“Terrifier 2” is the gory little horror that could.
Despite having a budget of less than $250,000, director Damien Leone’s ultra-slasher sequel has made more than $5 million at the box office since releasing in early October — and he already has plans for more.
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A word-of-mouth phenomenon, the film launched from relative obscurity into the horror mainstream thanks to online reports of people fainting and vomiting while watching Art the Clown (played silently by David Howard Thornton) gruesomely hack apart his victims. The organic marketing worked bloody wonders for “Terrifier 2,” which had no financial backing from a major studio.
A follow-up to the even smaller “Terrifier” in 2016, the grindhouse-style gore is the main attraction for this fledgling franchise. The original movie introduced horror fans to Art, a wordless clown in black-and-white makeup who drags around a trash bag full of rusty knives, mallets and other tools for murder. After indiscriminately brutalizing the citizens of small-town Miles County on Halloween, Art reappears a year later to do it all over again. In “Terrifier 2,” he sets his sights on Sienna (Lauren LaVera) and her brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam), who try to find a way to stop him for good.
Without getting too graphic, the two “Terrifier” movies have some nauseatingly gross kills that would probably make Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers avert their eyes. The original film had an infamous hacksaw scene, where Art tied up a young woman and sawed her in half. Leone, who’s also the writer, editor and practical effects maestro, certainly outdid himself with “Terrifier 2.” There are beheadings, scalpings, cannibalism, dismemberment, and one extended, merciless scene that quite literally has them all.
With Variety, Leone explains how he created the most gruesome kill, the “distasteful” scene with a dismembered penis that made him draw the line — and his plans for a sequel or two.
Have you been able to wrap your head around how well “Terrifier 2” has been doing at the box office?
It is very surreal. I had high expectations for this film and Art the Clown for quite some time, honestly. I created this character back in 2006. Once I made my second short film with him, I really believed I had something special, so I’ve been working so hard to get it to this point. I did not expect it to make this kind of splash or play in theaters, honestly, other than maybe a few arthouse theaters. To see it snowballing, the word of mouth growing, people getting sick and fainting and it really taking off, I never expected this or for it to make millions of dollars in theaters.
How important was it to make the movie unrated and keep the gore?
Not cutting out the violence was crucial because we’ve already established this franchise. That was one of the highlights of “Terrifier.” My mindset at the time was, “Why are people going to come and see our little $35,000 movie when they can go and watch a $50 million Hollywood horror movie? What’s gonna get people talking once they leave our movie? We can show things they would never show in a Hollywood slasher. If we show this hacksaw scene, that’s really gonna get people talking.” Sure enough, that was the case and one of the things that really separated us. If we got rid of that element, we’d be doing a disservice to ourselves.
When you were making the sequel, was there a scene you had in mind that was supposed to top the hacksaw scene from the first movie?
One day I was in my local Barnes & Noble flipping through a book about Jack the Ripper. There was a photograph of one of his victims. It was this woman with her remains splayed out on a bed, and she was so horribly mutilated you couldn’t even tell it was a human being anymore. It was just chunks of meat and bone, and it was really disturbing. I said, “How would Art the Clown have gotten a character into that state? If we reverse engineer this photograph and imagine how somebody could end up looking like that, it could be potentially a scene to rival the hacksaw scene.” That’s where the bedroom kill scene with Allie (Casey Hartnett) came from. I would assume that’s the scene that’s getting to people because it’s pretty unprecedented to have a scene that goes on for almost three minutes. That’s a little unorthodox for even a slasher movie to have a kill go on that long.
The runtime is already long for a slasher. Was there anything you had to cut from it?
When I wrote the script, I didn’t think about runtime. I wrote the story that came to me organically. It wasn’t until I got into the editing room that I started to realize how big this movie was, and I knew that was pretty unacceptable. I started chipping away at all the scenes, little by little, just trimming the fat. But for the most part, everything I wrote in the script I put into the movie. It’s definitely a polarizing aspect of it. Some people think it’s way too long, but at the end of the day we live in a time where people can binge eight episodes straight of a show, and I don’t see why you can’t watch a 2 hour and 18 minute movie as long as it keeps your interest.
Did you ever think you were making it too violent?
I’m always trying to push the boundaries of what people typically see in a slasher film because I like showing people things they haven’t seen before, or else what’s the point? But there are lines I won’t cross, even though my line is different than somebody else’s. When I think of a scene like that bedroom scene, I probably thought of five other steps to go in a horrible direction and then said, “No, that’s way too much.” At the end of the day, I want this to be a fun horror movie. Even though the violence is very extreme, I don’t want to alienate people and get to a point where they’re having a miserable experience and it’s no longer fun. There’s a very blatant blanket of fantasy over the whole thing. Within the first two minutes, it’s clear this movie isn’t based in reality, so I was hoping that would make the violence a little more palatable and accessible.
What are the lines you won’t cross?
Art the Clown likes to play with people’s entrails. There’s the scene where he cuts off a man’s penis. He could have taken it further. We had conversations of things he could do once he took the guy’s penis off. We explored those and joked about it, but then we said, “No, that’s way too far. That’s too distasteful.”
Now I have to know what some of those ideas were
Possibly making a balloon animal out of it, or something like that. But we absolutely can’t do that. It was actually [Art the Clown actor] Dave’s suggestion. We’re always trying to one-up each other and come up with sick things, but that was too far for me.
How did you make all of the guts and intestines? How much blood did you use?
