To the blood-soaked Mount Rushmore of latter-day movie maniacs that includes Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jigsaw, Pennywise, Pinhead, and Chucky, let’s add Art the Clown. The silent killer clown has made his presence felt on screen and in Hollywood, tormenting his victims and brutalizing their bodies beyond recognition in Terrifier 2, to the tune of almost $10 million so far.
It’s an astounding box office take for a film that—deep breath—is a sequel to a 2016 release that only the hardest of hard-core horror hounds saw; was crowdsourced on Indiegogo; cost a mere $250,000 to produce; opened unrated; features a cast of relative unknowns; was meant to play in theaters for three days; generated precious little publicity beyond the genre press; and runs an unrelenting 2 hours and 18 minutes long.
And it gets crazier. Terrifier 2 is certified Fresh at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, a frightfully good number for a horror flick. Beloved
scream queen horror actor Barbara Crampton tweeted, “Terrifier 2 sure is something! Whoa! Intense! Lots of blood & graphic kills & then ... more. It’s A LOT my people! The lead actors were really good, believable.” No less an icon than Stephen King offered this slab of praise on Twitter: “TERRIFIER 2: Grossin’ you out old-school.”
USA Today picked up on the burgeoning groundswell among everyday moviegoers, pointing to several tweets, among them one from TJ Barker (@realTJBarker) that read: “Just saw Terrifier 2. It was an amazing gory mess. The guy behind me passed out cold n crashed into my chair, another guy left because he didn’t feel good, I overheard him say and walking out theatre door I heard a guy puking hard & loud in the bathroom.” And in another tweet that would have William Castle smiling in his grave, fan Andrew Liming (@ratshitbastard) noted, “#Terrifier2 my friend passed out and the theater called an ambulance. Highly recommended.”
So, what are we screaming about here? Well, in Terrifier, Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) terrorized a small town, targeting several women, including Tara (Jenna Kanell), her sister Vicky (Samantha Scaffidi), and Tara’s friend, Dawn (Catherine Corcoran). He chopped one naked victim in half, mutilated a couple of pizza shop employees and, after putting Vicky through the ringer, ate her face. Writer-producer-director-practical effects wizard Damien Leone never cut away from the gore in his slasher comedy, and Thornton sent chills up people’s spines as the nonspeaking, demented, seemingly unkillable boogeyman. And thus was born a cult favorite film and character (though Leone actually introduced Art, played by a different actor, in a couple of shorts that he later folded into his 2013 horror anthology film, All Hallow’s Eve).
Cut to 2019. Leone wrote a sequel and took to Indiegogo to raise the bulk of his budget. Fans ponied up various amounts of money in exchange for on-screen thank you’s, autographed scripts and posters, set visits, the opportunity to be killed on screen, producer credits, etc. Leone also offered the following plot tease: “After being resurrected by a sinister entity, Art the Clown returns to Miles County where he must hunt down and destroy a teenage girl and her younger brother on Halloween night. As the body count rises, the siblings fight to stay alive while uncovering the true nature of Art’s evil intent.”
The campaign raised $215,127, or 450% of its $50,000 goal. A lengthy shoot, interrupted by the pandemic, and an extended post-production window delayed—and delayed and delayed—Terrifier 2’s release, but it somehow all fell into place, resulting in a film that’s grosser, funnier, scarier, and ridiculously more profitable than its predecessor.
“Basically, the goal was ‘Let’s make it bigger and better,’” the bespectacled, easygoing Thornton told The A.V. Club during a Zoom call earlier this week. “We wanted to address all the issues that people had with the first film, especially with the storyline. We wanted to flesh out characters more in this one, and start world-building. We also wanted to establish a great protagonist to Art’s antagonist. We succeeded in that. That’s what we set out to do. We wanted to improve upon everything that was in the first film.”
And that brings us to Sienna, Terrifier 2’s ass-kicking Final Girl, played to the hilt by actress Lauren LaVera (Marvel’s Iron Fist, Wetlands, Clinton Road), who’s also a martial artist proficient in Taekwon-Do, Kun Khmer, and Wushu. The plot, as noted in Leone’s Indiegogo synopsis, pits Sienna and her younger brother, Jonathan (Elliott Fullam), against Art the Clown on a Halloween night they’ll never forget. Sienna, dressed like a warrior/avenging angel, will do anything and everything to protect Jonathan, and following through on that involves a sword, a possibly supernatural twist, and several ferocious confrontations with Art in which Sienna gives as good as she gets.
“What’s really interesting is Sienna finds out a lot of what’s happening to her with the audience,” the charming and enthusiastic LaVera said during a separate Zoom call with The A.V. Club. “She doesn’t have much foresight. She is a narrator, but at times a possibly unreliable narrator, because she has these visions and these weird, trippy moments. You’re thinking, ‘Is this really happening to her? I don’t know.’ Her driving force was always her family, especially her little brother. There’s even a moment where Sienna and Art are colliding. She sees him, and—in my own heart, when I was in the scene—I thought, ‘Sienna is going to die. This is it for her.’ Then she sees her brother and she comes to. She snapped out of it, and was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve got to save my brother.’ Throughout the entire film, her brother is her driving force.”
Of course, in the Art-Sienna dustups, the clown utters nary a word. Thornton, who hails from Alabama and counts among his credits Nightwing: Escalation and The Dark Offerings, describes Art as a mashup of classic slasher icons. He’s got that silent nature of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, the charisma and humor of Freddy Krueger and Chucky, the sadistic side of Pinhead, plus Leatherface’s cannibalistic tendencies. And Thornton complements all that with a depraved dollop of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Max Schreck.
