Movie Review: Terrifier

Every now and then, I enjoy picking a random horror movie off of the iTunes new releases section and then watching it without knowing anything about the film. Tonight, I picked Terrifier, a quasi-sequel to the horror anthology film All Hallow’s Eve, which was also written and directed by Damien Leone. The movie’s simple, but nostalgic plot consists of Art the Clown terrorizing several different individuals on Halloween night. Terrorize, he most definitely does.

One critic stated that Art made Pennywise look like Krusty from the Simpsons. In some respects, that’s not too far off the mark. Art is a morbidly satisfying mixture of Buffalo Bill, Leatherface and Pennywise. He shares much more in common with the first two previously mentioned names than his horror clown kin. This is one of those movies that kept a smile on my face for most of the run-time. It’s not a perfect movie and it doesn’t break any new ground. Nevertheless, it’s a great throwback B-movie bloodbath that any gore aficionado will eat up.

The movie begins with Dawn and Tara (played by Catherin Corcoran and Jenna Kanell, respectively) making their way back to their car after an eventful night of fraternizing with some jocks at a Halloween party. Both are drunk and don’t feel comfortable driving, so they decide to grab some pizza. Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) appears in the distance and creepily stares at the girls; Dawn laughs, but Tara is disturbed by the clown’s attention. They make their way inside a pizzeria down the road and while they’re waiting for their food, the clown shows up with an ominous plastic bag of unidentified items and sits next to them.

The clown taunts Tara by making an assortment of scary faces, all of which are genuinely nasty. Dawn tries to make light of the situation by taking a picture with the clown, but becomes alarmed when the clown won’t utter a word. The manager comes to take the clown’s order but it remains mute. Art goes to the bathroom and a short time after, the manager throws him out of the store for making an obscene mess in the bathroom (imagine a Jackson Pollack painting made out of blood and feces).

The two ladies make it back to their car and discover that one of the tires is flat and there’s no spare to be found. Tara calls her sister, Victoria (played by Samantha Scaffidi) and asks for a ride. Victoria agrees but is far away, so the girls are forced to wait in the car. Tara desperately needs to pee and spots an exterminator, Mike (Matt McCallister), enjoying a cigarette in front of an abandoned building. Mike agrees to let her use the facilities, which are in the basement and disgusting. He shares that he’s spraying the building, which is an odd mix of office space and warehouses, due to a rat problem. Mike leaves Tara to do her business.

After her tinkle, Tara runs into a mentally unbalanced “Cat Lady” (Pooya Mohseni) that lives in the warehouse basement and bizarrely believes that a toy doll is her baby. Thoroughly unnerved, Tara heads back upstairs. During Tara’s conversation with the crazy cat lady, Dawn hears a message on the radio that the manager of the pizzeria had just been brutally murdered. Art the Clown surprises Dawn and drags her inside and locks her and Tara inside the vast maze of industrial hell. The rest of the movie involves a cat and mouse manhunt where Tara, Dawn, Mike and Victoria attempt to evade and outsmart the sadistic clown, who is quite adept at tracking his prey.

Terrifier is a nostalgic, eighties-era slasher movie. It’s Halloween on steroids. Obviously, audience members aren’t expecting Citizen Kane-level dialogue and characterization in a movie about a killer clown. I had low expectations going into this, with respect to character development, but I was pleasantly surprised with the characters’ contemporary wittiness and humor. Dawn is the stereotypical blonde in horror films. She is promiscuous, loud and a little obnoxious. Tara is a better written character and the actress does a decent job of conveying terror on a consistent basis. Mike the exterminator is a stock character that makes appearances throughout the movie but isn’t given enough screen time to develop much of an identity. Victoria comes into the fray about two thirds of the way through the movie. She’s likable, but most of her performance is physical acting due to the cat and mouse games with the clown. Because she has very little face-to-face interactions with other characters, her character has only a small amount of dialogue. The “Cat Lady” is somewhat of a conundrum. She’s creepy and adds a level of what-the-fuck bizarre to the film’s already macabre setting. On the other hand, it makes no sense why she is a character in the movie.

Now, the character that we all REALLY care about is Art the Clown. Good news: he is scary. He doesn’t utter a single word throughout the entire film, but he is able to convey a staggering amount of emotion through “mime” gestures and facial expressions. David Howard Thornton does some impressive acting in the movie, and it’s all non-verbal. There’s an odd, but morbidly gratifying scene where the Cat Lady finds the clown holding her ‘baby.’ Believing that the clown just needs a mother’s touch, she holds him and he sucks his thumb like an infant. At this point in the film, he’s shed quite a bit of blood, so the sight of him lying in the fetal position while the cat lady soothes him was beyond creepy. Art gets weird. He saws off the hair and breasts of a female character and ‘transforms’ into a woman at one point during the film. The movie would have fallen apart if he were just another creepy looking clown. Fortunately, it wasn’t just scary makeup, it was a creepy performance, with solid direction from Leone.

One of the elements that I really enjoyed in this film was the score. It had an intentional retro-feel that was heavily influenced by John Carpenter and other eighties composers that frequently rocked the synthesizers. For a relatively low-budget slasher film, Terrifier looks surprisingly good. It’s competently shot and the cinematography is impressively rendered; the labyrinth sections of the warehouse all have different visual styles and personalities, including a wide range of lighting effects.

The quality of the makeup effects is, unfortunately, hit or miss. Some moments look fantastic. For example, one of the characters is sawed completely in half, from vagina (yes that’s right) to the head, while hanging upside down. This scene was one of the movie’s high points. On the flip side, the very first scene in the movie involves one main character poking another person’s eyes out. There’s a long cut where the camera looks at the fight’s aftermath and the effects look cheesy. The movie tries to be like a French Extremity flick, with a no limits mandate on the level of violence shown on screen. While this approach is effective in certain situations and adds to the level of suspense, it sometimes can kill the sense of danger for the audience because some of the effects are not convincing.

Terrifier was a welcome surprise and Art the Clown could be Generation Y’s Freddy or Jason (the end of the movie does hint at the possibility of a sequel). The movie was taut and while it did have a LOT of jump scares, most of them were executed in a clever enough way that the mounting suspense didn’t flow out of the room like a wet fart. At only eighty-five minutes, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome and ends at just the right moment.  The only significant con weighing this neo-slasher down is some lackluster makeup effects that remind the audience that they’re watching a movie. Terrifier is fun. Period. If you like horror movies, you’ll enjoy this one.

ΩΩΩ – GOOD – My life was enriched because of this.

Scale:

Ω – PAINFUL – Suffering through this was cruel and unusual punishment.

ΩΩ – I’VE HAD BETTER – This didn’t rock my world but it was better than a nut tap.

ΩΩΩ – GOOD – My life was enriched because of this.

ΩΩΩΩ – TANTRIC ORGASM – I will trade my soul for more of this.

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