It’s not unusual for a sequel to a horror hit to ramp things up and go a bit overboard with bigger ideas and executions, but it is fairly uncommon for that follow-up to surpass the original in most every way. We’ve got Dawn of the Dead, Final Destination 2, and… probably others that just aren’t coming to mind at the moment. To that short list we can now add writer/director Damien Leone‘s clown carnage epic, Terrifier 2. While the first film features fantastic gore against a rather bland and onenote narrative, the sequel finds some semblance of a plot, an engaging character or two, and a running time over two hours that inexplicably never drags. It also ramps up the gore and bloodletting in spectacularly brutal fashion.
After being decidedly killed on a previous Halloween night, the murderous Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) returns from the dead somehow to begin his slaughtering ways anew. This time, though, his bag of tricks includes a mini-me, of sorts, in the form of a little girl dolled up to mimic his own unsettling clown appearance. He’s tall, she’s short, he wears a tiny hat, and she has pigtails askew, but but both are made up in monochrome face-paint, piercingly dead eyes, and maniacal grins. It’s all smooth sailing through the night and through flesh — more on that below, but hoo boy does the flesh take a beating here — until he crosses paths with a young woman named Sienna (Lauren LaVera). It seems Sienna and her little brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam) are tied into Art’s mythology through their dad’s artistic madness, and that might just give them the edge when the blades come out to play.
Don’t get too excited about the promise of a kick-ass final girl and mythology as both take quite a tumble here through Leone’s adventures in screenwriting. That said, both are still notable improvements over the absence of each in the first film. Where Terrifier 2 shines, though, is in its horrifying reach with its very graphic violence. If that’s not your bag then this movie is not for you, but fans of practical gore effects are going to lose their shit marveling at what Leone and Art deliver here.
The kills are numerous and gruesome as Art tears his way through the town’s populace. This is no simple Michael Myers stab ‘n’ slash — this is limbs severed, torsos bashed in, flesh torched, muscle and bone torn asunder — and all of it is shown in gleefully gory and graphic detail. Leone got his professional start making special effects back in 2005, and while his filmography is mostly devoid of titles that saw much of a release, his (and his team’s) talents put him in the big leagues. All of the kills go hard, but one in particular just piles one atrocity atop the next leaving the victim a mere husk of her former self.
Art is still a cruel bastard, but where the first film left him feeling more obnoxious than frightening, the former is toned down some here. He’s more playful, and Thornton accomplishes more with his expressions to deliver an unsettling vibe. The character never speaks, but even in his silence you can feel Art and Terrifier 2 moving into Freddy Krueger/A Nightmare on Elm Street territory as a personality emerges from beneath the black & white makeup. Art wants to hurt you, but he wants to play with you a bit first.
It’s this kind of improvement over the first film that makes Terrifier 2‘s woefully bungled and half-assed narrative even more frustrating. the addition of the “demon girl” (Georgia MacPhail) is interesting, but both her origin and execution are confusing. The same is true for Sienna’s dad and his connection to Art — we get drawings, a magic sword, and a skimpy costume for his daughter to wear through half the film, but absolutely none of it is presented in anything resembling a cohesive manner. It all ultimately feels disconnected and anticlimactic even as everything comes to a close.
The lack of clarity is wild given Terrifier 2‘s whopping 138-minute running time. Even more astonishing, though, is that Leone somehow walks a fine line with a movie that lacks forward momentum yet never really drags. There are ninety-minute slashers that feel three times as long, but you never really notice this film’s length. Still, trimming a super-long dream sequence and tightening up the scene transitions would do wonders all the same.
Art is still not nearly as hilarious or scary as Terrifier 2 thinks he is, but he and the movie are improvements in every way over the 2016 original. LaVera’s protagonist is just capable and interesting enough to carry viewers through, the teases of a mythology are intriguing (albeit unfulfilled), and the gore — the brutally graphic, cruel, and wince-inducing gore — is a masterclass in practical effects guaranteed to leave fans wide-eyed and smiling. If the fx quality remains, and if the story and characters continue to improve, this could become one hell of a horror franchise.
Terrifier 2 opens in theaters October 6th, 2022.