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TERRIFIER 2'S Damien Leone, David Howard Thornton, and Chris Jericho Talk Muppets and Mayhem

Hey, friends. Barbarella here. As the temperatures finally begin to dip, horror films seep into prime time and on an increasing number of theater screens. One slasher film, TERRIFIER 2, cuts its way into theaters this Thursday, October 6. Featuring the outwardly colorless Art the Clown, whose colorful kills and personality contrast his appearance, the film utilizes practical effects in gloriously horrific scenes. Certain to appeal to fans of its predecessor, this sequel continues in the same gritty vein, with blood spurting from injuries inflicted by the ever-gleeful Art the Clown. 

David Howard Thornton as Art the Clown in the horror film, TERRIFIER 2, a CINEDIGM release. Photo courtesy of CINEDIGM. 

I had the opportunity to meet not just the writer, director, and FX man, Damien Leone, but also Art the Clown, himself, David Howard Thornton, and as a bonus, wrestling champion Chris Jericho, who appears briefly in the film. What a great return to in-person interviews after three years of phone calls and zoom chats! I could not have asked for a better group of guys with whom to dive back into the fray. 

After discussing my broken air-conditioning and melting from the heat, I segued into asking questions.

Barbara: You've probably had to deal with that in the costume. Does it get hot?

David: Yeah, a lot of extremes. I've gone from hot, where my mask is melting off my face, to cold, where I'm just like, "Oh God!" Covered in blood and can't get warm enough.

Barbara: If someone were to remake TERRIFIER 2 using Muppets, what Muppets would you like to see cast?

Chris: She's coming in hot.

David: Oh gosh. Beaker of course would have to be Art.

Barbara: Of course.

Damien: I don't know. I'd like to see Kermit.

Barbara: As who?

Damien: As Art. Why not?

David: Oh, that would be interesting. 

Damien: Yeah, just the visuals. "Don't run away now."

Chris: I'm going with the Swedish chef; he's already got the utensils.

Barbara: And he does kind of do the little (imitates the Swedish chef movements). I love it. Chris, how were you pitched this project?

Chris: We were saying earlier it was kind of opposite because I was a big fan of Terrifier. I kind of got in on the ground floor before a lot of people knew about it. I was really spreading the word as much as I could, because I thought it was such a great revolutionary film for horror. We hadn't seen a character like Art in thirty years. So that's basically how it started. I met David, and then I met Damien, and then I just started fucking strong-arming them. I'm like, "I got to be in the next movie."

Damien: It didn't take much.

Chris: Whether I was in it or not, I really believed in this franchise. When Damien said he was going to do a second one, it's like I was going to support it in any way, shape, or form that I could. Being in the movie was just a bonus, which was a blast, ‘cause we had a lot of fun. When you see TERRIFIER 2 and it looks kind of grimy and gritty, it's because the location, at least my scene, was grimy and gritty. So yeah, that's basically just what it was - kind of a mission to be involved in some way, shape, or form.

Barbara: Damien, what comes first for you? Do you imagine the kills first, or do you kind of come up with storyline and plot first?

Damien: It really depends. A lot of times, I'll just get a character or a visual, and I'll just say that needs to be in a movie. I need to figure out a way to form a story around that. Usually starts with an image. Ironically, Art the Clown started with an idea. I just had this idea of a killer clown terrorizing a woman on a city bus, just one of many weird little horror ideas I had when I was a lot younger. When I decided to put that in a short film, and I said, "All right, I have this clown. Now I have to figure out what he's going to look like." I say all the time that I have to thank Tim Curry's Pennywise because I wanted Art the Clown to be as polar opposite from him as possible because there's no point in ever stepping on his toes, or having him be colorful, or having him have hair and speak and be a verbal articulate jokester, all that kind of stuff. I went in a complete opposite direction, and the image that I wound up creating is striking. People always tell me before they knew what it was, they'd be scrolling through Netflix and they just see Art's face. It's like, I know nothing about this, never heard of it, but I got to check that out.

Barbara: David, it's my understanding that you kind of brought the jovial kind of thing to the character, and I love that. I love that he just relishes what he's doing. He's just like, "This is fun." What made you kind of want to go that direction?

