Thursday, May 3, 2012
Damien Leone's "TERRIFIER": A Horrifying Harlequin
Written and Directed by Damien Leone
A few days ago I was catching up on the essential film site The Conduit Speaks, and came across my pal Chris' review of the short film Terrifier. I'm thankful for Chris because he spends a considerable time combing the universe for unknown gems of the genre, and his dedication to film analysis is top notch. Since Chris and I see eye-to-eye on nearly everything, his excellent write up prompted me to give this short film a watch. Read his review right here: Terrifier Review at The Conduit Speaks
Here's a caveat before I get into the review: I'm not normally afraid of clowns. Invariably when I mention this, most people gesticulate in mock disbelief. Sure, I think Pennywise from IT is quite nightmarish (moreso in the book). I think the Killer Klowns from Outer Space are nifty and suitably grotesque. Even the the notorious Victor Salva film Clownhouse is creepy in its own right, but that's probably more because of the creeptastic stuff that was going on behind the camera. For whatever reason, clowns just never really spooked me all that much.
You've probably gathered that Terrifier is a killer clown flick. Sure, there's a clown in it, and he kills. A lot. However, the clown in Terrifier is a markedly different beast. Much like Michael Myers in Halloween, the malicious clown is less a psycho in an unnerving mask, and more a wicked force of nature. Damien Leone, possibly paying homage to The Shape, sets his tale up on Halloween night. Where Leone's film veers off considerably from Carpenter's assured classic is the sheer brutality the viewer experiences in a compact and concise 19 minutes. Terrifier is among the most successful short films in that regard. From setup to climax, the entire film is expertly paced, edited, atmospheric, and unapologetically gruesome.
Terrifier places us in the shoes of a young costume designer (Marie Maser) out on a late drive on All Hallows Eve. After stopping for gas in the middle of nowheresville, she witnesses an unspeakable murder wrought by a demented man in a clown suit. She finds herself stalked by the seemingly unstoppable clown, surviving several close encounters on the lonely road. The clown pursues her through the night, impossibly popping up in the most unlikely of places. She's able to elude him through cunning and adrenaline, but escape will be hard fought. Art the Clown (Mike Gianelli), has sinister plans for her.
Aesthetically, Terrifier is given the "throwback" look replete with grain and washed out colors. Cinematographers Christopher Cafaro and Chris Cafaro choose this style for grittiness, and not because they're trying to cash in on a "grindhouse" trend. There's no self-referential bullshit littering Terrifier. There's no joke jump cuts or "missing reels". It's completely relentless work of exploitation art in its purest form, utilizing the technology of today only to enhance the experience.
Director Leone is an accomplished special effects artist, and he is downright merciless in the portrayals of violence and mutilation. Terrifier has some of the most stomach churning effects I've ever seen, and no punches are pulled in delivering a gut punch of mayhem. The effects are all the more effective because the compelling narrative does not hinge on them. We are invested in Maser's character from the get-go. She just wants to get home safely, but is thrust into a situation that spirals way out of her control. We'd follow her whether or not the screen was littered with body parts and arterial sprays.
The performances are solid, anchored by Maser's mix of strength and vulnerability. Gianelli is terrific as the unrelenting clown, one that delivers nary a cutesy one liner. This clown is only interested in dispatching traumatizing fear.
Leone's film ends on a particularly bleak, grim, and uncompromising note. I wondered to myself if it was a bit too much, but given Leone's uncompromising vision throughout, I decided it was appropriate. Leone succeed in taking the viewer utterly into the bowels of a horrible nightmare where waking up might place one in a worse spot. Definitely a must see if you can tolerate some stomach churning effects and downer ending.
Here's a link to the full film: