Did TERRIFIER’s Art the Clown Break “The Slasher’s Code”—Or Did He Rewrite It?
Last October, we proudly announced our affiliation with Epic Pictures, launching Dread Central Presents. Since then, our horror distribution label has released The Lodgers, Imitation Girl, and #Screamers with To Hell and Back, Director’s Cut, and The Golem coming down the pike (along with others).
It goes without saying the site is incredibly proud of the success of Terrifier, released last March. Art the Clown (the supporting/wrap-around character from the All Hallows’ Eve anthologies) proved he’s got bona fide icon potential. David Howard Thornton’s performance delivered the completely unhinged depravity necessary to bring writer/director Damien Leone’s twisted vision to life.
Before you go thinking this is nothing but a shameless pimp piece, this editorial is actually stuffed with spoilers, so it’s really intended for those who have already seen the film. If, however, you find yourself intrigued by the intro above, then, by all means, skip down to the trailer and synopsis at the bottom of the article.
It’s also worth noting from the get-go that we’re actually challenging one particular aspect of Terrifier and asking for your opinion. If you’ve made it this far, and fully understand that we’re now venturing deep into Spoiler Territory, we invite you to proceed.
In Terrifier, Art the Clown commits many, truly shocking acts of cruelty. He puts “that scene” from Bone Tomahawk to shame and, while we’ve seen villains from Otis Driftwood in House of 1000 Corpses to Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs use someone else’s face to pull a fast one, Art dons a gag-inducing scalp-to-torso body-wrap! These are just a few moments in Terrifier that are impossible to unsee.
The moment that shocked me most (and the inspiration for this editorial), however, was when Art, seemingly on the ropes, pulled a gun from his ankle holster and shot his victim.
Remember that time when Jason Voorhees was almost bested before he busted a cap in his victim’s ass? Or what about that time Leatherface’s chainsaw ran out of gas, so he used a gun to incapacitate his victim instead? And who can forget that time Michael Myers shot back at Dr. Loomis?
The reason you can’t is that these scenes never happened—and that’s the point. But for just a moment, think about how your perception of these iconic horror heavyweights might change had they used firearms at any point in their careers.
No one’s saying guns are unusual in horror movies, but let’s focus our conversation on slashers specifically. The very word slasher (as a category and a noun) connotates the kind of up-close-and-personal, visceral penetration victims receive from knives, axes, machetes, chainsaws, and the like. Examples of slashers using the detached and instantly debilitating power of guns are indeed unusual.
There are exceptions to every rule, and Mick Taylor from Wolf Creek and John Kramer (better known as Jigsaw) from the Saw franchise immediately spring to mind. But Mick’s a hunter at heart, and clearly prefers the paralyzing artistry of his buck knife; the sniper rifle is simply to pick off those who might otherwise escape. As for Jigsaw, everyone in the Saw franchise who died by a bullet might have survived had they simply obeyed the rules of the game; John Kramer also skirts the strict definition of a slasher.
The thing that connects Mick and Jigsaw, and what makes their use of firearms acceptable, is that they’re human. It might seem like a meaningless distinction since Jason, Michael, and “Bubba” are, of course, biologically human as well. But these embodiments of the archetypal slasher are clearly endowed with dark powers. While Leatherface may simply be blessed with extraordinary strength, his ability to survive the violence of his lifestyle is astonishing; he seems immune to the progressive ravages of old age, has a tremendous tolerance for pain and, (though physically challenged) exhibits incredible vitality. As for Jason and Michael, they’re clearly extraordinary and supernatural, able to survive multiple attacks that would prove fatal to mere mortals. Most significantly each has a penchant for returning from the dead.
This is why the idea of Jason, Leatherface, or Michael using a gun is hard to reconcile: Not only does each seem to revel in the physicality of murder, it simply doesn’t seem fair. I mean, if firearms are basically harmless to them it’s, like, weak sauce. And if bullets can, at most, put one of these bad boys down temporarily (as we saw when Mr. Voorhees rematerialize after being literally obliterated in Jason Goes to Hell), why not give us puny mortals this one, hardly significant measure of security?
It’s almost like there’s a Slasher’s Code of Conduct, one that allows human monsters to use guns when absolutely necessary while making them taboo to those immune (or resistant) to their effects.
Which brings us back to Art the Clown, and why his gunplay in Terrifier was a sticking point in my mind. Did he break The Slasher’s Code? If he exhibits extraordinary abilities, especially hints of immortality (which he indeed seems to), then the answer would be: Yes. Of course, there’s a caveat: At this point in time, we know very little about Art’s origins, the source of his powers, and the limits of his abilities. We might (and hopefully will) learn more about this insidious fiend in future Terrifier installments.
Of course, there’s no official Slasher’s Code—and if there were, it would be impossible to enforce. Filmmakers are bound only by their artistic visions, and we must never forget that some of the world’s greatest innovations and moments of realization come from breaking established protocols. Those who play by the numbers rarely make waves while rule-breakers rock boats—and Art the Clown rocked the fuck out of my boat!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ongoing national debate regarding gun control made me more sensitive to this particular aspect of Terrifier. But this isn’t a discussion about the right to bear arms, nor a rallying cry against the use of guns in films. Still, personally, I wondered if guns have become so normalized, they’ve infiltrated places that seem somewhat unusual or unnecessary; in this case, a slasher movie.
So perhaps Art the Clown hasn’t broken any established or unspoken code—but he may have just re-written some. And as long as movies continue to reflect the fears and anxieties of modern society, our ideas of normal, acceptable, and horrifying will evolve.
Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Let us know in the comments section what you think about the use of guns by slashers!
A maniacal clown named Art terrorizes three young women on Halloween night and everyone else who stands in his way.