Movie Review: “Terrifier”

  In late-2013, Damien Leone directed All Hallows’ Eve, his directorial debut, the direct-to-video film comprised itself of short films from the director, as well as a wrap-around meant to establish continuity and affiliation despite unrelated subject-matter. This isn’t uncommon, with V/H/S and others finding success with a similar concept.

   I would not say that All Hallows’ Eve set the world aflame, which shouldn’t be the goalpost for a low-budget concept as such, but I did leave it thinking it had a grimy, exploitative charm to it akin to a lot of horror films of yesteryear. The film was meant to shock the senses above all else, but I did leave the film with a lot of interest and excitement about what Damien Leone would do next, in-particular with Art the Clown, a character that appears in said film.

   In March 2018, through home-video and distribution from the horror website Dread Central, whose other films like Zombie World (which I also own), are a low-budget, more carefree variety, not really boasting lot of precision or pedigree, but providing a charm in their own right because of their energy and enthusiasm.

   For perspective, I would say that All Hallows’ Eve was a step higher than Zombie World in-terms of production value and effectiveness, although, below something like Tales from Halloween or Trick R Treat. I would, maybe even place that film someplace above Laid to Rest and on-par with Victor Crowley, as far as budgetary restraint is concerned.

   This new film had a rocky startup to say the least, one that I paid mild attention to. I first heard about the prospects of a Terrifier film a little after I first discovered All Hallows’ Eve, and, by that time, a sequel had already been released called All Hallows’ Eve 2, which holds a similar concept to its predecessor, but is otherwise unrelated.

   In October 2016, Terrifier had its premiere at a horror film festival, and it was thereafter that it had a limited theatrical release and was picked up by Dread Central and Epic Pictures, finally being made available on home-video almost two years after its premiere.

   Terrifier follows a maniacal clown named Art who terrorizes unsuspecting victims on Halloween night. And, in all honestly, even though I would normally elaborate on said premise to provide a better preview of what to expect, that covers everything anyone needs to know about the film.

   This is something intentionally done by the director, who, in interviews, talked about how often slasher films find themselves bogged by shoehorned backstory and stereotypical characters, when audiences are more interested in the payoff of the film.

   He said something along the lines of the fact the best part of every slasher film is the final fifteen-or-twenty minutes, and that Terrifier was meant to elongate that into a feature length film. This might sound peculiar to some, but Terrifier isn’t the first film to approach things in such a way. When Carpenter’s Halloween rocked the world, it was soon after that Friday the 13th borrowed heavily from the concept, and, in a lot of ways, goaded audiences into rooting to see Jason wreak havoc in the goriest of ways possible.

   This is how Terrifier is meant to be perceived, but I would argue after having watched the film, it is ripe with the same cliched characters it looked to avoid, and even, on occasion, it feels as though it has characters I could have dealt without.

   For instance, the film features a more eccentric character, a woman who walks around with a baby doll, treating it as though it is a living child. I found that I could have dealt without her character altogether.

   The acting isn’t too bad in this film. I have name-dropped a lot of horror titles thus far in this review and I didn’t do that for street cred. I did it because I wanted to mention that, although I may have enjoyed certain films I mentioned, it’s often they have inconsistent delivery from characters. In this film, even if certain characters are stereotypical, some of them being unlikable, seemingly meant for me to root for their demise, they feel true to their characters and they feel on-point.

   The only dismaying fact is they aren’t what I would call intriguing characters, and rather, they are pigs being led to the slaughter. And, with that in mind, it almost makes me wonder why to even bother setting up the scenarios at all, as opposed to dropping us off right into the middle of Art the Clown’s massacring and keeping the tension high stakes, allotting time for more of the perceived “good stuff”.

   The only answer I can find for why not to do that is because it would not have felt like a feature film as much as it would have felt like a highlight reel. In which case, it would be easy to say that if the first short film from All Hallows’ Eve was a showcase of what Art can be in a feature film, the Terrifier film comes off like an elongated version of what Art the Clown can do in a feature film, or, perhaps even, a pitch for why he is better suited for a short-form medium. Art is propped up only by a paper-thin story-line meant to establish continuity.

   In terms of narrative, they are certain to keep Art shrouded in mystery, but, if Art is shrouded in mystery and the characters are deliberately made to lack character, the only real substance is violence for the sake of it. Which, … is something I think can be enjoyed. In the same way that individuals like seeing zombies swarm unsuspecting crowds of people or we liked Michael Myers chasing after Laurie Strode, and, in that latter respect, Michael Myers, like Art, is built around what isn’t or wasn’t known about him.

   The only difference is that, in Halloween, we were made to care more about the characters he targeted, all while Dr. Loomis and others helped build Michael Myers as a symbol of evil incarnate, legitimizing him as a threat.

   The lighting and music benefits this film. The colorful aesthetics of the shadows and the eerie sound strumming or being keyed in the background. It isn’t too heavy-handed with it, and the lighting itself keeps likely budgetary restraints from being noticeable and even adds a little bit of style to the cinematography that I appreciated.

   I think that, more than anything, as I suggested, the leading appeal of Terrifier will be in its special effects and its high amount of bloodshed. The character of Art the Clown has a creepiness about him that verges from, at times, an over-the-top b-movie horror vibe to something more ambitious. There are moments when he is particularly captivating in his eccentricities and bewildering behaviors. He has a lot of shock value behind him and some of it comes of well with the performance and portrayal of the character.

   The violence in this film is by the buckets. A lot of gruesome looking slaughters and a lot of corn syrup coating the screen with depictions that can feel like they are straight from an 80’s slasher film or something from an exploitation film like Cannibal Holocaust. For those that this appeals to, I don’t think you will be disappointed. Terrifier captures the aesthetic well, especially for the budget they had to work with.

   In the end, maybe Terrifier doesn’t introduce the next slasher icon from humble beginnings, I know it has already captured more mainstream overlap than a lot of other films like it. Even if I would say Terrifier is a below-average film altogether, I would say that it is an above-average slasher film. It has sharp fangs and it feels uniquely memorable with its distinct antagonist, willing to go directions a lot of other horror films don’t often tread.

   I would not recommend it to a casual moviegoer and maybe not even every casual horror fan, but if you enjoyed All Hallows’ Eve, or are someone who enjoys the thrill of the chase and the vicarious thrill of a psychotic clown wreaking havoc, (and who isn’t?) this film might be worth checking out.

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