"Terrifier 2" has already become something of a legend among 2022 horror movies. The various stories of people being so disturbed by the relentless onslaught of carnage in this horror sequel that they either fainted or vomited have put the film on the radars of scary film geeks across the globe (per USA Today). This sequel, which follows Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) on another rampage one year after the events of the original "Terrifier," certainly won’t disappoint viewers hungry for oodles of carnage. Writer-director Damien Leone fills the runtime of "Terrifier 2" with a string of depraved situations involving Art tearing human beings to pieces, all realized through an assortment of practical effects.
"Terrifier 2" has old-school scares and gruesomeness to spare, but behind its reputation as a must-see for gorehounds, there are quite a few shortcomings as well. "Terrifier 2" isn’t just plagued by the merciless actions of Art the Clown, it’s also stalked by a comically excessive runtime, some distractingly bad acting, and storytelling choices that undercut the scarier parts of the production. Breaking down the best and worst aspects of "Terrifier 2" can make one appreciate Leone’s imagination when it comes to extreme violence, but this process also makes the misfires in this horror sensation downright unavoidable.
Best: David Howard Thornton’s performance as Art
"Terrifier 2" is not a movie anyone would ever describe as "restrained." On the contrary, excessive gruesomeness is the name of the game here and if you’ve come to see as much gnarly carnage as possible, you’ll probably leave satisfied. Strangely enough, though, a rare instant of restraint within "Terrifier 2" can be found in the performance of David Howard Thornton as the murderous being Art the Clown. Though that sentence may sound preposterous, Thornton’s work as the character is devoid of dialogue and instead entirely reliant on physical mannerisms. His body language isn’t subdued, but Thornton, by nature of not speaking, is working with fewer tools than the other actors.
Thornton turns out to be up for the challenge, particularly when it comes to the old-timey nature of Art the Clown’s body language. The way this vicious figure twiddles his fingers or walks around does evoke the similarly broad gestures of old silent movie comedians. His vivid facial expressions, meanwhile, convey a chilling maniacal quality that’s also, appropriately, vaguely defined. Thornton makes sure that Art’s face doesn’t communicate much more than just glee at whatever misfortune he’s caused, rendering this creature’s eyes and mouth a void of misery. By going "less is more" when it comes to Art the Clown’s speaking capabilities, David Howard Thornton shines as a physical performer playing a memorable antagonist.
Worst: The slow pacing
The contents of "Terrifier 2," a deluge of grisly deaths, would seem to suggest that the film itself couldn’t run for more than 90 minutes, tops. Exploitation movies aren’t known for being able to sustain extremely long runtimes, often made on such shoestring budgets that they couldn’t afford to run for more than 80 minutes. "Terrifier 2" shatters this trend by spanning more than 135 minutes. The egregiously overlong runtime ensures that "Terrifier 2" runs longer than much more thematically weighty fare like "The Power of the Dog" or even just other superior horror titles like "The Empty Man."
The runtime of "Terrifier 2" wouldn’t be a problem if the movie necessitated such an expansive canvas, but writer-director Damien Leone has nowhere near enough material here to justify the length. Certain violent set pieces just go on forever while, frustratingly, the first act is peppered with tedious scenes in the Shaw household consisting solely of expository dialogue. All those chats could’ve been heavily condensed or even eschewed altogether. Even the finale suffers from terrible pacing, as Sienna’s final showdown with Art has multiple different fake-out endings before it wraps up. Much like with comedy, timing is key in a horror movie. If you don’t get that right, you’ll end up with a movie like "Terrifier 2," which leaves viewers checking their watches rather than covering up their eyes in fright.
Best: The lack of explanations for Art
Throughout "Terrifier 2" are hints that something else larger from the past is ensuring that Art the Clown and siblings Sienna and Jonathan Shaw (Elliot Fullam) are intertwined. These breadcrumbs appear to point to the Shaws’ dead father as having some kind of connection to Art, but a welcome aspect of Leone’s screenplay is that "Terrifier 2" doesn’t dwell on this or any other potential direct connection between Art and his murder victims. He just goes out and slaughters people he comes across. A random dude at a laundromat, a woman answering the door for trick-or-treaters, a guy urinating just outside his car — it doesn’t matter. Art kills with the same kind of ease and regularity with which normal people breathe or sleep.
The randomness and regularity of Art’s brutality don’t leave much time for Leone’s script to get bogged down in mythology and lore explaining why Art acts the way he does. Horror movie villains are always much scarier when there’s more than a hint of mystery to them. We don’t need to know the history or motivations behind Leatherface or Michael Myers, they’re eerie because of how little we know about them. Leone appears to recognize this, based on his willingness to just let Art maim and murder without letting a convoluted backstory dictate his rampage.
Worst: The super bright lighting
Independent films like "Terrifier 2" are made under such heavy budgetary restrictions that some leeway must be given to certain flaws. This doesn’t mean all shortcomings in low-budget movies can be excused, but sometimes, certain foibles are inevitable when you’re working on a movie made with pocket change. Still, even considering that, it’s a shame that "Terrifier 2" couldn’t use some part of its budget to create lighting that’s more appropriate for its subject matter. "Terrifier 2" is made in the proud tradition of midnight movies and exploitation films, which often had murky and sometimes incidentally atmospheric cinematography. These visual choices were often unintentional and a byproduct of filming restrictions, but they helped to lend an appropriately seedy look to these grimy features.