David: Well, my background is in comedy. I mean, that's what I always did on stage, especially. When I originally saw All Hallows Eve, even before I knew they were going to have Terrifier, I was like this character, it’d be cooler if he had more like an evil Mr. Bean type thing to him. It struck me also when I was reading the script, the cat lady says he does it because it's fun to him. And I'm like, that's the thing. He should be having a lot of fun while he's doing this. And it's like, I got to bring that aspect to him. He is a clown. So let's bring more of that clown aspect to him.

David Howard Thornton as Art the Clown in the horror film, TERRIFIER 2, a CINEDIGM release. Photo courtesy of CINEDIGM.

Barbara: That's awesome.

Chris: See, just add to that, watching Terrifier the first time and seeing how David plays the character, because it is jovial, but it's so insane. It's terrifying. That's like you said, he's enjoying sawing people's fucking heads off with a fucking hacksaw. And the fact that he doesn't ever talk makes it so much creeper because in wrestling, he's playing his gimmick. He's got a little horn. He's riding the fucking tricycle. That's way scarier than some barbarian beating down your door with an axe. It really literally freaked me out. It still does because of how fun you play it. But there's nothing fun about this guy.

Barbara: Yeah, well that's what's so cool about the movie. This character is completely unlike any other one we've seen.

David: You're laughing at things that you should not be laughing at. And that makes you question yourself.

Chris: Your morals.

Damien: That's one of my favorite things is to have people question, “Should I be liking this character?” Because people do have so much fun watching Art the Clown because of how much fun he has. And it's one of the reasons why I feel a little more secure making the violence so hardcore in this movie. Because it's not like you're really just watching a movie like Henry: Portrait of Serial Killer, where you leave the film and everything feels bleak and grim, and you feel just gross, and you need to shower. Maybe you do still feel that way after you watch Terrifier, but there is a layer of levity and fantasy kind of sprinkled over all of it, so maybe it makes it a little easier for people to digest.

Chris: A more modern version. It's not the same type of movie as if you watch Blood Sucking Freaks. That movie is so disgusting, but you can't ever take it seriously because nobody in the movie does. They’re playing fucking backgammon for fingers, and the girl’s just sitting, they're like, "Oh, the fingers." So you read it on a script, but then you see it. And that's the only reason why it works. Terrifier is kind of a much more advanced, modern version of that.

Barbara: How long after making this film, were you able to get that "Clown Cafe" song from your head?

Damien: Never, oh, it's still there.

Barbara: Still there? Darn it! It's been playing in my head forever.

Damien: I'm sorry.

David: You should have been on set that week.

Barbara: Were you guys going crazy?

Damien: Oh my God. Everybody who sees it, they said they cursed me. They said, “God damn you, I can't get that song out of my head.” But that's a testament to the Kaplan Brothers, this duo that I actually knew growing up. They were friends of a friend, and they were so talented. They do these off-Broadway shows. They did a whole parody on Silence of the Lambs. That was really big at one point. I just reached out to them. I said, "Hey, I need this jingle. It takes place on a children's show." And they said, "Well, what's going on?" I said, "Other than this hippie host with all these loud colors and these kids on a swing-set and people are just lined up for a food truck. And so that's really what's going on." Literally two days later, that was it. Two days later they came back with the clown cafe.

Barbara: I mean, I can't get it out of my head.

David: It will not leave.

Barbara: Chris what's been your favorite or most memorable fan encounter?

Chris: Fan encounter? I went to a Comic Con in New Jersey, for horror genre. I've been obsessed with The Omen since I was a little kid. My mom actually went and saw the movie and afterwards came into my room and checked my head for the 666… and she found it. I've always been obsessed with Omen and Omen 2. Once again, just to the creepiness of that kid, Damien, both as a little kid and a teenager. I was signing stuff, and right fucking beside me, two tables down was Harvey Stevens, who played little Damien, and now he's like sixty or whatever. And I was fucking terrified because that's him! And you look, and that's the kid, and it just creeped me out. But I had to go, "I'm a big fan of yours. My children would love a picture with you." It still creeped me out though, man. You know what I mean? It's like when you go to those things, if you see Barbie Benton or something, she's like seventy now. You still have a little bit of a fucking twinge. She is probably like, "Would you do it?" "Yes, I would." I don't care if she's seventy.”

Damien: She still looks good. Obviously I was named after The Omen. I was at the same comic con, and it was a huge deal for me to meet Harvey, as well. It was the only time I ever got a picture signed for my mother, and she has it hanging up.

Chris: Wow. It's so funny that, yeah. Cause there's, there's a kid that hangs with my daughter, name is Damien. Every time you hear that name, I'm like....

