If you like horror movies and you don’t live under a bridge then you’ve probably heard of the TERRIFIER films. Conceived by writer/director Damien Leone, the films follow the exploits of a sadistic slasher named Art the Clown, played with demonic glee by actor David Howard Thornton, who also stars as a killer Grinch in the upcoming holiday horror comedy THE MEAN ONE. TERRIFIER 2 made a lot of waves last year when its theatrical run had viewers vomiting and/or passing out during one of its particularly hard-to-stomach scenes. The scene, colloquially referred to as “The Bedroom Scene,” has become horror shorthand for a cruel, gory, intensely brutal kill in a film. I’ve seen it referenced frequently when one is measuring current horror, such as the discourse around SAW X.
TERRIFIER 2 is a film that has people talking, and has found fans among some of horror’s biggest names. With that kind of notoriety it would be improper not to make a new installment, and Damien Leone has been hard at work at just that. To celebrate the forthcoming release and to give the fans another chance at a theatrical experience unlike any other, TERRIFIER 2 is coming back to theaters for a limited engagement starting November 1st with a sneak peek at TERRIFIER 3 accompanying the showing. I chatted with Damien about the re-release, the lasting power of Art the Clown, and the future of the franchise.
Eric McClanahan – Hey, how are you doing?
Damien Leone – Good man. What’s going on?
EM – Oh, living the dream. I’m up here in New Jersey. Where are you calling from?
DL – I’m in Staten Island, New York.
EM – Alright, so you’re right down the street. So we’re talking about TERRIFIER 2, re-releasing in theaters next week, November 1st – The Day of the Dead. Is there deliberate timing behind that or is that just a happy accident?
DL – I think it’s a happy accident and it’s cool that we’re extending Halloween somewhat for some fans. I think that’s wonderful. I’m just thrilled that it has the chance to be back in theaters because that first theatrical experience was so fun. It was one of the best weeks of our lives, the whole cast and crew. It’s nice that it was a fun specifically theatrical experience for some people. Some people found out too late and they wished they could go back and see it in the theater so I hope there’s a lot of newcomers this time or people who did miss the opportunity get to see it. So it’s exciting.
EM – I was thinking about the timing and the Day of the Dead and I thought a fun double-feature companion might be Disney/Pixar’s COCO.
DL – [laughs] Yeah!
EM – Speaking of weird double features, like we just got that cultural phenomenon this summer of Barbenheimer. What would you think is the most unlikely but fitting companion to TERRIFIER 2?
DL – You know it’s funny because someone just asked me that question and I didn’t have an answer, but I like your recommendation of COCO. But my answer is that I would actually love it to go up with another intense slasher, just because I love the healthy competition. I love that slashers now are having a resurgence. I don’t know if it’s because of TERRIFIER 2 having something to do with that but there are a lot more really gory movies coming out and slashers and that makes us want to up our game. So I think it’d be cool to go head-to-head with another slasher and see who comes out on top. Unfortunately, I don’t know about a movie that’s a complete polar opposite of TERRIFIER, but I did see a lot of fun BARBIFIER memes when Barbenheimer was all the rage. So maybe the sequel to Barbie would be a good one.
EM – Yes, BARBIE 2 & TERRIFIER 2. Speaking of healthy competition, I’ve read that a lot of the big names are coming out praising the TERRIFER series. Mike Flanagan and Stephen King are both big fans. Does that give you the feeling that you’ve made it or do you still feel like an underdog?
DL – No, I still feel extreme Imposter Syndrome, like an underdog, yeah. Which I guess is a good thing – being humble or whatnot, it’s genuine. But we hear [that praise] all the time and it doesn’t sink in, we have to keep pinching ourselves. Especially people often throwing out the word “icon.” It kind of freaks me out. That’s a big deal, a big word. I still feel like we’re very young in the grand scheme of things and only time will tell if you really are an icon. But I do love hearing that, because it adds a little bit, or I should say a lot, of pressure going into the next installment. Because now we’re going to have the most eyes on us. With TERRIFIER 2 you had the hardcore fanbase showing up that first weekend but you didn’t have casual horror fans showing up until that word of mouth started spreading and it started going viral and “Go see the movie that has people throwing up!” It got people asking “what’s this weird killer clown movie? I’ll go see it.” So now way more people know what TERRIFIER 2 is so way more people are going to see the third one so this one better be good. I have pressure mounting. But it’s a dream come true to have Stephen King just even see your movie. Even if he thought it was the biggest piece of shit I would still be honored that he saw it. Or someone like Mike Flanagan, who genuinely loved it. I’ve gotten to meet with him and he’s such a cool dude; we’re almost like friends at this point and he’s such a big fan and complimenting us. It happens a lot at these conventions – all these people that I grew up admiring and still do will come up to me and say “Wow, what you’re doing is great. We haven’t seen something like this have that impact in a while.” Or these people now want to work with me; they want to be in TERRIFER 3 or stuff like that.
