Directed by: Damien Leone
Run time: 82 minutes
The Lowdown: Hollywood and horror audiences have maintained a love-hate relationship with clowns for decades.
Sometimes they’re funny, other times sad. And then there are the truly evil, unsettling clowns – from Captain Spaulding in House of 1,000 Corpses to Pennywise in It.
Clowns don’t normally bother me. I’ve yet to sit through an entire viewing of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, for example, because I usually don’t find them interesting or scary in the least.
Recently, though, clown characters have made a resurgence, fueled largely by Pennywise, but also buoyed by Jon Watts’ 2014 thriller Clown, and including even recent lower-budget entries like Tom Nagel’s Clowntown.
BVB is here to tell you, however, that none of these cinematic monstrosities hold a candle to Art the Clown in Damien Leone’s fantastically gruesome Terrifier.
As embodied by actor David Howard Thornton, making his feature film debut, Art the Clown is one of the creepiest, most disquieting clown characters ever created. Thornton, who doesn’t have a single line of dialogue in Terrifier, uses his eyes, mouth and facial expressions better than some A-list actors pulling in millions of dollars for a phoned-in cameo.
Terrifier is old-school horror, through and through. Leone doesn’t waste time with unnecessary subplots or excessive backstory. There’s two girls, Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran), who are finishing up partying on Halloween night when they spy Art lurking in an alley as they walk back to Dawn’s car. Later, after deciding to scarf down some pizza while waiting on Tara’s sister to come pick them up, so they don’t drive drunk, Art sashays into the restaurant with a stuffed 30-gallon trash bag slung over his shoulder, a demonic clown Claus looking for anyone who has been naughty. After a series of increasingly uncomfortable exchanges, which Thornton sells with maniacal glee, the girls leave but Dawn has to pee. They find a nice worker who lets them into a closed office building. And then all hell breaks loose.
It’s clear that Leone knows his horror history. He embraces and then transcends all of the elements that scared hell out of audiences in the 1980’s without ever losing his grip on the story. Terrifier exists to, well, terrify the shit out of you, and Leone does that, expertly crafting one superior sequence after another. The gore is abundant, but more, it’s the menace and malice of Art’s torments that truly captivates and holds your attention.
This is a film that goes all-in on practical effects, rendering some of the most sadistic and brutal kills imaginable. Instead of simply disemboweling a victim who is left hoisted upside down, Art cleaves her in half, starting from the sweet spot just between her thighs and slowly carving down. If you’re squeamish, prepare to be watching through your fingers because you simply can’t turn away.
As an early release in Epic Pictures collaboration with Dread Central Presents, Leone’s Terrifier serves as a wonderful portent of the frights to come.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes
Nudity – No.
Gore – Considerable
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Art the Town is effing terrifying.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 92 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Scott Glosserman’s 2006 debut, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, was an early example of a nascent subgenre that has since exploded in both style and substance – the serial killer mockumentary.
Much like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which was shot a year later but never released until 2017, Creep and the recent Red Eye, Behind the Mask is the story of a killer’s awakening told through his eyes and words to a group of individuals who have no idea what’s in store.
Nathan Baesel is pitch-perfect in the title role, charming and seductive with just the right menace simmering just below the surface. Even better is Scott Wilson as his killer mentor, Eugene, a monster who never experienced the level of infamy he envisions for Leslie because technology had yet to catch up to his atrocious acts.
If you’ve never seen Behind the Mask you are missing out. It’s engaging, gory and chillingly effective throughout. And this new special edition, high-def upgrade is the perfect excuse to add a worthy title to your home media appreciation wall.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
The Valley of the Rats (Shivers Entertainment/Darkside Releasing, 80 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): The latest neo-Giallo thriller from writer-director Vince D’Amato is both disorienting and mesmerizing – a lurid tale of wanton sex, eroticism and murder that feels like a fevered dream that you can’t quite wake from. The Valley of the Rats plays at times very much like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, an experimental exercise in mood and atmosphere without the traditional tether of a conventional narrative. It’s the kind of film that you put on late at night, when you’re winding down, or coming down from a killer high, and allow yourself to be sucked into its fragmented imagery just to feel the intense longing pulsating from the screen. Good stuff. You should definitely check it out.
Not to be Overlooked:
The Soultangler (AGFA, 90 minutes, Unrated, DVD): The Soultangler, an uber-low-budget oddity from 1987, was previously only available on VHS. Thankfully, the American Genre Film Archive has rescued it from obscurity and facilitated a proper DVD release that honors its original format while cleaning up the grainy footage and smoothing out the sound.
The Soultangler has been compared to the DIY-aesthetic of low-budget classics like The Evil Dead, but the reality is that The Soultangler makes Sam Raimi’s debut look like a $100-million-budget blockbuster in comparison. And that’s OK.
Director Pat Bishow’s tale of an ambitious scientist, Dr. Lupesky, who invents a formula to allow humans to manifest and detach from their souls, thereby allowing that soul to inhabit a freshly-deceased corpse, is made all the better by its Home Depot on a shoestring design. Bishow shoots many of his scenes from a distance, whether in an airport or a city street, which gives The Soultangler a perverse voyeuristic feel. The effects range from laugh-out-loud bad (yes, that’s ketchup for blood) to impressively amateur (a skull creases its brow and extends its eyeballs from the sockets in mock horror or surprise), and the film is that much better for it. If you’ve ever dreamed of making a gory horror movie, The Soultangler is a good representation of what the end result might become. Such films deserve to be remembered.
Peyton Place: Part Three
The City of the Dead: Limited Edition
The Twilight People
The Man from Earth: Holocene