Thoughts on Terrifier 2

Obviously there are going to be some spoilers for Terrifier 2 but there are also some for Terrifier.

I’m pretty surprised with how high I ranked this in my 2022 #31HorrorFilms31Days list given the first Terrifier was my least favorite #31HorrorFilms31Days watch in 2019. To be honest, I want to unequivocally love this movie the same way so many other people seem to, but I still have some criticisms that prevent me from being swept up in the fever. But I’ll start with the many positives:

The Good

Art the Clown is an ingenious character design. He is exceptionally cruel, clearly taking sadistic pleasure in not just killing or psychologically tormenting people, but torturing them as long as possible. Often while miming uproarious laughter while doing so. He can also be relatable, like when he has to stop at a laundry mat and is frustrated to hear something go awry with the washing machine he puts his clothes in. He can be hilarious like when he keeps trying on novelty glasses behind Sienna at the Halloween store:

This scene is simultaneously utterly hilarious and uncomfortable at the same time. I think every woman can relate to Sienna’s experience in this particular scene. You are in a public space, and a strange man is making you uncomfortable. At best, they don’t realize their behavior is having this impact. But at worst, they are intentionally messing with you which is even scarier because IF it IS intentional, the next question is far it will go.

At the same time, it is funny. It is hard not to laugh with the way movie is edited. Even Sienna’s exasperated “please don’t” has the slight tone of utterly resignation to the bullshit that’s about to happen in a way that tips the scene into humor instead of terror.

Speaking of Sienna, she is a good final girl. She’s creative, level-headed, and a good sister to her little brother. Her avenging angel/Valkyrie costume gives her a distinct look and makes her feel like a formidable force to oppose Art. Although Art is so cruel, he is a great villain and it isn’t easy to find a horror hero to match that energy.

The movie captures the shock and meanness of 70s exploitation with dashes of 80s slasher and nostalgia. The synthwave soundtrack, direction, and creative vision keeps this 2.5 movies clipping along aside from some overly bloated sequences (the final act in particular had me mentally begging for Sienna to just to grab the magic sword to end both Art and the movie). It is impressive how well the movie captures the feeling and tone of a 70s/80s horror movie despite being made and set in contemporary times.

This movie also does something relatively unique in that it makes me dread a kill scene more than a jump scare or the tension leading up to the kill scene. Don’t get me wrong – there was a stray jump or two. But I felt the most dread when Art was about to kill because I never knew how far it was going to go.

The Bad

All that being said…I don’t quite get why this film is getting all the hype it is getting. I think it is a solid modern riff on video nasties and a much more balanced film than the first, but it didn’t really break new ground (other than a purposely schlocky movie achieving such mainstream praise and attention). Nor did it make me vomit or pass out.

And to be honest I also still get a nasty taste of misogyny from the Terrifier movies. I believe the actor behind Art when he says “Art is an equal opportunity offender.” But Art conveniently spends far more time tormenting and torturing women versus men in both Terrifier films and All Hallow’s Eve. And in movies that really build their reputations on gore and torture, it becomes a lot more noticeable that the victims with the worst fates tend to be female. Writer/director Damian Leone’s response to accusations of misogyny and transphobic imagery in the first Terrifier also leaves something to be desired to say the least. Even Terrifier 2‘s response to a particularly vicious scene in the first doesn’t equal the playing ground. Yes in this film, Art stabs a man’s penis off but it is much quicker and less graphic than the prolonged sequence in the first film of a naked woman chained upside down and screaming for helping as Art saws her in half starting with her vagina while another woman is forced to watch.

To be fair, if Terrifier 2 lived in a vacuum where the other iterations of Art the Clown didn’t exist, I might just think of it as a bit dated in its gender politics. In this one it is really only a few gratuitous shots and Allie’s death that took me out of my otherwise enjoyable experience a bit. But it doesn’t surprise me that the most brutal, prolonged death is once again reserved for a woman and it feels like we are meant to just laugh at how sick it is. I think Allie’s death is meant to be so over the top it is comical (and I do think the bleach and salt part finally reached that “this is so ridiculous it is darkly funny” apex). But the transition from torture porn to humor didn’t quite work for me. Based on the reviews going into this sequel (quite a few said it was a massive improvement over the first), I felt like it would be a wild and disgusting ride and it largely was. But this scene felt like it tipped back into the gendered, excessive cruelty of the first in a way that really turned me off. I understand the Terrifier movies are for a certain taste and are meant to showcase the admittedly brilliant practical effects the creative team created. And I certainly don’t think Leone intends to be misogynistic or people are misogynistic simply for enjoying the film because again – I did too. But something about this film set that radar off for me in a way other slashers and even some exploitation films do not.

I know that this is meant to be old school schlock and all the more regressive moments are meant to be edgy and gratuitous because “that is what horror used to be” before “woke” (usually shorthand for horror prominently featuring Black and/or queer people) horror took over. And as I’ve stated, the movie does what it is trying to do and I largely enjoyed it for what it is. Horror is an expansive genre and sometimes you want some fast food instead of a seafood boil where you have to work a bit for your food. But it also feels like it is hiding behind being old school in order to be dated in some of its choices. Like the argument I could see for spending the most time tormenting and killing one-dimensional female characters is “but that’s just what old school horror movies did.” But that is a completely arbitrary reason to continue to do it. And by leaning on those tropes too much, the movie cuts itself short from breaking even more boundaries.

Some Additional Thoughts:

  • I’m curious in years to come how often Damian Leone will be compared to Eli Roth. It seems like time has not been kind to Roth’s films, but Leone’s work remind me a lot of the edgelord nihilism of post 9/11 horror.
  • I can’t help but wonder if film marketers are secretly thrilled when someone has a medical emergency during a screening of a horror film. They really ran with the vomiting/fainting stories with this one, but I never followed up to see if the person just happened to have food poisoning.
  • Just as I believe the polarized discourse (when people aren’t being jerks about it!) for Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends amongst horror fans is neat, I do think my own polarized feelings regarding Terrifier 2 also indicate this movie did something to be commended. I do make second guessing myself a pastime and feel like I’m pretty alone when it comes to having mixed feelings about this movie, but movies are subjective and just because something doesn’t entirely work for me doesn’t make it bad.
  • Likewise, I am happy an indie, low budget, supernatural slasher has achieved such massive success and mainstream attention. Even if a horror movie isn’t my personal favorite, I love seeing horror succeed and I love seeing evident passion in a horror project.
  • Very minor, but I appreciate a great ending stinger that sets up more story to come, and this movie does that perfectly. Too many movies go for a cheap jump scare, but this one has a haunting final image that does leave me excited for the inevitable part three
  • Will I ever get the “Clown Cafe” song out of my head?

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