EM – That’s the big one.
DL – It’s amazing. We’re so thankful.
EM – Speaking to the label of “icon” – every horror director wants to create the next slasher villain that has staying power and Art the Clown does seem to have that. To what do you attribute that success?
DL – Wow, thank you, man. I think first and foremost it’s the visual. The look of Art the Clown. I think that’s the first super important key to your villain. Every villain that we love looks amazing, they look iconic. If you don’t have that they kind of just disappear or fall into a lower tier of character so you really need that iconic look. Then, the character really needs to walk the walk; what’s his personality? How does he dispatch his victims? Does he do that in an interesting way? If it’s a slasher, do the kills really deliver the goods? So it was super important that I delivered on that front and took it to another level where other killers might have to pull back due to studio constraints or that R-rating that’s going to keep the kills here but if we can bring them up here, I’m going to do that. The way he’s written, with that dark sense of humor that he has, goes a long way. There’s a charm to him; he’s sort of like a silent Freddy Krueger. People love Art’s quirky personality and I think that, as sadistic as he is, there is so much humanity that bleeds through. He does so many human things that you never see a character like Freddy or Jason bring to the table. And the other super important component is David Howard Thornton and what he brings to the character. That character doesn’t work unless a great actor is in there bringing their own personality to it and David really turned Art the Clown into a clown, really brought that quirky theatricality to him and he gives me such a broad spectrum to choose from. From very subdued or practically nothing, sometimes I’ll tell him to drop the whole schtick, and other times he’ll bring him into the craziest, Looney Toons arena and maybe for one specific moment I’ll love it and love to put that in there. It’s a wonderful collaboration and I think that’s the formula for the success of the character.
EM – Speaking to Art’s silent nature, I was thinking about a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Is that part of the idea of keeping his mouth shut?
DL – [laughs] It is, man. Believe it or not. Two things; one, I always found the silent killers to be scarier, because it makes them more animalistic and it touches upon our primal fears of locking eyes with an animal in the wild that’s ten feet away from you. You can’t reason with it, can’t tell it to go away or say “Please don’t hurt me. I’m not here to hurt you.” It doesn’t matter – if that thing wants to attack you it’s going to attack you. So I think it really taps into that, believe it or not. The other thing is, I don’t have to write dialogue. [laughs] The simpler, the better. If you can keep it simple chances are it might really work for you. So instead of just getting bogged down with bad dialogue or really corny jokes or something like that, keep it simple, keep him silent, let the images tell the story. And it’s just been working. I’m so happy I went in that direction.
EM – Keeping with idea that the less you talk the less you have the opportunity to say something stupid, I’ve heard some rumblings that this next installment might be the last. You don’t want to overstay your welcome. Is there any truth to that?
DL – I can’t say for sure, because we’d fall into spoiler territory, but what I do say all the time is that I will want to get out while the getting’s good, so to speak. I think if you just keep going for the sake of making the movies or the sake of financial profits or just because people love the character so much and don’t care – I have people come up to me all the time and say “you could make a hundred of these and I will love it just the same and see every one,” and that’s amazing to hear, but at the same time you know you’re going to start getting diminishing returns and these movies are going to get weaker and weaker as you go. How many times can you keep surpassing your last big kill scene or how many jokes can Art the Clown do before it all starts getting just really stale? So I’d rather just tell a really solid story, not just until the well runs dry, and that’s my idea right now. I can’t say how many more, specifically, I want to do but I know what the ending is and I know how I want to conclude this franchise. Regardless, even if I only want to make three or four movies, eventually someone else is going to pick it up and reboot and they’ll make a show or a thousand more and no matter what, Art the Clown is going to outlive me. He’ll outlive David; someone else will eventually play the character somewhere down the line, so that’s why I want us to have made a solid story that people can sit down and watch from start to finish and say “You know what? That is what it is, and I’m fine with that. It didn’t peter out. It didn’t branch off into four different timelines or something like that where you don’t really know what the movie is or what it was trying to say.”
