Terrifier wasn’t originally on my radar, but after reading Bryan’s thoughts on it a few years ago, it lodged itself in my brain as something I was low-key intrigued by in a low-stakes kind of way. Meaning I had zero expectations, but at the same time I was semi-looking forward to watching it at some point. But it was also one of those films so far down on my list that I never even remembered I wanted to see it, even when I was wracking my brain for something new to watch.
Last night I finally remembered.
We open to a scene a year or so after the events of the film have taken place. A horrifically disfigured woman is being grilled by an interviewer who is asking some insensitive and invasive questions about the woman’s brutal attack and how she feels about her appearance after the fact, etc. The fact that these questions are couched in a phone-baloney nicey-nice facade, coming out of the mouth of a woman we would consider to be traditionally attractive makes the entire scene even more awful. After the interview, the anchorwoman is on a phone call with her partner, in the process of wrapping up for the night and ranting about how disgusting it was even having to look at the woman she was earlier interviewing…and then that woman emerges from the shadows to viciously attack her.
Halloween, a year earlier. Two drunk friends are stumbling back to their car after an evening of hitting the bars. The more sensible one convinces her even drunker friend to hand over the keys, but then realizes that she herself needs to sober up a little first, so they head into a pizza place for a slice. During this interaction they spy a strange sight from across the street: an unsettling fellow in a black and white clown suit, with an unwieldy trash bag slung over his shoulder. Sensible gets a weird vibe from him right away, but Drunky hollers and antagonizes him. He eventually follows them into the restaurant and after some creepy behavior on the clown’s part, the ladies are freaked out and take their pizza to go, that’s where the carnage begins.
They get back to the car, one of the tires has been sliced or stabbed or vandalized in some way, and while waiting for a ride from Sensible’s sister, they split up. Sensible has to pee and charms her way into a nearby building to use the facilities, and Drunky waits in the car. The building in question is being treated for rats and vermin that evening, it was the late-night pest control guy who lets her in. Although I’m not sure why anyone’s even bothering, the entire place is way past actively falling apart, it’s a monument to rot and decay, and I can’t even tell what sort of building it might have been. Commerical? Residential? The bottom seems a bit like a garage, but also a basement, and also weirdly labyrinthine, but the upper stories look like offices? And at some point, there seems to be a sort of security room, with a phone and a computer? I don’t know!
I realize I’m giving a literal, boring play-by-play, so I’ll stop right there. Art the Clown gets started in earnest and you learn what’s in the trash bag and it’s that it’s all sharp and pointy and deadly and that his loose plan, as far as I can tell, is to kill everyone he encounters in increasingly brutal and deranged ways. He never actually says a single word, but you get the jist real quick. You never really learn what this guy is all about; other than being utterly silent and dead-eyed, there’s a strange, eerie, almost otherworldy glee in his movements and expressions that’s really menacing and gut-twisting in ways I can’t explain. I’m not afraid of clowns, I don’t really have feelings about them one way or the other–but this guy gives me the heebie-jeebies.
So a whole bunch of nasty, gruesome stuff happens, and in the end, Terrifier was not a movie with a lot of plot happening, nor many (or any?) characters that we really cared about. And yet, I think I really liked it. For a 2016 film, it had a sort of gritty, grainy quality that took me back to watching late-night Saturday horror as a teenager, circa 1992. It had that surreal energy of “wtf is even happening, and why, and where are we, and who are these people?”…like, it makes just enough sense so that you are not literally confused, but it also gives you the feeling that you might have blinked and dozed off for a second and wait a second, who’s this homeless woman and her weird porcelain babydoll and has she been living in the squalor of this decrepit apartment-office-storage building this whole time? And if so, why does her hair look so great?
Another thing I found a little confusing was that many reviews talk about Art the Clown like this isn’t his first rodeo. But this is the first film in the Terrifier franchise, right? I did a little reading and it turns out this guy has been in development for over a decade in various roles as a background character while they futzed around with the character to see what worked. Huh! I think I’m intrigued enough to have a bit of an Art the Clown marathon, but I think we’ll wait til next year for that.
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