How Terrifier's Art The Clown Was Created

Horror movies thrive on word-of-mouth, and boy is this working overtime for the "Terrifier" series. Folks who have never even heard of Art the Clown are quickly becoming acquainted with the demented horror slasher. Reports of people fainting and vomiting in theaters during the sequel "Terrifier 2" have spread far and wide, prompting horror fans and traditional theater-goers alike to see what all of the buzz is about.

Even /Film's Chris Evangelista considers the film "a bigger, weirder, bloodier sequel."

"Terrifier 2" was only designed as a one-week theatrical release from Cinedigm and Bloody Disgusting, but going on week 3, the box office is alive and thriving in the world of independent horror. With a budget of only $250,000, the ultra gory ode to the grindhouse era has raked in over $5.2 million, and reportedly shows no signs of stopping.

Horror movies are often the most lucrative genre of them all, especially if it features something that gets audiences talking, for better or worse. In "Terrifier 2," not only do you have some of the most gruesome and unsettling practical gore effects of any horror film in recent memory, but a slasher villain whose very design is instantly memorable.

Art may be celebrating his newfound notoriety within the context of a broader audience, but this character has a surprisingly long history dating back to 2008.

Art was conceived in the world of Damien Leone's first short film

Prior to becoming a box office draw, Art made his debut appearance in director Damien Leone's short films, with the first being "The 9th Circle." Leone told Entertainment Weekly that his idea for Art stemmed from a nightmarish idea he had over a decade ago:

"I had this idea of a clown terrorizing a woman on a city bus ... She's all alone, coming home from work or whatever, in the middle of the night, and then this clown gets on, and sits across from her, and starts staring at her and toying with her. It's awkward and uncomfortable, and maybe even funny, but then it gets progressively more intimidating and aggressive."

What separates the short from everything else this character would be further associated with, however, is that once Art injects her with a syringe in the empty train station, he disappears entirely. From there, Leone takes a dive into an atmospheric realm of monsters that hardly captures the same level of simple unease.

Art was merely an idea among many, as Leone largely wanted to use "The 9th Circle" as a means of showing off his makeup effects and seeing what worked (via Dread Central):

"I threw in everything, clowns, witches, demons, monsters, everything up against the wall hoping something would stick."

The subsequent "Terrifier" films have always hinted at Art's supernatural abilities, but have never confirmed what kind of monster he is. It's easy to see why the character stuck out, prompting Leone to give the pantomime slasher another round of terror with his next short.

The Terrifier short film is where some of Art's trademarks are established

Where "The 9th Circle" was a warm up round, 2011's "Terrifier" was an Art showcase all the way through. In the span of 20 minutes, we follow an unlucky woman through a terrifying cat-and-mouse chase with the demonic clown. There's an evolution of Art's makeup here too, adding more detail to his face.

The "Terrifier" short developed Arts psychopathic mannerisms. The fiend has a particularly disgusting habit of rubbing his feces all over bathrooms: The person who usually finds the obscene mess ends up dead, and alas, the poor gas station attendant happens to be on the clown's hit list that night. "The 9th Circle" may have featured Art's signature trash bag and penchant for annoying people, but "Terrifier" is where these elements are given purpose. Art is the star.

The short is a frequently tense fever dream that feels like something you hallucinated while watching television at 3 am. Its extremely gory violence was only an indicator of what would follow (with "Terrifier 2" being the most brutal yet), notably with its gratuitous and shocking final image.

Leone had one more step in between, however, before Art would become a horror hit.

All Hallows Eve was born out of viral success

In a 2018 interview with Dread Central, Leone talked about how the "Terrifier" short was rejected by film festivals of all kinds, even horror, so he ultimately posted it to Youtube, where it racked up over 120,000 views. Those kinds of numbers attracted the attention of Jesse Baget, the producer of what would become the 2013 anthology horror flick "All Hallows Eve."

"The producer was looking for Halloween based shorts on YouTube and he was just going to make an anthology based on them ... I wanted to go from the "Terrifier" short film to the "Terrifier" feature, but this was the opportunity that was presented to me at the time. It was very exciting, hearing: 'hey, this is going to be in stores, it's going to be on DVD!' At that time it was the most amazing news I had ever heard."

"All Hallows Eve" repackages "The 9th Circle" and "Terrifier," along with a tedious and silly middle segment about a woman being stalked by an alien presence in her own home. The wraparound story sees a babysitter watching an unmarked VHS with the children she's watching. Art intermittently shows up between the segments, making it clear that he exists beyond the world of the tape, and that something bad is going to happen once it's finished.

Boy, is she in for a particularly nasty surprise.

