2018 | Unrated (NC-17 equivalent) | starring Jenna Kanell, Catherine Corcoran, David Howard Thorton | written & directed by Damien Leone | 1 hr 22mins |

Halloween Horrorfest # 9

There is no shortage of killer clown movies in the direct to video market. Even before It hit big and proved how large the audience’s appetite for this particular scare was, it so easy to paint clown makeup on an actor and have them stalk around with a knife for a free scare that any amateur horror filmmaker can do it. It’s inherently frightening with very little effort. Terrifier, written and directed by Damien Leone from his own short film based on a character he’s been trying to bring to the screen for a few years, looks like most of the rest of these movies. In fact, it looks like garbage. It’s reasonably well acted, but it’s poorly scripted and so poorly shot that it’s shoe-string budget shows on screen. It’s the type of production that looks like it was shot with one camera and the actors visibly pause while the camera cuts to a shot of someone else so they can talk.

But, guess what? Terrifier delivers the goods exactly where it counts. It’s a creepy, gruesome and tense gorehounds delight in a world of safe studio horror films. It’s nasty, mean (and borderline misogynistic) in the way Wes Craven used to strike fear in audiences because he seemed to side with the killer, and made us wonder what he get away with next. Leone’s motive seems aligned with his creation, Art the Clown (David Howard Thorton) allowing the character to rampage across the screen delighting in his slaughtering and rigging the game unfairly in his favor. Art has a seemingly endless bag of tricks up his sleeve for some formidable opponents. And Leone knows to keep this force mysterious. In contrast to the chatty CGI-aided Pennywise, Art never says a word and the movie relies entirely on Thorton’s mime performance to sell the very effective goosebumps.

The story opens with a pair of classic slasher movie drunk girls stumbling home from a party in costume and encountering Art on the street, then a pizza parlor. The movie has wasted no time. Soon it becomes clear that Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) aren’t our disposable first kills, and we will stick with them for the long haul. Their lines are terrible but Kannell and Corcoran bring something – chemistry, energy, charm – to this that makes it work. Kanell in particular who was seen most highly in The Bye Bye Man and Terrifier is better than The Bye Bye Man.

Thought it’s set mostly in one location – a dilapidated apartment building – we’re never given the lay of the land, watching our heroes instead run through a series of warehouse storage rooms with piled up tires and the cast is equally small, filled out with a pest control guy and a crazy cat lady for Art to dispose of. From a story and character standpoint Terrifier will fall flat, but for those looking for a tense, inventive gore-fest the film has you covered. It’s kills are horrifying and elaborately detailed. Art doesn’t stab his victims, he slowly saws through them in convincing detail. It’s kills are repulsively clever, with Art turning heads into jack-o-lanterns, eating faces and sawing through necks. It works even if Leone’s big gore set piece is lifted from Bone Tomahawk.

Much like Adam Green’s MPAA challenging Hatchet series, Leone has an anarchist quality that spits all over social norms, but he also has skill in the cat-and-mouse sequences juicing the music and laying into Howard’s performance to create an absorbing, visceral atmosphere. In the same way a plotless comedy that’s funny gets by with a lot, Terrifier gets away with a lot of basic filmmaking ineptitude because the heart and soul of it is so literate to horror filmmaking where it needs to be.

Terrifier has a grindhouse 80s exploitation quality to it, but I suspect that’s just covering up it’s visible stitches. This is an unapologetic niche film for a gorehound crowd willing to overlook it’s micro-budget flaws. It’s going to turn off or disgust even many horror fans, but for those who felt Pennywise was too talkative and not menacing enough to really give that coulrophobia a workout, this movie is the real deal.