Film Review: TERRIFIER (2017)

Terrifier (2017)
Director: Damien Leone
Stars: Jenna Kanell, Catherine Corcoran, David Howard Thornton

It’s been more than a hot minute, say, the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or the original PHANTASM, since a villain with supernatural tendencies gave me the heebie-jeebies…and more than a few nightmares. So what news could possibly bring those nights of unrest to mind once again? Just this: writer/director DAMIEN LEONE is back with TERRIFIER, the ‘facelifted’ version of his horror anthology, ALL HALLOWS’ EVE, and before it ends, you’ll either be begging for mercy…or begging for MORE. No middle-of-the-road waffling with this ‘beauty.’

If you saw HALLOWS’ EVE, you know all about “Art The Clown”. Not a fun villain, this, unless mutilation, dismemberment and death are things that make you hee-haw like your grandpa watching The Three Stooges. As a mute, Art has no witty one-liners, no nudge-winking at the camera, no sweetly inventive kills with a dash of panache. You want that stuff, go see Freddy or Chucky. Art does all his dirty deeds in his even nastier black-and-white Harlequin-like clown getup. But for sheer brutality, even Jason and Michael may get a run for their money dealing with this killer creep. If you never had a fear of clowns before, TERRIFIER may very well change your life!

Okay, so, first things first. As a throwback to the brutal slash-and-gash fests of the late Seventies/early Eighties, the plot here is dripping with more gore and grue than originality. Tara (JENNA KANELL, who could easily be Neve Campbell’s younger sister) is out partying with her gal pal, Dawn, (CATHERINE CORCORAN of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, VOL. 2) on Halloween night. On the way back to Dawn’s car, the intoxicated young ladies run afoul of our not-so-favorite funnyman, Art. Dawn taunts the pancake-faced perv – NEVER a good move in one of these films – and Tara convinces her to walk to a nearby pizza place, to get some drunk food into their stomachs so that they can sober up. Maybe not the best idea…since Art follows them.

And I’m going to stop right there, adding only this: Tara calls on her college-student sis, Victoria (SAMANTHA SCAFFIDI) to come and get them out of their jam, when they come back to the car from the pizza joint, only to find that one of Dawn’s tires has been slashed. Guess I don’t have to tell you every detail of the cruelty and carnage that happens from there, do I?

DAVID HOWARD THORNTON inherits the role of Art from ALL HALLOWS’ EVE’S MIKE GIANNELLI, and I have to admit that I can see the differences between them. Where Art was more of a ‘guide’ in the first film, linking the different stories together, and not really standing out as more than that until the very end, Thornton’s Art is his own evil entity, free to run rampaging and killing as many people in as many gross and gory methods as his twisted mind can come up with.

There is no backstory for him – and this is a smart move in Leone’s script, since it’s almost written in stone, that it’s MUCH better to feature a cold-blooded killer who kills simply because it’s what he’s about, rather than having a “mommy-and-daddy-didn’t-love-me” past to provide a weak rationale. (Yes, Rob Zombie, you heard me.) All Art is armed with is the nasty collection of weapons and implements he totes around on his shoulders in a dirty green trash bag, and the blackest, most evil sense of humor this side of The Joker.

As the creator of special effects as well as the filmmaker, Leone gets all of the retro details absolutely right, down to the intensely mean-spirited way the kills are executed (pun most definitely intended.) Kanell, Corcoran and Scaffidi all have great futures as scream queens if they want, especially Kanell and Scaffidi. Casting them as sisters was on-the-nose, and I didn’t disbelieve that they were for a second. And populated as this is with characters who should probably just have “DEAD AS FUCK” stenciled on their foreheads, nobody gives a performance that’s less than well-done.

Other standouts are: Mike, the pest control guy (MATT MCALLISTER), whose creepy vibe provides the ‘red herring’ that a lot of back-in-the-day slashers used as basic plot turners, and POOYA MOHSENI, who simply is billed as “Crazy Woman”; one of these random characters you’d see now and then in a horror film, who at first doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose except to make a creepy, fucked-up situation even more of both. But then she turns out to play a larger part in things than you’d expect…and it isn’t in a good way, either.

Eagle-eyed viewers who have seen ALL HALLOWS’ EVE, will appreciate the ‘Easter eggs’ referencing the original anthology that are distributed nicely throughout the film. I’ll even turn you on to a freebie: pay special attention to the news reporter who appears at the start.

DP GEORGE STEUBER keeps things as dark, dreary and doom-laden as any of the old-fashioned bloodbaths we ‘video kids’ grew up with, so there’s no authenticity lacking with the look and feel of the film; enhanced even more by PAUL WILEY’S stabby-stab happy, electronic-laden score.

But as with his previous film, Leone’s dominant use of practical effects rules over everything, and while he may have been slicing us off plenty of ‘cheese’ in his previous effort, you’ll find none of that here. He wants to assault and wreck our senses in a blitz of blood, and definitely succeeds. Even the most jaded fans whose nervous systems are hardwired for extreme gore, might need to take a minute. Thinking back, I probably haven’t had an encounter with entrails this stomach-churning, since the first installment of LAID TO REST, featuring “Chromeskull”.

Consider yourself having been warned. Save your MickeyD’s bingefest for AFTER the movie…unless you want it to become a “barf-fest.” Lack of originality means I’ll have to dock it half-a-star, so it will rate less than its predecessor. Still, TERRIFIER (“GOREIFFIER” might have been a better title), thanks to strong performances and more great practical business than I’ve seen in a while, rates a strong three out of five stars.

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Author: Samuel Glass Jr

From the first time, at age eight, when he saw little Rhoda Penmark’s evil ass get taken out by a lightning bolt, Sam Glass Jr. has been freaked out by lightning…and completely captivated by horror. The son of an Air Force communications specialist and a government worker, he’s been a writer and sometime actor, and his biggest claim to fame is getting to appear in a John Waters movie, CECIL B. DEMENTED, in 2000. His biggest passion is reviewing horror films and attending conventions, and overall favorite movie is PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Currently, he resides in the city of Las Vegas with his partner of twenty-two years.

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