Destined to be a midnight classic, Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2 is a film that necessitates reaction. It’s emblematic of the reasons why people still go to the theater—the social element. And despite the notably graphic violence—even on my second viewing, I had to wrestle with myself to stay in the seat—the greatest spectacle is what’s happening outside of theaters. Not only was the film made with a very low budget, $250,000 (even more admirable given the film’s 138-minute runtime), but its initial, one-weekend-only limited release has been expanded for more than a month, allowing it to rack in an astronomical $11 million from the box office. In an age where streamers dominate and theaters seem to always be on their dying legs—what about Terrifier 2 is so special?
One of the main reasons for the original Terrifier’s impact was the outstanding gore, done by writer/director/editor Damien Leone. This has only improved for the sequel, with both more kills and more variety within them. Despite being over the top, the effects still hold a lot of substance, with proper anatomy maintained and subsequently annihilated by the villain, Art the Clown. Particularly admirable is the well-done use of guns, which are generally avoided in horror films. Leone gives a powerful, visceral quality to bullets—similar to that of any other slasher weapon. With walk-outs and mass-barfing in news headlines and heading the morning talk shows, it’s a spectacle reminiscent of films like The Exorcist—and the controversy only puts more butts in seats.
But, even acknowledging the quality of the makeup FX, what stands out here is the pure commitment to sadism Leone has. Terrifier 2 is a very cruel movie, and it has no misgivings about this. Audiences are forced to linger on brutal, provocative imagery for extended periods of time and when you may think it can’t get worse, Leone will just rub some salt in that wound. In an era when portrayal is more often becoming synonymous with endorsement, Leone’s absolute commitment is brave and refreshing.
Even outside of the gore, 2 is an overall substantial aesthetic improvement over the original film, and while it remains to be seen how much talent Leone truly has behind the camera, with increasing budgets it will become clear soon. Terrifier 2 is a far more colorful film than the original, defined by its use of blue and orange lighting, and has a well-done digital grain. While at some points this can come across as amateurish (some of which is likely due to the low budget), it’s almost charmingly low-fi. Until Leone directs outside of the Terrifier franchise, it will be difficult to tell if his camera restraint is an artistic decision or not. Either way, in a film as bombastic as this, I can applaud this choice to reserve the more expressionistic visuals for the gore scenes—even if that is due in part to Leone’s biases as an FX artist. Even with any shortcomings in mind, the gore scenes are well-shot and especially well-edited, making great use of short montage as well as strong sound effects to wrap it all together.
While many aspects of the film are remarkable, the element which sits atop it all is its slasher star, Art the Clown. While plenty ‘Art” merchandise has made its way around since 2016’s Terrifier, the sequel is what cements him as a horror icon. He’s expertly performed by David Howard Thornton, whose history as a professional mime lends to a perfectly executed character. He encompasses both the silent terror of slashers like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees, as well as the comedic personalities of Freddy Krueger and Chucky. While the 2010s have been incredibly bare for horror icons (outside of perhaps the IT remake’s Pennywise), Art the Clown stands out as a true slasher for the modern age—less creative but meaner than ever.
Alongside Art, the cast is filled with standouts, in particular the final girl, Sienna Shaw (portrayed by Lauren LaVera), who’s both likable and unique. Utilizing the Halloween setting to put her in a Frazetta-esque costume is a stroke of genius as well—setting up the film’s epic conclusion to have a swords-and-sorcery warrior princess face off against an evil clown. It’s an image of great, modern excess, but it works so well.
Decisions like Sienna’s costume are exactly why Terrifier 2 is doing so well. It’s the antithesis of the modern leanings of the horror genre—a response to the implications of “elevated horror.” It’s a film that doesn’t need to lean on bloated metaphors or an air of self-importance—its goal is simply to terrify.