Archive for January 15, 2023

Terrifier 2

January 15, 2023

terrifier 2

“I react to the brutality,” wrote Pauline Kael in her review of the brutal El Topo, “because I still associate violence with pain.” Well, Damien Leone’s Terrifier movies are decidedly not for Kael or anyone else who associates violence with pain. For horror-movie fans who respond to the protracted kills in these movies as flashy crescendos, the viciousness is (again in Kael’s words) a turn-on. Terrifier 2, which earned $10 million last fall against a $250,000 budget, ups the ante on the grisly shocks Leone dealt in the previous films in the franchise — All Hallows’ Eve (2013) and the first Terrifier (2016). The films are unified by the star of the show, the silent creeper/killer Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton), but can be watched independently. The first Terrifier is a minimalist slasher that exists to send various characters to untidy deaths, but Terrifier 2 is some kind of ambitious work of art within the context of slasher sequels (it even, for Christ’s sake, boasts a musical nightmare sequence).

Art the Clown never speaks or even screams in pain, and when he laughs at his cruel works, he does it silently. He moves gracefully, even joyfully, and often reads as childlike. He’s much the best part of this series; he seems to wear an aura of nightmare logic around himself, bending the world’s reality to his designs. He does too many incredible things in these movies to be a realistic psycho; he seems supernatural, even immortal, and here we learn that he may have emerged from — or at least been predicted by — the sketches of an artist whose brain tumor drove him to madness and suicide. The dead artist left a bitter widow and two school-age kids: Sienna (Lauren LaVera), a gloomy teen who works for months on costumes in her room, and Jonathan (Elliott Fullam), who has a morbid interest in Art. The devilish clown zeroes in on these kids, sometimes accompanied by a little girl who shares his rictus leer and his worship of gore; she exists, probably, in Art’s imagination, or maybe not. The metaphysics of Leone’s movies are far from consistent or coherent.

The monstrous killer doesn’t seem to want anything from Sienna or Jonathan other than to kill them messily, which I felt missed a chance for the plot to be interesting instead of distended. (Terrifier 2 runs two and a quarter hours, a long time to indulge Leone’s bloody showmanship.) Still, anyone who cut their teeth on forbidden issues of Fangoria magazine in the ‘80s, cooing over the color photos of splattery massacres and (even cooler) how the effects were done, will recognize Terrifier 2 as the sort of over-the-top magnum opus we Fango kids always hoped for and seldom got because the MPAA always required horror movies to be whittled down to win an R rating. Terrifier 2 went out unrated, without major-studio backing, and wound up spending four weeks in the box-office top ten. That’s worth paying attention to, even if the film’s particular emphasis on surreally cruel mutilations and hackings requires a loud and receptive audience. If you’ve never heard of Fangoria, you are probably not among that audience.

Some have noted, here and in its predecessor, that Leone tends to linger on the agony of the female victims while giving male victims relatively quick and merciful deaths. I can’t deny that, and I don’t know the following for sure, but women/girls being stalked and slashed is a regrettable but inarguable trope of this subgenre, and by lavishing such attention and fake blood on those scenes, Leone may be (I suspect, perhaps too charitably) parodying or at least commenting on that trope. The violence here goes beyond misogyny; it’s often too cartoonish to be taken seriously, and it’s not truly intended to be associated with real pain. It’s the sort of horror comic, caked over with red crayon, that a spooky monster-loving little kid might come up with. Like Art himself, it seems innocent on some level. It appeals to the part of us that used to engage in verbal riffs on gross tortures when we were kids. Again, if you weren’t one of those kids…