Terrifier 2, directed by director and special effects artist Damien Leone, is not particularly well-written, compelling, or even all that terrifying. Gross, yes, but not scary. The characters are flat, the dialogue is bad, and the plot is absurd; it fails to build any suspense and therefore lacks the stakes that make a psychological horror film scary. But Terrifier 2 is not a psychological thriller, nor is it pretending to be. And that’s why it’s fantastic.
Terrifier 2 is the follow up to Leone’s equally incomprehensible Terrifier, which starred the killer mime, Art the Clown. In Terrifier 2, Art once again goes on a Halloween rampage, this time hunting the 12-year-old Jonathan (played by appropriately cast Elliott Fullam) and his teenage sister Sienna (played by the not at all appropriately cast 44-year-old Lauren LaVera). Though it was originally intended for a one-week limited theatrical run, audience demand led to it being extended for several weeks, and I managed to score tickets for Terrifier 2’s closing weekend. Despite viewers allegedly throwing up and fainting in theaters due to the extreme violence, the audience I sat amongst did nothing of the sort. Instead, we all shared several guffaws as we watched a killer mime try on novelty sunglasses, go for joyrides on a tiny tricycle, and peel a woman’s arm in half like string cheese.
Art’s backstory is never explained, nor is his motive. We don’t know who he is, or even what he is. He’s seemingly invincible to everything except the magic mime-killing sword prophesied by Sienna’s deceased father, and yet he appears to be a nondescript human underneath his black-and-white suit, as seen in the interlude where he goes to the laundromat to wash the blood off his mime outfit. Sienna also finds drawings of him in her father’s sketchbook which are never explained. Is he a character created by her father that somehow came to life? Is he some kind of demonic entity? Is he invincible via unexplained mime powers? A regular guy who got really lucky and managed to withstand getting shot, stabbed, impaled, and beheaded?
From the magical glowing sword that inexplicably brings the main character back to life after she is beaten, stabbed, and drowned, to the clown cafe in a musical dream sequence, Terrifier 2 is a strange, campy, utterly charming train wreck of a movie.
David Howard Thornton steals the show as Art, decked up in a ridiculous black-and-white outfit and tiny top hat. Thornton, who has said in interviews that he drew inspiration from Charlie Chaplin, perfectly captures the cartoonish movement of silent film actors and manages to convey an astonishing amount without making a sound. Watching him prance around a blood-splattered kitchen in a ruffled kitten-patterned apron as he feeds mashed potatoes to the mangled corpse of his latest victim is equally horrifying as it is hilarious.
We get the occasional hint of relevant social commentary about the exploitative nature of true crime and a vague jab at capitalism via a houseless man and a nun in a bizarre dream sequence, but ultimately, the plot and morals of Terrifier 2 are completely irrelevant and overshadowed by the outrageous violence, which, ultimately, is the draw of the film.
Terrifier 2 is a work of art. Not in terms of writing, directing, or acting, but in its violence. Though not a phenomenal director, Leone is an incredible special effects designer, and this movie is a true testament to his skills as a visual artist. In behind-the-scenes videos, Leone talks in great detail about his makeup and special effects skills. He doesn’t just design the effects and the looks—he executes them. In fact, every day of filming, he alone sculpted and hand-painted Art the Clown’s makeup and prosthetics.
Leone mostly relied on innovative practical effects in Terrifier 2, using things like puppets, balloons, latex gloves, and lunch meat. “I don’t know how to do animatronics,” Leone said in an interview with Indiewire, referring to the scene where Art scalps a character with sewing scissors, dismembers her, stabs her in the eye, peels her face off, and pours bleach and salt on her. “I have other crude methods to bring [the character] to life.” Leone explained how that scene was accomplished with a full-body dummy manipulated by puppeteers concealed in the walls and under the bed. There were inflatable latex gloves in the puppet to give the illusion of breathing.
Leone did sprinkle CGI (computer-generated imagery) in, here and there, to add the finishing touches to certain scenes. “You have to embrace the technology,” he said. “There are so many amazing things you can do with digital effects.” In one scene where Art beheads a Halloween store cashier, Leone spent a week and a half sculpting an anatomically accurate severed head, which they then digitally imposed the actor’s face onto in order to capture his facial expressions as the character was beheaded. Leone does not eschew digital effects as a whole. The problem, he says, is when film studios abuse it.
No matter how good the technology is, scenes accomplished solely with computer-generated effects tend to have an uncanny, plastic finish to them that will only get worse looking back on them as technology improves. No matter how good it is now, CGI will always look outdated in ten years. Cool puppets will always look like cool puppets. Terrifier 2’s subtle immersion of minute CGI details with astounding feats of puppetry and prosthetics makes scenes much more visceral and believable than what could be accomplished solely with CGI.
It’s clear how much love and care went into Terrifier 2. Not only do the film’s credits list every restaurant and company that catered for them during production, they also credit every single extra. The Terrifier franchise is Leone’s passion project, something he never intended for commercial success. He’s submitting Terrifier 2 for Oscar consideration, not because he wants to win, but because he thinks it’s “too funny not to.” Terrifier 2 was not made to be profound, meaningful, or even to garner a profit. It was made because Damien Leone wanted to make it. That passion and love for what he does is tangible in the movie, and makes it a thousand times more enjoyable than any soulless, big-budget CGI fest. Sure, there are plenty of charming indie horror films that manage to be meaningful and profound. That being said, sometimes it’s just more fun to watch a mime tear people’s limbs off and feed mashed potatoes to their faceless corpses.