight any hardened fan of horror films of this ilk. This clown loves tormenting victims, particularly women. Sometimes he uses a knife. Other times, he reaches for a gun. In arguably the film’s most disgusting sequence, Art hangs a naked woman upside down, by her ankles, and saws her in half, starting with her vagina. The body count rises in no time.
Terrifier half-commits to being a single-setting horror film, as the bulk of it takes place around/in this rundown apartment complex. When the aforementioned women find their vehicle’s tires are slashed, Tara phones her sister Victoria (Samantha Scaffidi) to pick her up; her sibling unaware of the situation in which she’s about to find herself. The apartment complex also introduces us to other individuals (aka future corpses), such as an exterminator (Matt McAllister) and “the Cat Lady” (Pooya Mohseni).
Let’s talk about Mohseni’s character for a moment. She clearly has some form of mental illness, and she carries around a doll that she treats like her living, breathing daughter, suggesting a tragedy occurred with her own. One of the scariest scenes in Terrifier is when Art gets a hold of the doll. I won’t say more, but the stranglehold of dread Leone puts you in as soon as the clown gets his claws on this woman’s most precious item is as tense as it is upsetting.
The beauty of Leone’s film is that while it exists to show you various gruesome ways humans can be maimed, tortured, killed, or left permanently disfigured, there is still a commendable attention put forth on suspense. Even at 84 minutes, however, the film does what most splatter films do: prompt fatigue and succumb to its repetitive desires. The characters don’t matter, their dialog is invaluable, and their presences will soon be replaced with those of other unsuspecting victims, rendering Terrifier crafty but ultimately redundant even in its brevity.
NOTE: As of this writing, Terrifier is streaming on Tubi, free of charge, as well as Peacock, with a subscription.
Starring: David Howard Thornton, Jenna Kanell, Samantha Scaffidi, Catherine Corcoran, Matt McAllister, and Pooya Mohseni. Directed by: Damien Leone.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!