How Terrifier 2 Became a Gory Cinderella Story for Horror

Terrifier 2 is the surprise horror darling of the Halloween season (for those who can stomach it). Now that it's on streaming, we could be on the verge of a cult classic that has something to say about the state of horror.

Art the Clown in Terrifier 2
Photo: Bloody Disgusting

In horror, the element of surprise is everything. And Terrifier 2, an unlikely indie slasher box office sensation, is full of surprises on many levels. Also like any good scare, nobody saw it coming—with the film grossing $7.9 million at the box office to date, more than 30 times its $250,000 budget.

This type of film pulling in those kinds of numbers is a genuine anomaly in the movie industry today. We’re in a moment where nearly every movie that hits theaters seems to be a continuation or extension of an existing franchise. Familiarity and nostalgia draw the biggest business at the moment. The top 10 box office draws of 2022 so far all come from existing IPs, save for Elvis, which is of course also fueled by familiarity and nostalgia, just in a different way.

This is what makes Terrifier 2’s breakout performance at the box office so astonishing. It’s a sequel, sure. But its predecessor was relatively obscure; it features no known actors; and it’s 138 minutes long. None of which mentions the fact that on its opening weekend, it played in only 886 cinemas and grossed $825,000, domestically. 

This figure isn’t anything to sneeze at considering the film’s micro-budget, but what’s remarkable is that the movie’s box office earnings steadily grew in subsequent weeks. In its second weekend, it earned $850,000, and then $1.9 million and $1.8 million in its third and fourth weekends, respectively.

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Word of mouth seems to be the key to Terrifier 2’s improbable success. The film already had an established albeit relatively small cult following thanks to backing by Bloody Disgusting and Cinedigm, and a successful indiegogo campaign. But its explosive growth at the box office is a testament to the movie itself, which garnered a reputation online for making viewers vomit and faint.

Directed by Damien Leone, the “splattercore” slasher is a merciless barrage on the senses, following a resurrected demonic serial killer called Art the Clown as he mangles and mutilates the hapless denizens of Miles County on Halloween night. The kills are about as graphic as any you’ve ever seen on the big screen, with most of the vicious acts of violence being so disturbing they’re close to beyond description.

It’s the way Leone depicts the violence that makes the movie so difficult to watch. Without going into detail, the slashing, stabbing, dismemberment, cannibalism, and acts of torture on display are depicted intimately and unflinchingly, with some of the most detailed and gruesome practical makeup effects you’re likely to see at a cinema in this decade. It’s truly spectacular stuff: disgusting enough to make even the most iron-stomached viewers wince and squirm. In one scene, Art even break into a woman’s home and uses a variety of items—a scalpel, scissors, bleach, salt—to mutilate her beyond recognition. Every time when you think the scene is coming to a close and couldn’t get any sicker… it just keeps going.

But the idea that the movie’s value or appeal lies in the ultraviolence alone couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually an incredibly slick, well-acted celebration of practical filmmaking. While the film’s structure is typical for the genre, the pacing and rhythm of the scenes themselves is completely unorthodox and unpredictable. Leone doesn’t cut away from the violence when you think he will. The way he frames Art—a mute but exceedingly charismatic villain played by David Howard Thornton—is unconventional as well. He lingers on him in a way that allows Thornton’s terrific performance to really sink in.

Audiences may come for the blood and guts, but the movie’s secret weapon is Lauren LaVera, who plays heroine Sienna. Our protagonist fights back against Art while dressed in a battle angel costume that is nothing short of epic. As final girls go, she might just be an all-timer—she’s fierce but flawed, and LaVera’s physicality in the role is supremely impressive. Art is a tough act to stand toe-to-toe with, but Sienna is somehow just as memorable onscreen, which says a lot about the talent of LaVera and the strength of the material.

In a recent interview, Leone told Variety that he “had a ‘Part 3’ in mind when writing ‘Part 2.’” Terrifier 2 is now streaming on Screambox, which means its reputation and audience will only grow from here on out, making the prospect of future sequels seem more than likely. Could this be the next breakout horror franchise to dominate the cinemas in coming years? The film’s extreme gross-out factor suggests there’s a ceiling for it in the mainstream market, but you never know.

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There’s a chance that, collectively, more intense horror fans are developing a tolerance (or perhaps even an appetite) for more graphic, boundary-pushing content after a decade of “elevated” horrors that liked to live inside their own heads. Midnight movies haven’t traditionally been box office powerhouses in the past, but Terrifier 2’s surging popularity could be a sign of an incoming paradigm shift for a genre which for the better part of a decade has been moving away from the shock and schlock we typically associate with old school slasher and grindhouse cinema.

And Art the Clown could be well on his way to slicing and dicing his way straight to the bank—if audiences can stomach it.