When the ultra-violent Art the Clown was unleashed upon the masses back in 2011 in the short film Terrifier, horror fans had a completely new reason to fear those damned painted jesters, especially when they’re soaked in other people’s blood.
Director Damien Leone again brought the murderous mime to life with an appearance in 2013’s All Hallows’ Eve, and all that remained was to give this killer harlequin his very own stage on which to slice and dice – enter 2018’s Terrifier.
Kicking in the doors this Thursday and Friday, March 15th and 16th, in select theaters, Leone is more than ready to bask in the aural verve of viewers’ screams once they get a glimpse of the carnage, and he was all too generous to discuss the facets of the film with us – so sit back, read on, and enjoy!
DC: Was it the game plan all along to get Art the Clown his own movie, or was it based upon the reception of All Hallows’ Eve?
DL: Definitely the game plan all along. I had made the short film Terrifier in 2011 with the hope of raising money to make a full-length version, but that opportunity never arose. Ruthless Pictures stumbled upon the short on YouTube and gave me the opportunity to incorporate it into All Hallows’ Eve. Originally that film was supposed to be comprised of three Halloween-themed shorts from three different filmmakers. Luckily, the producer, Jesse Baget, graciously allowed me to use and create all of my own material for the film. This wasn’t how I intended to present Art to a larger audience, but it was the best opportunity at the time by far. I’m grateful for the experience and the opportunity, plus it made a lot more people aware of Art.
DC: This is such a straightforward “no apologies – hack and slash film,” and it’s extremely effective. Did you want to create (or do you still want to in the future) an intricate story for Art, or did you just plan on sitting back and letting the clown cut people to pieces and keep his persona a mystery?
DL: For now I wanted to keep it simple because the short film was simple, and that’s what made people fall in love with Art in the first place. I figured it would be foolish to stray too far from what made the short work so well. I’m a diehard slasher fan so I like to think I know what slasher fans enjoy most. Other than probably Scream, the weakest aspect of almost every slasher film is the stereotypical characters talking about nonsense for a majority of the running time. I wanted to eliminate or shorten as much of that as I could and get right down to the nitty-gritty.
People watch slashers because they want to be frightened and they want to see the maniac kill as many people as possible. I figured if I could make Terrifier feel like the last 15 minutes of most slashers in which the villain is the star, it’d be a good start. I haven’t done the research but there is a definite possibility that Art the Clown has more screen time in Terrifier than any other “modern day” slasher. As far as Art’s persona being a mystery, I certainly wanted to keep it ambiguous at this point. Not knowing too much seems to add to the creep factor. I think if you pull back the curtain too far and expose the monster for what it really is, people are no longer frightened, especially if you introduce some form of sympathy into the monster’s creation. Having said that, I don’t think I can keep Art’s backstory a mystery forever because at some point, that just becomes a cop-out. My idea moving forward is to provide enough clues so the audience can put the pieces together without fully spelling everything out — at least in their own mind. I think that would be the best of both worlds.
DC: What makes this movie so fantastically barbaric are not only the kills, but the practical way in which they’re done – are you one of those directors that despises CGI, or do you think it has its time and place?
DL: CGI certainly has a time and place, but you cannot top a practical effect when it’s done brilliantly because it’s real. If you can convince someone on set into believing it’s real, you’ll definitely convince the audience. Having said that, I absolutely love CGI when it’s done right but I despise when it’s done poorly or used inappropriately. Many times major studios push for CGI simply because it’s expensive and it’s a technological advancement. However, they don’t stop and consider the fact that practical effects have also advanced tremendously; and more often than not, practical is the right tool for the job. The new live action Beauty and The Beast is a perfect example of completely unnecessary CGI. Originally the beast was designed to be a practical makeup and the tests were absolutely stunning. But studios love their CGI so now we have a completely inferior cartoon standing next to Emma Watson that will take anyone besides a child out of the film. Yes, the guy who wrote and directed Terrifier also watches movies like Beauty and the Beast. Ultimately, they’re both extremely necessary tools but they can each be misused. I think Guillermo del Toro has it down to a science. That man knows exactly how to marry practical effects and CGI harmoniously.
DC: You’ve had your hands in a multitude of roles behind the scenes (FX work, writing, producing, and directing) – which one of these is your true passion and what could you see yourself doing, say, 15-20 years down the road?
DL: Practical effects are my first love and I’ve been “playing with makeup” for about 22 years now. Makeup is how I was introduced to the magic of filmmaking, but ultimately, directing is my favorite. If I didn’t write and direct Terrifier, chances are those effects and kills would never see the light of day. I don’t like being chained to other people’s visions or ideas. There are stories I want to tell, characters I want to create, and special effects I want to see. I would prefer having an amazing makeup effects artist create what I envision rather than work as a makeup artist on a film that I have no creative control over or I’m not passionate about. Hopefully 20 years from now I’m directing my 10th film!
DC: After the release of Terrifier, what’s going to be keeping you busy in the future – any projects you could clue us in on?
DL: I guess it all depends on the success of Terrifier. A sequel is inevitable, and I know exactly where to take Art the Clown next. However, if things go in a different direction for some reason, I have a zombie dream project that I would love to make and a vampire film that I can do on a shoestring budget. It always comes down to money and opportunities, but I’ll certainly be writing scripts and doing special effects on other people’s projects until the next directing job comes along.