"Terrifier 2," meanwhile, is captured with very bright lighting and appears to have been shot on digital cameras. These visual choices mean there’s an out-of-place artificial sheen to "Terrifier 2," with even a dingy blood-covered bathroom where Art the Clown murders people looking too polished. "Terrifier 2," on paper, feels like the kind of movie that would benefit from being seen on a low-fi VHS tape or, like "Death Proof," recreating the grainy look of old-timey exploitation films. Instead, it opts for a cheap-looking digital sheen that robs its atmosphere of any real potency. You can’t have everything when you’re making a low-budget movie, but surely "Terrifier 2" could’ve spent the money on more eerie cinematography.
Best: Sarah Voight’s performance
Watching "Terrifier 2," it can be understandably hard to parse out whether or not Sarah Voight’s performance as Barbara, the mom to Sienna and Johnathan, is good or bad. Her line deliveries are often quite peculiar, including the words she chooses to emphasize in a given sentence. More noticeably, her rampant use of hand gestures for even the most throwaway lines of dialogue is extremely distracting and quickly lapses into seemingly unintentional comedy. However, Voight is making discernible choices as a performer in her portrayal of Sarah Voight, there’s no question about that. She’s choosing to make this character as over-the-top as the killer clown terrorizing people in her community.
It’s innately admirable to see an actor go for it like this, especially given how many mom characters in American genre media are so disposable and lacking in personality. Even more importantly, though, "Terrifier 2" features a bunch of performances from supporting players that are lacking in any kind of discernible personality. Many of the people surrounding our lead players are giving off instantly forgettable personalities that never stray even an inch away from a basic archetype. Considering how rampant such performances are throughout "Terrifier 2," it becomes a lot easier to appreciate the undeniably memorable choices made in Sarah Voight’s on-screen work, even if many of her hand gestures remain inexplicable.
Worst: The inconsistent presence of The Little Pale Girl
In the opening scene of "Terrifier 2," Art the Clown makes a trip to a laundromat to clean his blood-stained outfit. Here, he discovers The Little Pale Girl (Amelie McLain), a small child who looks like a miniature version of Art. The duo proceeds to play a game of patty-cake together, though a shot from the point of view of the only other person in the laundromat establishes that this companion is a figment of Art’s imagination. From here, it looks like "Terrifier 2" will play The Little Pale Girl as Art’s own The Great Gazoo, a miniature figure that only he can see.
However, shortly afterward, Jonathan is introduced to Art when he sees the clown and the little girl playing with the innards of a possum. Inexplicably, Jonathan (and later Sienna) can also see this girl who was previously established to be just in Art’s imagination. It’s a bizarre narrative choice that ultimately proves frustrating since this inconsistency isn’t used to establish a random nightmare landscape for Jonathan and Sienna to navigate. The Little Pale Girl’s presence and who can see her mostly feel determined to create shortcuts in the narrative. There’s no fun or terror in playing it ambiguous on how visible she is, it just comes off as a sloppy detail in the screenplay.
Best: Art’s checkout line tormenting
In one of his first face-to-face interactions with Sierra, Art the Clown torments the teenager at a costume shop. His pestering Sierra primarily concerns him standing behind her while she’s checking out a pair of angel wings and fooling around with an assortment of nearby trinkets, such as some sunglasses and a noisemaker. The camera constantly cuts back and forth between the increasingly distraught Sierra and Art, the latter of whom seems to always find a new way to make a disposable knickknack into a tool for conveying menace.
It’s a stripped-down sequence compared to many of the other instances in "Terrifier 2" of this clown going on a rampage while there’s also palpable suspense over just when things will get taken to the next grisly level. Better yet, this scene also demonstrates the best use of dark comedy in "Terrifier 2," as a hard cut from a visibly shaken Sierra to Art wearing some "cool" shades is a highly humorous moment thanks to the sharp comic timing in the editing. Best of all, this scene genuinely subverts expectations of Art starting "playful" before becoming vicious, since all of his tormenting of Sierra results in her … walking out of the store alive. Clever, darkly funny, and well-paced, Art’s streak of annoying behavior in the checkout line is one of the movie’s standout sequences.
Worst: The Clown Café segment
Early on in "Terrifier 2," Sienna, just before going to sleep, sees a TV advertisement for a place called the Clown Café. The commercial for this location features a woman in quasi-honky tonk garb strumming on a guitar and singing a jingle for an eatery exploiting the public fascination with Art the Clown. Once she falls asleep, Sienna has a dream that she’s trapped as one of the actors in this commercial, forced to interact with the real murderous Art the Clown. Of course, it isn’t long before the set of this commercial turns into a bloodbath, complete with the singer of that Clown Café jingle getting set on fire.
