Terrifier (Short, 2011)
Starring Jennifer Castellano, Michael Chmiel Mike Giannelli
Directed by Damien Leone
Back in October of 2011, I was lucky enough to be a guest host at the Telluride Horror Show, an up-and-coming film fest nestled in the mountains of southwestern Colorado. While a number of great features were screened, it was the short films – two blocks, with about eight films each – that managed to excite the crowd the most. While many of them, such as Brutal Relax and The Dungeon Master, stood out, only one managed to elicit a thunderous applause - Terrifier.
Damien Leone’s brutal and incredibly un-PC short follows a nameless young woman as she’s hunted by a man dressed as a demonic clown on Halloween night. Stopping at a gas station to fill up her car, she witnesses the clown, named Art, cutting off the head of the gas station attendant with a hacksaw. From then on it’s a prototypical game of “cat-and-mouse,” yet with a sort of gleeful insanity made all the more effective by its Grindhouse veneer.
In just twenty minutes, Leone manages to instill a new level of coulrophobia in even the most hardened individual. As Art the Clown, Mike Gianelli brings to the table an almost surreal character – he delights in the madness and murder he’s causing, laughing maniacally without ever making a sound. His make-up, consisting of a long hook nose, white face paint, black eyes and mouth, and sharp, rotting teeth gives Pennywise from IT a run for his money. As a testament to Art the Clown’s impact and Gianelli’s ability to make him a completely unique villain, his role in this short was brought about solely by the incredible reaction he received in Leone’s first short film, The 9th Circle, in a scene in which he was only briefly shown.
Standing out is the music, with Zach Bourne and Christopher Stark’s rough and grinding score adding an appropriate soundtrack to match the uncompromising violence that unfolds on the screen. It opens with a 70s throwback piano riff accompanied by thudding drums and quickly becomes takes over with what I can only describe as “ambient noise.” It adds perfectly to the look and feel of the film, and without it its impact would have been much weaker.
It might sound trite, but keep your eyes on Damien Leone. In addition to writing and directing the film, he was in charge of nearly all the special effects and did all the editing, making him the proverbial “jack-of-all-trades” we see so rarely in modern horror.
Terrifier may be straightforward, but Leone’s personal flourish, combined with Gianelli’s intense performance as Art the Clown, makes it something wholly unique, and I for one can’t wait to see him in his own feature.
4 1/2 out of 5