Terrifier 2 Director Damien Leone Brings Art The Clown Back For A Bigger, Bloodier Sequel [Exclusive Interview]

Sometimes, in the world of horror, you get a franchise that hits the ground running and becomes an almost annual tradition right out of the gate (think "Friday the 13th" or "Saw"). But in other cases, it is more of a slow burn, and after years of playing the long game, a franchise quietly is birthed. Such is the case with "Terrifier," which is finally getting a sequel a full six years after the original slasher was released and nearly a decade after the film's killer, Art the Clown, debuted in the horror anthology "All Hallows Eve."

But director Damien Leone finally got all of the right pieces in place, and after a production that lasted literally several years, he is now ready to unleash his unrated slasher sequel — one that clocks in at nearly two and a half hours. It does seem, though, that the runtime is justified and the wait was worth it, as the initial reviews coming out of Fantastic Fest were quite positive. Art the Clown is back, and he's bloodier than ever. Do we perhaps have the makings of a genre icon for this generation?

I had the good fortune of speaking with Leone, as well as the man behind Art, David Howard Thornton, and wrestler Chris Jerricho, who stars in the new movie, while they were at Fantastic Fest for the premiere of "Terrifier 2." We discussed the film's long road to completion, that meaty runtime, the possible future of the franchise, and much more.

'Art is more confident this time around'

Thank you guys for doing this. Am I the first person you guys are talking to?

Thornton: Yes.

Well, that's awesome. Congratulations on the movie. It's been six years since the original. How did "Terrifier 2" finally come about?

Leone: I always knew that we wanted to make a sequel. I had so much more of a story to tell with this character. I wanted to bring this character back, and even in part one, originally, you didn't see him resurrected in the morgue, but I knew I wanted to bring him back. So, I purposely went back to re-shoot that cliffhanger ending, because I knew I didn't want to leave the audience wondering if he was going to come back. So then a little time went by, we'd been doing a lot of conventions and things like that, and then I kind of just jumped into the script. I was ready to tell a much bigger story this time around.

Chris, for you, I don't know if it's deliberate that you're very selective about the movies you take on, or because you're busy with a lot of other stuff, but how is it that this became one of the ones that you said, "I've got to do this"?

Jericho: I remember we were on tour with my band and my guitar player loves horror movies, he says, "You gotta see this movie, 'Terrifier.'" I'm like, "All right." He's like, "No, dude, you gotta see it." I was kind of just like, "I don't know if I like the title, and it's a clown." He goes, "You gotta watch this scene", he showed the famous scene, Catherine's scene. I was like, "That's the f***ing most disgusting thing I've ever seen." I watched it, and just loved it right away. So I think — and you can correct me if I'm wrong about this, Damien and David — but I think I was kind of one of the earlier supporters of "Terrifier." Even on my podcast. "You guys got to see this movie." David and I did the show because we did a convention together. One of the reasons why I did the convention was like, "Oh, I got to talk to Art the Clown."

I told everybody, my niece loves horror movies, and anybody that would listen. So when there was talk about "Terrifier 2," I was like, "I f***ing want to be in this." I think we spoke about a lot of different things and you connected with my manager to talk about some dealings and stuff. I just became kind of a real champion for the movie. Listen, whether I was in it or not, I was still super excited for "Terrifier 2," because I think Art the Clown is the most iconic horror movie killer that we've had since Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger in the '80s. More so than Victor Crowley or anybody else. So anyways, that's kind of where it started, and then Damien had a couple ideas, and then came up with this really cool scene towards the end of the movie. It was just like, "This is great." So, that's kind of how it all came to be.

We haven't had a lot of recent horror icons that get the chance to cement themselves, because everyone keeps going back to the well. So what's that like for you, to come back as Art the Clown and now cement yourself as a modern icon?

Thornton: I'm a lot more confident this time around because the first time I did it, I was also stepping into literally big shoes for the wonderful actor that played Art before me, Mike Giannelli. So I was then worried about how I was going to be received by the fans, since I was a new actor taking on the role. Plus, it was a new concept in a lot of ways and it wasn't a proven commodity yet. So we were like, "Well, we think we have something fun here, but here's hoping everybody else does."

Now this time around, I now understand the character a lot more. We already have this huge fanbase behind us now. I was more excited this time around. I was stoked with what he's written for Art to do in this movie. Art is more confident this time around and having a lot more fun, knowing that he's pretty hard to kill now. So I was like, "Yeah, let's just go crazy with this," then we did. I was stoked.