Barbara: How old were you when you first saw The Omen, and did you wonder why you were named after the Antichrist?

Damien: No, it's like I thought about this because I always bring it up, but I've known that that was my namesake since forever. There's no time where I remember my mother sitting me down and saying, "Well, there's this horror movie." It was just, I always knew. And I was always allowed to watch horror movies and really cool R-rated movies since I was three years old. Yeah, she's my hero, and I thank her all the time for just being a big inspiration and allowing me and just pushing me to follow this and not be worried that was going to corrupt me. However, I will say I was so proud of TERRIFIER 2, and I couldn't wait to show it to her. I showed her a rough cut, and she fucking yelled at me and screamed and did not look at the computer screen almost the entire movie. She’s like, "What happened to you? You lost me. This is worse than anything you've ever done. No one's going to like this. No one's going to watch that."

Barbara: People are going to love it.


Barbara: One of my favorite scenes is in the Halloween store when Art the Clown is trying on the different glasses. Was that actually fully scripted or was David kind of winging any of that?

(L-R) Lauren LaVera as Sienna Shaw and David Howard Thornton as Art the Clown in the horror film, TERRIFIER 2, a CINEDIGM release. Photo courtesy of CINEDIGM.Damien: Both. So in the script, which was, that seems my homage to PeeWee's Big Adventure in the magic shop. In the script it was written as, “Art goes up to the sunglasses, the wacky glasses on the rack, and every time Sienna turns around, Art's just wearing a new pair of wacky glasses and standing there like a mannequin.” But then there were no specific glasses that I wrote. I didn't know. I just knew that on the day, I would show up with a box of glasses and all kind of props for Dave to mess around with. And we just put them on the rack, so there is a ton of footage of him trying on Groucho Marx glasses and eighties wacky glasses, playing with whoopee cushions. And then when I get to the end, I know and he just has a blast.

David: That was so much fun.

Barbara: Is that going to be on the extras for the Blu-ray release? I think it needs to be, that was so great.

David: I was like a kid candy store that day, honestly. Let's play. Let's play.

Barbara: I absolutely love practical effects. It's one of my favorite things. Whenever I see a movie that's using it well, I get super excited. What was your most rewarding effect that you did?

Damien: Oh, it was definitely Allie’s mutilated corpse that wakes up on the bed.

Chris: That's so bad.

Damien: When you think she's dead.... That was based on, I'd seen a photo of one of Jack the Ripper's victims in a book, and it was a woman on a bed just horribly mutilated. Sometimes I like to draw from reality. I said, "If we take that image and kind of reverse-engineer it and show how a person like that ended up in that final stage, that could be potentially something that could rival the hacksaw scene. I wanted that person, that character, to get to a point where she was so horribly mutilated where the audience sees the body and says, "Oh, well that's clearly a dummy," but then sees it wake up. I'd never done anything like that before. [It was] my first sort of really intricate articulated puppet that was all moved through rods through the fake walls and under the bed, and we had pumps inside making the lungs breathe and everything. I was most proud of that. It took the longest to build.

Chris: Well, the worst thing about it is the fact that after that, her mom sees her. That was when you sent me that script, that scene, I was like, "Oh this is terrible. I can't wait to see it.”

David: It's just there like, "Hey."

Barbara: That was probably my favorite kill. That and the Halloween shop owner guy.

Damien: Thank you. You're the first person to point that out, thank you. I was just telling Chris that when we actually filmed that, it was a different kill scene, a different beheading. It was one of the many times we weren't ready to shoot the effects, and just by the end of the day, we had to rush through it. I was so not happy about it because I had a really cool idea for this really graphic beheading, and then it just sucked, honestly. So literally four months ago, maybe less. Three months ago, we went back and re-shot him getting decapitated. And we built another little set and we shot it in a barn, and got him back in makeup, and built this really-

Chris:Did you have extra cash that came about to do that? Or is it just something you said “Fuck it?”

Damien: Me and Phil just throwing cash at it, bro. 

Chris: Yeah. Listen. It's lasts forever man

Damien: Exactly.

Chris: Lasts forever. So yeah. It'll be worth it in the end.

Damien: Yeah.

While it may last forever, it won't be in theaters forever, so if you want to check it out this slasher season, TERRIFIER 2 will be in theaters on October 6, 2022 from Cinedigm with Iconic Events. Check out the trailer, if you don't mind more spoilers. 

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