I honestly lost count. It had to be somewhere around 20 gallons of blood throughout the movie. We use a lot of real meat. You can’t get any better than the real thing — nothing says slimy or moves the way real fat moves. That adds more authenticity to it, but it’s also very disgusting. You gotta shoot those things quickly and can’t leave them under hot lights. Some things are traditional and made out of latex and silicone, but sometimes you gotta put some chicken cutlets and bacon inside these things.
Did you have a meat supplier or did you just clear out the deli aisle at a grocery store?
Both. Sometimes I have to run to the grocery store and grab some chicken. We have a friend who’s a butcher and he gives us fat and puts it in sausage casings to make intestines, so that helps.
What was the most complex kill scene to pull off?
I had to make a life-sized replica of Allie because I wanted the audience to see it’s a dummy who can’t possibly be a human being anymore, and then I wanted to have it wake up. So I had to figure out how to make this life-sized puppet. I’ve never dabbled in animatronics, but I knew I could turn this thing into a crude puppet. The whole room was built into a set, so I had people under the bed with rods going through it into her limbs and behind the wall operating her head. I put some rubber gloves in her chest with tubing to have her breathe. That took a long time, but it was really rewarding to see that thing come to life to and wake up. Everything in the movie is 99% practical effects, but there are little things you can do with digital effects to bring life to these dummies. One of them was digitally putting the actress’ real eyeball on the dummy, so when she wakes up the eye opens. When Art is decapitating the guy in the costume shop, we digitally put his face onto the fake head that we built, so when it’s getting decapitated, you see him blinking and twitching and his mouth opening and closing.
Where do you see the “Terrifier” franchise going from here?
I had a “Part 3” in mind when writing “Part 2.” There are so many questions brought up in “Part 2” that are not answered, and that was part of the design because I know I’m going into a “Part 3.” I pretty much have the entire treatment ready for “Part 3,” but it’s getting so big that it could potentially split into a “Part 4” because I wouldn’t want to make another 2 hour 20 minute movie. So we’ll see. My fear is that eventually the well is gonna run dry, we’re gonna wind up jumping the shark, there will be nothing left to say with this character. It happens with a lot of franchises that I’m still a huge fan of. I’ve watched all these “Part 10s” and “Part 13s,” but sometimes that could really ruin the entire franchise. For them to peter out or not have this satisfying arc or the movie goes in another direction, that could be devastating to your overall franchise. I want to try and avoid that.
What do you want to say with the character of Art?
If Art the Clown represented anything, I think it would be an inevitable evil that’s lurking outside your door and could strike at any moment arbitrarily, just based on chance. That’s what really stuck with me when I made “Part 1,” because the two girls that encounter him just encountered him by chance, and he fixated on them. That could happen to anybody. That’s one of the major criticisms the first “Terrifier” gets. It didn’t really have protagonists that you can get behind who were compelling. It was really just a showcase for the villain, but that was sort of the point. It was setting up Art as a villain and showing that no character is safe. He could take out who you think is going to be the hero 30 minutes into the movie, so it really keeps the audience on their toes for future installments.
Is it safe to say that Sienna and Jonathan will return? What about Art’s sidekick, the creepy, pale girl (played by Amelie McLain)?
There’s something very interesting that’s going to happen with the pale girl in “Part 3.” That’s all I can say right now. Sienna is crucial to the franchise moving forward. There are a lot of interesting things that are going to be brought up with that character and her trajectory. I know there were a lot of things thrown at the audience in this movie and it sort of unravels like a nightmare, but nothing was thrown in just arbitrarily for the sake of being weird. Everything means something, and it’s all going to make sense, for sure. I kind of regret doing this, but I recorded a director’s commentary for the Blu-ray and I actually did explain a lot of stuff that I shouldn’t have. People might want to check that out because they’ll definitely get some spoilers as to what’s going on on.
The ending of “Terrifier 2” veers into the supernatural side. How do you balance that with the exaggerated gore?
That’s going to be one of the trickiest lines to walk, because I don’t want to go too far into that supernatural, mystical element. But if there’s a supernatural evil that’s so powerful driving Art the Clown, how are you going to combat that? There should be a supernatural good in this reality as well. That’s what excited me most about this film, seeing Sienna uncover that element and understand her destiny becoming Art’s nemesis. Art blew his brains out with a gun at the end of “Terrifier,” so why would a butcher knife suddenly be able to take him out? It has to be much more complicated, deeper and supernatural. There has to be a lot more going on in this world. I love exploring the supernatural, but I don’t want to have it overshadow the tone of the movie. Moving forward, I think it’s really important to stay grounded in terms of being a grindhouse slasher at its core.
Are you hoping to stay indie for the sequel or would you want to partner with a larger distributor?
I’m open to anything, but my fear is suddenly having too many cooks in the kitchen trying to steer it in the wrong direction. I’m sure if a big studio came in, they would have a huge problem with the graphic violence. But then again, we made a big splash solely on that. At least on the surface, I think that’s drawing people into the theater, but I don’t think a movie can work just based on graphic violence. I’m certainly open to anything. I would love to see what a “Terrifier 3” would look like by a Hollywood studio. I would love to hire an actual Hollywood makeup company to do the special effects. That would take so much of the burden off and expedite everything. That was really the main thing that held us back. We had such a small crew. There was a core group of nine of us that made that entire movie, but we were the set builders, costumes and special effects.
Is there pressure to go even bigger with the gore in a third movie?
There’s definitely pressure. I think we’re set up to fail with “Part 3” in terms of the gore, no matter what, because now people have their expectations so high. If I go way past that we’re going to be thrown into the bad taste category, and if we don’t hit that then we’re going to have dropped the ball. So I have to hit a bullseye in terms of the gore for “Part 3.” So no pressure there.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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