Back in the 1980s, the slasher became the default landing place for horror directors. Not only were dozens being released yearly (especially in 1982), but many fostered sequels. Mild success was all that was needed when the budgets ran cheap. As long you could get butts in seats, your latest slasher was bound to make money. However, today is an era of “elevated,” more psychological horror. The traditions that favored a slasher every other weekend have fallen out of favor. In part, this is what makes Terrifier 2 such an exciting proposition. Building off the success of Damien Leone‘s Terrifier, the story of Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) continues to get gorier and gorier. While the images may turn away some audiences, the slasher makes for a mostly fun time. Unfortunately, that gore and very long runtime undermine much of the narrative propulsion the story needs.
Picking up after Terrifier, Art the Clown (Thornton) kills the mortician looking at his body. Art’s resurrection means he gets to pick up his violent streak and soon begins hunting again. Meanwhile, Sienna (Lauren LaVera) struggles to balance her chaotic home life. A year after her father’s passing, her brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam) is acting out. Her mother (Sarah Voigt) has also become an over-protective, helicopter parent. The family finds themselves in great danger when Jonathan begins to see Art and the second aspiration of a little girl (Amelie McLain).
The specifics of the Terrifier 2 story matter little to the film’s overall success. Terrifier 2‘s extremely light plot allows Leone to focus the majority of its runtime setting up and executing the gore-filled kills. It’s rare for Art to simply kill his victim. Instead, the mime clown toys with them until delivering a final death blow. This psychological torture certainly gets to many of the characters who become his victims, as they mostly show anger and frustration at his antics. At times, Art feels more inspired by Bugs Bunny than Michael Myers. This is not necessarily bad, as it helps Terrifier stand out from other slashers. However, the individual audience member’s enjoyment of this humor will ultimately sway your opinion of Terrifier 2.
For this critic, the craft of setting up the elaborate and bloody kills carried me through the story. While nausea never set in, sequences required me to look away from the screen. There’s a nihilism to Terrifier 2 that can certainly be hard to shake as well, and at times it nearly took me entirely out of the film. However, when effects can vividly showcase the viscera, internal organs, and blood-soaked sequences, there’s a level of pure curiosity about how Leone and his team pulled off the gag. Leone knows how to build an elaborate kill sequence, and Terrifier 2 has many elaborate kill sequences.
Speaking of Leone, his development as a director has been a wonder to behold. Looking back at 2013’s All Hallows Eve, the director was still finding his voice and visual style. By Terrifier 2, Leone has found a way to maximalize his style on indie budgets. It’s not just that he’s adding gore and intricacy to his kills. As you watch the three Art the Clown features, Leone’s confidence as a scene blocker has increased, as has his ability to get more out of his craft teams. Set design and costumes are just an important to the stories as the blood splatters. It’s rare that we see directors mature and advance like Leone has, especially when they come from an effects background. It’s wise to invest in his vision going forward, as he’s likely to showcase some very cool stuff in both visual and narrative
On the flip side, the amount of time spent on these elaborate set pieces also becomes Terrifier‘s greatest weakness. Clocking in well over two hours, the slasher loses its welcome by minute ninety. Simply throwing more kills and blood at the screen will help some, but anyone on the fence will quickly find themselves looking for something else. The narrative propulsion of the film disappears, further leading to the nihilistic undertones rather than an adherence to the story. This might not matter if the film was not focused on setting up another entry down the road. Additionally, nothing in these additional minutes is not already communicated to us. There’s no tension to be had, just literally extra time watching Art stalk a character until they are savagely killed. This feels indulgent and hurts the final product.
Surprisingly, the cast pulls together to create more heart in the film. LaVera stands out as the final girl and hero of the film. She’s a charming screen presence that does her best to add real stakes to the absurd show around her. Playing the straight woman can be difficult. LaVera keeps us engaged in the human drama on the screen while also selling some of the sillier exposition she’s forced to deliver. Additionally, Fullam sells the fear of his circumstance. Being a young teenager can’t be easy, let alone being chased by a clown and the clown’s protégé (daughter or partner-in-crime?).
Finally, hats off to Thornton as he enters the company of Kane Hodder and Robert Englund. His performance as Art remains one of the most upsetting things you will watch in movies over 2022. If Terrifier continues to grow as a franchise, much of the credit needs to be split between Thornton’s depiction of the maniac clown and Leone’s character creation instincts.
While Terrifier 2‘s strength is giving its target audience exactly what it wants, it is destined to alienate other fans. The blood and guts are here again in spades, but this also leaves non-horror audiences alienated from the word go. Any slasher worth its salt knows how to manufacture scares, and unfortunately, Leone continues to struggle on this front. While Terrifier 2 has enough meat on the bone to avoid the torture-porn label, it strays dangerously close. Hopefully, future films will rectify this by investing in setting up more elaborate scares instead of solely sadomasochistic kills.