'It was totally organic'

The first one is a pretty standard 90-minute flick. I think that's one thing that stuck out to a lot of people, the runtime. How did you guys end up with, what? Almost two and a half hours, I think it is [in the sequel]?

Leone: 2:18.

Was that more of a natural thing or how did it come about?

Leone: Yeah, it was totally organic. It was just the story that I wrote and I didn't realize how long it was going to be until I got in the editing room. I said, "Oh boy, this is sort of unprecedented." But again, it was my story that I loved. Everything I wanted to do with these characters and having them more fleshed out, and tell this more traditional narrative. Plus, we had these really sort of unorthodox sequences in the movie that kind of set it apart from other traditional slashers. But there were scenes that while I was editing it and I was seeing the runtime that I didn't even bother editing that we shot, because I knew they weren't going to drive the narrative or anything. And I would have people come up to me and say, "Wow, you got to cut that." You didn't even see the movie! Telling me to cut it down.

There's tons of amazing movies that are well over two hours. If a movie's good and it's not just loaded with filler, it'll fly by. We've gotten that — people have told us that the movie flies by, they don't feel like it's that long at all. I'm proud of it. We break a lot of rules anyway, so might as well have a slasher that's an unprecedented runtime.

Jericho: That's the thing, too, when you hear length, people always get really concerned with the length. But if you look at what people are watching, it's, "All eight episodes of House of the Dragon came out. I want to binge it." I think, "Who gives a s*** how long?" It's either good or it's bad. Some of the best movies ever are three hours long. Some of the worst movies ever are 80 minutes long. I think that's just something that people just want to complain about. I think it's exciting because it gives you an extra hour of Art and the crazy s*** that Damien's thought of. I haven't seen the movie, but I just read the script and it was f***ed up, man.

See, I get hung up on that, too, because my friends will sit down and they'll binge watch.

Jericho: In one sitting.

And I'm like, "Hey, you haven't seen 'Heat.' It's three hours long." And they're like, "I don't want to watch that, it's three hours long."

Leone: So are "Titanic" or "Avatar."

Jericho: "Saving Private Ryan" is three hours long, right?

Really, if you look at the Halloween season right now, "Smile" is coming out, but aside from "Halloween Ends," you guys are one of the bigger Halloween season releases. How does that feel? Like you're going on 700 screens, with an unrated, two-hour and 18-minute slasher flick? How does that feel?

Leone: It's so amazing, dude. I did not expect the theatrical release, we're up to 800 theaters.

Oh, is it up to 800 now? Oh my god. That's awesome.

Leone: It just keeps building and building. Like I said before, it's a little unprecedented. There hasn't been a movie that's not rated playing in major theaters, like AMC, Regal, all that, and with that runtime since the original "Dawn of the Dead" or something like that. So that's a huge badge of honor. I don't know if it's a game changer or not, but it's definitely very new and fresh. So it's exciting, man. I'm so happy that it's in theaters and people are going to be able to see it with an audience. I think it should be seen with an audience.

Jericho: Well, I think it's just a matter of time until this was going to happen because if you love horror movies — and they're so huge right now — but like you said, it's going back to the well. Everybody's excited about "Halloween Ends." Okay, was this the last Michael Myers? We're not going to see Michael Myers again. We will probably never see Jason Voorhees again because of the rights issues. If I could have bought into Art and "Terrifier" stock...

Thornton: Art stock.

Jericho: I see this as being a huge franchise because like I said, my daughters, they love horror movies, too. I didn't watch it with them. I was actually thinking about bringing them here to see this, but it was a midnight showing and it's in the middle of the week and all other stuff, but they are so into Art the Clown, I said, "This is the goriest, most violent movie." And they're like, "We can't wait to see it." But that's the age when you get into horror. I remember seeing "Dawn of the Dead" when I was probably 14 and that's pretty gory for a 14-year-old kid.

Still gory now. I just watched it.

Jericho: Tom Savini getting ripped apart, and the entrails. So you see that stuff and you never forget it. I think this is a new generation of that style of movie.

'We never wanted to compromise what was in the script'

What does it feel like for you guys that several hours from now, you're going to be with a midnight audience watching this movie at maybe the genre destination in the world?

Leone: Super excited. I'm very happy to experience that with my cast and crew, because really I told them this movie was going to take three months to shoot and it wound up taking almost three years.

Thornton: Seriously.