EM – For those who don’t know, what can you tell us about the Oscar campaign for TERRIFIER 2?
DL – Oh my god! That was, unlike the vomiting thing, which was organic, that was a fun sort of marketing gimmick that was started by Bloody Disgusting, I believe. That was fun. We were just having fun with that. I think because people really admired the practical effects and there’s always this perception that people don’t pay attention or give enough respect to the practical effects and the gore and what’s going on there and I think it was just them having a laugh at the Academy and saying “Why don’t you look at the effect we’re having on people and what went into this and why don’t you nominate this for the gore?” So that was fun but we never took that seriously by any means.
EM – Did you hear from the committee directly?
DL – No, but I believe that we did get the opportunity to submit it to them for consideration. Just the idea of them having to sit down and watch that movie is hilarious, so that was great.
EM – So the film is being re-released next week along with a trailer for part three. Is the film in the can? Is it done?
DL – No, this was filmed a while ago and we know what this movie is going to be and we knew we were going to be able to use this teaser but to have it now at this stage and to put it here is absolutely perfect. A perfect opportunity, because it totally sets up part three, because the one thing I didn’t want to do was sell short. Because it’s a big deal to have people leave their house and go to the movie theater, especially for a movie that was already in the theater, and we have so many wonderful fans who would go see it regardless but I wanted to give them something really special with this. This teaser totally sets up part three; it’s very generous, it’s over two minutes long, and it’s going to give you a look at the setting of part three, the direction we’re taking it in, and also the new look, so to speak, of the movie. You’re going to see that it just looks different than any of the other films that we’ve shot, so I’m very eager to see the reaction. It’s very exciting.
EM – I know when any filmmaker is making a film they put homages and nods to the works that inspired them. Are there any surprising influences that you bring to TERRIFER that people wouldn’t expect from you?
DL – Oh yeah, there’s a lot of obvious ones. Like I’m always paying tribute to Tom Savini and his effects that had impacts on me. Especially in the bedroom scene from TERRIFIER 2 you have the scalping from MANIAC. When Art kills the mother, Sarah Voigt, in the garage, that is a tribute to the shotgun blast in MANIAC, as well. But things that people would be surprised by? Well, an example would be I’m obsessed with montages in movies, especially suiting up montages from the eighties. One of my favorite scenes of all time is Arnold Schwarzenegger getting suited up on the beach in COMMANDO, like putting on his vest, loading his guns, tying his boots. Just sound effects, hard cuts, with cool music. So the scene of Sienna getting suited up and putting on her armor is a total tribute to COMMANDO and I don’t think anybody would ever expect that to be in a TERRIFIER movie, so that’s one example.
EM – That’s a great one. I’m told we’re running out of time. Is there anything you’d say to fans, old and new, to entice them to go out next week and see TERRIFIER 2 in theaters?
DL – First of all, always, first and foremost, I cannot thank you enough. We have the greatest fans in the world, supporting us. We wouldn’t be here without the fans. We’ve never had a huge marketing campaign, anything to push TERRIFIER in your face and say “Hey, come check us out. We’re playing in 2,000 theaters.” It’s always horror fans telling their friends or making videos or getting on YouTube saying “you’ve got to check this movie out!” It’s all been organic word-of-mouth. I would say, if you haven’t seen it in theaters, check it out just to see what all the buzz and hype is about, if you like this type of movie. I’ll be honest: it’s very gory, so it’s not for everybody, but it’s still fun and Art the Clown is a fun villain. I think there’s a reason why a lot of people are gravitating toward him. They don’t just gravitate towards these types of movies for the gore; they really move toward them because of Art the Clown as a character. I think there’s a lot more than just being a gorehound to check this movie out, and also if you’ve seen it, definitely go see it again just so you can check out this teaser on the big screen, and it’s really going to hold you over in between now and when part three is released.
EM – Well, thank you, Damien, and I really appreciate your time today.
DL – My pleasure. Thank you so much and have a Happy Halloween.
TERRIFIER 2 returns to theaters Wednesday, November 1st.
Until next time, Happy Halloween!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-