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Monday, October 10, 2022

Terrifier 2 (2022) review

Lauren LaVera (Sienna Shaw), Elliott Fullam (Jonathan Shaw), David Howard Thornton (Art the Clown), Amelie McLain (The Little Pale Girl), Sarah Voigt (Barbara Shaw), Kailey Hyman (Brooke), Casey Hartnett (Allie), Samantha Scaffidi (Victoria Heyes), Felissa Rose (Ms. Principe), Tamara Glynn (Mother), Nedim Jahic (Travis Bryant), Chris Jericho (Burke)
Directed by Damien Leone
The Short Version: Slasher cinema's heir apparent, Art the Clown--of ALL HALLOW'S EVE and TERRIFIER--is both Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger in the form of a pantomiming, supernatural jester. TERRIFIER 2 ups the ante set by the first movie with even more graphic, unrelenting gore and an epic-length, if patience-testing running time. Leone's sequel is frequently well made, seasoned with some truly nightmarish sequences and imagery; occasionally repetitive, the damn thing never wants to end at 138 minutes of overkill. Simply put, TERRIFIER 2 has more endings than THE BEASTMASTER (1982). If you're not exhausted when the conclusion finally arrives, stick around shortly into the end credits because there's ANOTHER ten minute sequence awaiting you. Crammed with character development that does nothing for them, and the most energetically sadistic practical effects in years, TERRIFIER 2 is predominantly an Art film--in the most literal, brutally violent sense of the word.
Having been brought back to life by a demonic force, serial killer Art the Clown escapes a morgue after killing an attendant. Encountering an equally sinister-looking little girl who joins him on a new murder spree, Art sets his depraved sights on a young woman named Sienna, her family, and friends among his next intended victims. 
Damien Leone introduced Art the Clown to the world in his 2008 short subject, THE 9TH CIRCLE; then put him front and center in his nerve-shattering short horror TERRIFIER in 2011. Those who missed both were able to see them as part of Leone's full-length feature debut, the surprisingly effective 2013 anthology, ALL HALLOW'S EVE (Art is absent from the Leone-produced ALL HALLOW'S EVE 2). From there, Art got his own movie all to himself in 2016s blood-soaked TERRIFIER. He returns again for another Halloween-set slasher soiree.
If you found writer, producer and director Damien Leone's previous butcher-fest a revitalization of 80s-style horror in how it's shot, its music and its practical effects, TERRIFIER 2 is in that exact same style, but with new additions. Leone's script fertilizes the barren narrative landscape of before, building upon a bunch of new characters. T2 is certainly much bigger, more ambitious than its predecessor, but it's not necessarily better. There are a few reasons, one being gigantic plot holes that were apparently done on purpose--to be explored further in the planned TERRIFIER 3.

Another major problem—and this may not be an issue for some—is that director Leone foregoes building his slasher series with its supernatural villain in a methodical fashion; instead he heads in directions infamously taken by slasher franchises after they've become stale from sequel excess.

For example, in HALLOWEEN 2 (1981), supernatural elements are modestly introduced in the form of the pagan tradition of Samhain. Later sequels like part 6 took the series outside the realm of believability by expanding on this minor, spooky element, ridiculously turning Michael Myers into a satanic Hitman controlled by Druids.

Elsewhere, the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise began implementing bizarre gimmicks to freshen up the tired campground-set series. After six films, Jason Voorhees is pitted against a psychically powered teenager who can even summon ghosts to defeat him. From there, he was sent on a cruise, to New York, to Hell, and even outer space.
Damien Leone is clearly a big fan of slashers and HALLOWEEN in particular. There are little nods throughout where various characters are watching horror films such as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. The style of camerawork Leone likes is also welcome; where the camera remains grounded with none of that awful shaky-cam nonsense. He stays on a scene or a shot and derives tension in doing so.

As for Art the Clown, in TERRIFIER, he's human, only becoming a metaphysical monster at the end--able to traverse between reality and unreality as depicted in ALL HALLOW'S EVE. Art picks his victims at random and, in the sequel, is apparently only visible to those he intends to kill. Working within these ELM STREET-style parameters offers enough opportunities to expand the character and some recurring ones without getting too crazy with outlandish ideas.
However, in the sequel, we get thick chunks of glossed-over backstory involving a disturbing looking, dead little girl (played by Amelie McLain) who joins Art on his Halloween murder excursion. If that were the only area where things were left largely unexplained, it would be fine, but there's more. Then there's the deceased father of main character Sienna. What little we learn during the movie, he has left his daughter a sword that turns out to be a magical, clown-killing weapon. 
It’s bewildering that after only one official movie we’re already in JASON GOES TO HELL territory. Absurdity worked there because, aside from it being the 9th movie, FRIDAY 9 never felt like it was part of the series, but its own self-contained story; a one-off entry.