Leone: It was so ambitious, but we never wanted to compromise what was in the script. They stood by my side, we did whatever we had to do to get that script onto the screen. So just being there with them is ... I'm so proud of the work that they did. It's going to be rewarding.

Jericho: And not to interrupt, but everybody has their Covid story. What did you do during lockdown? It's not like Damien became Francis Ford Coppola and just said, "No, I want to change the set and change this." Right in the middle of making this movie, Covid hit. So when I filmed my part, it was just starting to get back in. But New York was still shut down. We were kind of in the dead of night, not breaking any laws, but, if people knew we were there, they'd probably be like, "Ah, witches!" I think that's something that, not speaking for you, but you're probably very proud of the fact of all this stuff you went through to get it done. Now that we're out of that, it's like, everything is cool and you have this great piece of film to show for it.

Leone: Yeah, that's true. I mean, Covid did set us back maybe four or five months, like hardcore, but even then we never stopped working. There was a big kill scene that we had begun filming and that I wasn't happy with the way it was coming out. So now that we had this Covid break, I was able to reconfigure the entire kill scene and build these pretty elaborate special effects that made the scene. Now it's like the memorable scene in the movie that everybody who has seen it already talks about. So it came out the way that I hoped and Covid was, in that regard, a blessing in disguise for us.

'We literally built everything ourselves'

So the Covid part of it, you said that gets you about four or five months of that delay, but how does it go from three months to three years? Because I know financing, budgets, deadlines, things like that. How does that even happen or manage to stay together through that much of an expanded timeline?

Leone: Honestly, it was because it was such a low budget and we had such a small crew, a really dedicated crew. We literally built everything ourselves. So there were no crews coming in, and there are some really big, intricate sets. We built them all ourselves. It was me, my two producers, and we would call friends who were welders who would come in and just help us. But there was no crew, especially with the makeup effects. There are so many effects. I actually, for the first time in my life, because I do all the special effects, I was going to hire another makeup company to come in and take 40% of the burden off my shoulders because it was just so overwhelming. Then maybe a month and a half or so before we started shooting, they bailed out because we couldn't come to an agreement with the budget that they wanted because we just didn't have it.

Now we were screwed and we didn't have any of these effects. So we'd have to just jump in and start filming and sometimes we'd film a week up to the kill scene, and then we'd have to stop filming for two weeks, and me and Bill would have to go and build all the effects for what was coming up.

Oh my god.

Once you see the movie and you see just how many kills are in this movie, and it's not just a knife going up in the air, coming down, and that's your kill scene. These kill scenes go on and on and on. They're set pieces. That all adds up. It all adds up.

This is kind of silly question. Every once in a while you're lucky enough to get a bit of a crossover in horror. Who would you see Art going up against or teaming up with? If you could pick any sort of genre, an icon, or anyone else to throw him in there with?

Leone: Me personally, I think out of all the legends, I would love to see him go up against Freddy because they both have these dark senses of humor and, Jesus, I would love to see what's going on in Art's nightmare.

Thornton: He talked about a villain he'd like to see. A hero I'd like to see him go up against would be Nicolas Cage's janitor character from "Willy's Wonderland." You have silent, crazy characters battling it out with each other. Plus, I would be able to work with Nicolas Cage, and that would be incredible.

Leone: You know what's crazy with that one? That's one of those ones I could almost see happening. I can sort of see him being like, "Yeah, let's do it".

Thornton: Let's totally do this man.

Jericho: I would go with Pennywise and I would call it "Art vs It." There you go.

So I don't want to get too ahead of things, but to wrap up here, we've talked about franchises. Jason's tied up in rights issues, "Halloween Ends" is ending. You're kind of running out of genre icons to recycle right now. Have you guys started thinking about the possibility if this does well, are we going to have a six-year break before "Terrifier 3," or are you already thinking about that?

Leone: No, I'm already thinking about it. I basically have a structure for part three already. Right now, I'm still in the headspace of an artist who just doesn't want his film to sort of jump the shark. So people ask, "Do you want to do eight of these and have it go?" I'm afraid that eventually Art...

Thornton: Art in space.

Leone: Art in space, Art in Vegas.

Look, I would watch Art in Vegas. I'm just saying.

Leone: Right now I would like to just tell a solid story where it has a nice arc for my heroes, my villains. It's complete. So a three is — I can almost guarantee a part three. After that? We'll see if there's anything left and if the fans still are still accepting of this character and this franchise.

"Terrifier 2" is set to hit theaters on October 6, 2022.