This segment of "Terrifier 2" is one of the greatest victims of the movie’s lackadaisical pacing. On paper, it’s easy to see this commercial sounding like a darkly comical successor to similar commercials in movies like "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" or "Mandy." In execution, though, the whole sequence goes on too long, with the visual juxtaposition of a cutesy children’s TV show set and the maniacal Art the Clown never being disturbing enough to warrant such a prolonged stay in this environment. The Clown Café jingle itself, meanwhile, could’ve used some more bleakly comical lyrics — the song itself just isn’t as humorous or catchy as it should be. There’s a good concept at the heart of the Clown Café massacre, but it’s undercut by bad pacing and a lack of creative chutzpah.
Best: All those practical effects
If there’s any one reason to see "Terrifier 2," it’s to bear witness to old-school horror movie craftsmanship being alive and well on the big screen. "Terrifier 2" renders all the brutal actions of Art the Clown with a series of intricate practical effects. No distracting use of CGI blood or dismembered limbs here — director Damien Leone instead employs a wide array of more grounded means of realizing all this brutal debauchery. This lends some immediate tactility to even the most over-the-top death scenes of "Terrifier 2," like a woman having her hair peeled off or a man’s head getting chopped off on camera.
Best of all, though, it shows so much creativity on the part of the movie’s visual effects department. Such ingenuity is extra impressive since "Terrifier 2" is not a movie made with the budget of even a more costly Blumhouse horror outing. It’d be so easy to save some cash by just having all this mayhem rendered digitally in post-production. Thankfully, "Terrifier 2" opts instead to make sure Art the Clown’s rampage is realized through practical means that harken back to older eras of Hollywood horror cinema.
Worst: That mid-credits scene
The warped sense of pacing in "Terrifier 2" doesn’t end once the credits begin to roll. Midway through, audiences are treated to a little sequence teeing up what could happen in "Terrifier 3" by revealing what’s happening to Victoria "Vicky" Heyes (Samantha Scaffidi), the scarred survivor of the original "Terrifier." Now in a psychiatric hospital, Heyes is being tended to by a pair of doctors whose ongoing conversation takes up way too much time in this credits sequence. As they’re chatting about how Heyes has been "surprisingly cooperative," we see that a pregnant Heyes has written a lot of swear words on the wall of her cell in blood before she gives birth to Art the Clown’s head, much to shock and terror of one of those doctors.
This whole scene stretches on far too long to work as a sudden delve into inexplicable madness, with the prolonged length just giving viewers more time to properly guess what’ll happen before the credits resume rolling. It’s also amusing and somewhat bizarre to see "Terrifier 2" treat various pieces of profanity as "shocking" after all the violent mayhem it’s depicted over the preceding 140 minutes. Lacking any fun or proper atmosphere, the only upside to this mid-credits sequence is how the sight of Heyes writing words in blood reminds one of an all-time great "Simpsons" gag.
Best: The bleak outlook on humanity
Throughout "Terrifier 2," the ordinary human beings Sienna encounters are not the kindest people. Even her closest friends make fun of people with facial deformities, while her mom has no patience for her younger brother’s withdrawn nature. Meanwhile, Vicky is shown being interviewed on TV as something for the public to gawk at, with the interviewer’s questions largely revolving around Vicky’s facial deformities in the wake of being brutalized by Art the Clown. Similarly, the Clown Café is built on the sensationalizing of a murderer just to make a few bucks. None of these people or institutions are as bad as Art the Clown (who is slightly more severe in his torturous behavior), but writer Damien Leone is intentionally painting a world of debauchery that this clown can waltz into.
"Terrifier 2" occupies a world frighteningly like our own, that dehumanizes those with any kind of disabilities and often sees tragedies only through the lens of capitalistic gain. Granted, both of these concepts needed more refining within the context of the film (the filmmaking on hand does still sensationalize and demonize people with any sort of "abnormal" physical traits while the concept of making money off of tragedies was better explored in "Nope"). But even the imperfect presentation of these concepts does lend an intriguingly bleak outlook on humanity within the context of "Terrifier 2."
Worst: The carnival finale
In a behind-the-scenes featurette that screened in theaters after the movie, writer-director Damien Leone notes that one objective with "Terrifier 2" was to get Art the Clown into more "normal" locations and have his carnage juxtaposed against these conventional backdrops. That’s an intriguing concept, but it ends up getting frustratingly abandoned for the endless climax of "Terrifier 2." For the last half hour or so of this movie, "Terrifier 2" is set in an abandoned carnival, with only a handful of characters and no fresh environments in sight. Choosing an empty carnival as the backdrop for your clown horror movie’s climax is incredibly unimaginative and, as a result, isn’t that scary. It’s hard to be frightened by something you’ve seen so many times before.
Worse, though, is how endless Sienna’s eventual showdown with Art the Clown turns out to be. There are two different instances of her seemingly killing him only for Art to return before she finally just decapitates the clown and defeats him (seemingly) for good. Each fake-out death feels less like a fun bit of subversion and more like a movie refusing to just wrap up already. "Terrifier 2" also runs into the weird problem of wanting Sienna and Jonathan both to survive the movie, so Art’s brutal behavior is inexplicably dialed down for the climax. The whole finale of "Terrifier 2" is a mess, a strange misfire lacking in creativity or scares.