 For Leone to venture off onto comprehension-straining Fantasy tangents so soon into the world he's building is jarring.

The other area that hinders T2 is a propensity to drag out sequences to near interminable lengths. There's a nightmare scene early into the film that goes on for so long, you forget it's occurring in Sienna's sleep. Towards the end, Sienna gets pushed into a hole, plummeting into a dungeon-like basement where there's another hole leading to what is apparently Hell. She gets pushed down into that hole too, ending up in the satanic studio she dreamt about earlier. 

Reportedly heeding feedback from fans about the lack of exposition in TERRIFIER, Leone inserts lots of it between Sienna, her brother Jonathan, and their mother Barbara. A good portion of this is wasted, though. One reason being Sarah Voigt comes off less like a mother than an older sister; constantly shouting and hurling expletives at her kids with no real explanation as to the nature of their familial problems. You could shave 30-40 minutes and lose none of the exposition or horror. Second, for all the added character development, it serves more as padding for the running time than advancing motivation. There are huge gaps of events and cliffhanger moments we're teased with but never given details about. Rarely has a horror movie said so much and said so little at the same time.

Art is the most vital component in Leone's movie and there's no shortage of him. Another character does manage to steal away some of his limelight in a surprisingly potent performance.

Lauren LaVera as Sienna Shaw is a gorgeous lady who does a fantastic job in the lead; far better than you'd expect in a movie like this. A martial artist and stuntwoman, she commands attention whether in dramatic moments, or when she's wearing a revealing superhero Angel costume in the last 40 or so minutes of the movie. She is one to watch for, and hopefully she does more work in horror.

David Howard Thornton returns as Art (Mike Giannelli played the killer clown prior to the full-length TERRIFIER movie) and builds on what he did previously. Relentlessly frightening in TERRIFIER, showcasing some of the creepiest shots of facial expressions and body language ever seen in horror, Thornton ramps up many of those mannerisms in this sequel.

The gore (also part of the work of the film's writer, producer and director) is better than before, going beyond your finer creative kill popularly established in the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. It's also the most sadistic and visually nasty death scenes of any horror film in recent memory. Art doesn't simply kill people, he utterly obliterates their bodies by slashing, gouging, dismembering, crushing, and smashing them. This too is overkill, but the most important part of the movie for most fans.

Visually, T2 is a more colorful experience compared to the dark ambiance of the previous movie. What there isn't more of is that film's mean-spirited atmosphere. With the wildly increased exposition, it dilutes the oppressive bleakness that dominated the first TERRIFIER. That's not a detriment because that's the one area the first movie is superior to this one--there's consistency to the storytelling that kept that movie on-course.

The overlong finale fittingly takes place inside an abandoned carnival with one working attraction... The Terrifier. The setting is perfect and is a great way to cap the film till the bizarre magical sword plot point turns up along with another of the "we'll-explain-it-later" plot holes. If you're not mentally wiped out from the 2+ hours assault on your senses, hang in there shortly into the end credits because there's a TEN MINUTE sequence inside an insane asylum featuring former wrestler Chris Jericho. This last spectacle of gore (reminiscent of the opening of WARLOCK 2: THE ARMAGEDDON) utilizes Victoria, the only survivor of the previous movie (the homicidal lady who had her face ripped off), in a spectacularly gruesome way.

Aside from Jericho, there are a couple of 80s horror cameos, too. Felissa Rose of SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) and Tamara Glynn of HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989) make brief appearances.

As a whole, TERRIFIER 2 is neither better nor worse than its predecessor. It does surpass it in the area of practical effects work and some elaborate visuals. The first film has it beat from a storytelling perspective as its flow isn't disrupted by multiple plot points left unexplained by the filmmakers even with an extra hour of length at their disposal. A good many horror fans are going to love T2 simply for the gore; and if a bloodbath is what you’re expecting and hoping to see, Art is most definitely not clowning around in that department.
This review is representative of a theatrical screening from October 8th, 2022. The images are from online sources.

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