“I based him off of those great silent film actors that came before me, great physical comedians,” Thornton explained. “I learned from watching those actors my entire life, especially my friend (the late) Stefan Karl, who was Robbie Rotten from LazyTown. I was his understudy for five years with How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical, so I was able to take a Master’s class in that area of comedy with him. I put that into my interpretation of Art, but what I also do is this ... even though I don’t have lines, I say lines in my head. I have my own dialogue I come up with. That way, I’m able to hit the beats that I need to hit. I naturally react to things as I would if I was having a normal conversation, but a little bit more exaggerated, because he’s a clown.”
Some actors portraying mortal enemies might not sit and chat at the craft services table during breaks. Thornton and LaVera, however, forged a friendship. “When Lauren was first cast, I specifically asked for us to all get lunch together because I wanted us to build a good rapport with each other,” Thornton recalled. “I knew we were going to go through a lot in this movie together. We needed to have a good relationship and a lot of trust in each other to begin with. We’re probably going to have our futures intertwined with each other anyway, both on professional and personal levels. That translated to the set. On set, I don’t stay in character the entire time. I’m myself. I’m joking around. I’m checking in with everybody and making sure everybody’s okay. I’m a big papa bear.
“It’s probably weird for my co-stars, because one second I’m on top of them, stabbing away, and the next second, when they say ‘Cut,’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, are you okay? I didn’t hurt you or anything like that, did I?’” he continued. “Sometimes, acting is very convincing, and I’m afraid to actually hurt them. I’m like, ‘Are you okay?’ And they say, ‘Oh, no. I’m fine.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re so good.’”
LaVera confirmed Thornton’s papa bear comment and even revealed the amusing location where she, Thornton, and Leone convened for that initial lunch. “It was definitely a great experience,” she said. “The first time I met Dave, we all got together—me, Dave, and Damien—and ate at Outback Steakhouse, just to get to know each other. It was a good time. Dave and I agree on a lot of things. We got along really quickly and easily. We were fast friends, and, luckily for me, Dave isn’t a method actor. He didn’t stay in character as Art the Clown the entire time. Whenever we heard, ‘Cut!’ he was just silly Dave again. He was a goofball, and really easy to be around. I loved working with Dave.”
LaVera and Thornton both offered high praise for their director, Leone. “He wore so many hats, and he had every right in the world to flip out, and he never did,” she said. “He was always calm, cool, collected, and a great captain of a really weird ship.” Thornton noted, “What impressed me most is that he’s very actor- and crew-friendly. He has his own ideas, and he knows what he wants, but he’s also open to hearing other ideas, to collaboration, especially if it’s going to help improve things. He’s such a team player. He never loses his cool. I’d see chaos around us, and he’d just be sitting there going, ‘Okay!’” And, no, LaVera hastened to add, Leone ratcheting up the violence and carnage didn’t faze her. “When it comes to art and telling stories, there’s not much that’s too far for me,” she said. “There are definitely certain movies I can’t watch because they’re so disturbing, but I feel like the disturbing moments border hilarity at times. I think that’s part of its charm.”
Thornton subtly noted earlier that his and LaVera’s futures likely will intertwine on personal and professional levels—and he’s dead right. Not to spoil anything, but Terrifier 2 opens the door gaping wide to the inevitable Terrifier 3, which promises an epic good-versus-evil showdown between Sienna and Art. And both actors can expect invitations to horror conventions and autograph shows for the rest of their lives. LaVera hasn’t even attended her first con yet, and already fans have taken to social media to proudly share photos of their Sienna tattoos and costumes. She’s blown away by such passion and sounds ready to take her place among such horror stars as Barbara Crampton, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Neve Campbell.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Thornton enthused. “This is purely organic. This is not processed by a Hollywood company. This is fans enjoying stuff that was made by fans and spreading the love. Seeing it explode like this, it’s just been so inspiring. It has surpassed all of our wildest expectations. We’re so grateful. And I will say I’m so thrilled that the audiences have accepted Lauren LaVera as the new scream queen/Final Girl right now. That was one of the most important things for us, for this film, establishing that character. I felt this whole movie was going to hinge on her performance and how well she was received. I’m so happy to see that everybody has embraced Lauren.”
“The first Sienna tattoo dates back to 2020, when the teaser trailer came out, and I was floored,” LaVera said. “That’s all an actor ever wants. Not so much for fans to get tattoos, even though I am honored; it’s more about the fact that they feel this connection to her. They feel strength from her. They feel that they see themselves in her, and that’s all an actor ever wants, to make their audience feel less alone. That’s why I got into acting. I’m collecting all the pictures. I have them on my phone, all the Sienna costumes. I’m slowly compiling them, and I’ll eventually make a post of them, honoring everybody that’s been honoring Sienna. It’s an unreal experience.
“And in terms of being a scream queen, I wanted to put a piece of all of (her predecessors) in Sienna,” LaVera concluded. “I get to go to my first con in a week, and I’m so excited to see what that’s like; to meet fans, and to see in person how they’ve connected with Sienna. I’m so ready to do this for as long as I possibly can. I was born ready for this. I’ve always wanted people to connect with a character I’ve helped create. So, I’m very excited and eternally grateful for that.”