Early in Terrifier 2, the part-mime/part-clown known as Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) uses his own blood to write “ART” on a mirror as his latest victim struggles to stay alive. Yes, this is the deranged villain’s name, but it’s also an announcement that this sequel will hold a mirror up to the cinematic phenomenon known as torture porn. Is Art solely a vessel for shocking the viewer? Or is he an artist? Is Terrifier 2 simply another bloody entry in the pantheon of pointless violence, or is it commenting on the splatterpunk subgenre?
When Art, constantly on the brink of breaking that fourth wall, rapidly raises his eyebrows twice, the mute murderer acknowledges other characters, but he also enlists the viewer and dares them not to turn away from the atrocities he is about to commit. And he takes those atrocities far… really far.
Terrifier 2 bears the distinction of being both terrible and brilliant. Its weaknesses include bad dialogue, a flimsy plot, poor acting, female objectification, and a fair amount of senselessness. Why, for instance, does the electricity of a haunted house at an abandoned carnival still work? Why is there a little girl version of Art that only he and a few others can see? Also, why aren’t any cops following up on Art’s horrific murders?
High schooler protagonist Sienna (Lauren LaVera), who is destined to encounter Art, has no real goal other than to design a warrior princess Halloween costume that her deceased father sketched. He also left her a sword apparently endowed with special powers. Sienna’s nerdy younger brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam) is obsessed with the Miles County Massacre that Art committed the previous Halloween. Their moody mother Barbara (Sarah Voigt) tends to berate both Sienna and Jonathan.
The interest level takes a dramatic shift the moment Art enters a scene. What he lacks in words he makes up for with his Ace Ventura-level exaggerated facial expressions and gestures. When he laughs (at the physical or psychological suffering of others), he throws his head back, shakes his shoulders, or puts his hands on his knees. When he sneaks up behind someone, he does so with a cartoon character’s panache. But there are also moments when Art stands motionless, creating a contrast to his typical flamboyance, a contrast that is both creepy and at times funny.
When the time comes for Art to take centre stage, the story comes to a halt so he can indulge in his art: the brutal, prolonged, unrelenting, over-the-top maiming and killing of people. Art doesn’t just hit, whip or stab someone once. He does it over and over and over. Moreover, the camera doesn’t turn away. The film also empowers victims with near-supernatural stamina that enables them to stay alive and conscious during the attacks. And just when you think Art’s done, he might just come back and do more.
Despite a contemporary setting, the film has an eighties feel thanks largely to its synthesizer-heavy music, aligning it with the classic horror films and villains of that era. If Art the Clown, with his tiny askew top hat secured with a rubber band, his weapons-filled black garbage bag, his terrible teeth, and the black dot on his nose, continues to appear in films, he may become a name as recognisable as Jason and Freddie.
Terrifier 2 is Art.—Douglas J. Ogurek *****