With all the new bits for Art, "All Hallows Eve" plays out like a pitch for this villain to get his own feature film. At this point, it was increasingly clear that Art was ready for the next step, whatever that would look like.

Leone's Terrifier was saved at the last minute

If you have an excellent idea for a movie but not the funds to make it happen, a short film is a great way to get eyeballs on it. Look no further than this year's "Smile," which initially started out as a 2020 short entitled "Laura Hasn't Slept," and is now one of the year's biggest hits.

Leone really saw something special in Art, and kept pushing to get him a bigger spotlight, even if it would take a while for the fruits of his labor to come to fruition. When it came time for Leone to make the feature film he initially wanted to make, he ultimately settled on an Indiegogo campaign to get it funded.

While talking with Dread Central, Leone pays considerable tribute to producer Phil Falcone, whose generous donation pushed "Terrifier" over the hump needed to make the film happen:

"I was just going through my emails and sending the Indiegogo link to everybody and asking them to spread the word. He emailed me back and he's like 'what are you trying to raise?' And I told him a very little amount of money and he's like 'hey, I'll just put it up! Make it and make me a producer.' He's responsible for it, he came in and saved the day because we didn't make the Indiegogo campaign happen so if he didn't come in we would have never made the movie."

Terrifier thrives on its show-stopping practical effects

After three years since his last appearance, Art was finally the star of his own feature film with "Terrifier." "Terrifier" builds upon the foundation of the 2011 short, while injecting some other little flourishes to keep things interesting — namely the ferocious nature of the hacksaw scene. You can say many things about it, but the one thing you cannot say is that it holds back. It's a relentless and sleazy gore spectacle that gets off on how much it can make the audience squirm, for better or worse.

Most of its performances leave a lot to be desired, unfortunately. They are not characters, so much as meat sacks that Art can flay to his heart's content. "Terrifier 2" smartly rectifies this with the addition of Lauren LaVera's Sienna, whose enigmatic connection to the killer clown makes her a welcome opponent. In the sequel, the time is taken to establish a more rounded ensemble in the midst of Art doing his thing.

If slasher villains were holding auditions to see whose kill would land them a spot among the most sinister, then Art practically gets the golden buzzer, with an extremely gruesome sequence that features him hacksawing a naked woman upside down from groin to brain. It's a brutally slow death that cements Art as a formidable slasher who revels in his work, in addition to showing how Leone's practical effects can make you physically uncomfortable.

Love it or hate it, you'll never forget the face of the clown that did it.

David Howard Thornton wasn't the first person to play Art

It's difficult to think of anyone but David Howard Thornton under the clown makeup, but prior to the "Terrifier" feature, all of Art's previous incarnations were played by Mike Giannelli. It's through his performance that the character's deviously jaunty disposition was born, before Thornton took it a step further.

Thornton's Art is what you get when you blend the body language of Charlie Chaplin and the mischievous nature of Bugs Bunny, with both excited to see you mangled beyond belief. In a 2018 interview with Rue Morgue, the actor revealed he prepared for the role by studying Giannelli's performance to match the actor's energy, while bringing his own mischievous essence to the sadistic character:

"I then basically blended my previous experience with physical comedy and clowning with my deep knowledge and appreciation of great physical actors ... and horror legends like Robert Englund and added them to what Mike had already accomplished to create this murderous frappe of fiendishness that is Art. In my head, Art is like the love child of Harpo Marx and Freddy Krueger. I love playing him!"

Watching Thornton in the white makeup, it's obvious he's an actor having the time of his life doing some of the most depraved things imaginable to the human body.

Leone wanted Art to avoid comparisons to Pennywise

At first glance, Art may appear to be just another "killer clown" the likes of Pennywise from "It" — but Leone specifically created the character as the antithesis to Maine's favorite sewer dweller. The "All Hallows Eve" filmmaker has a deep admiration for the exploitation sensibilities of '70s grindhouse movies, and wanted Art to reflect that. 

The killer clown in "Terrifier" may have hints of the supernatural, but his characterization is more human-like than the ancient monster in "It": Art resembles an authentic serial killer with a penchant for unflinching brutality. As Leone told Dread Central in 2018, Art was constructed out of a necessity to show audiences a killer clown unlike anything they had seen before:

"I felt like there was a void with clowns that I hadn't quite seen done the way I felt like I could execute one. Art the Clown kind of came out of all that and whatever I felt was missing with clowns. At that time the original Pennywise was really the only clown on the scene and he wasn't even really a Slasher."

Like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kreuger, and Leatherface before him, Art the Clown is well on his way to becoming one of the most memorable screen slashers. The moment Thornton displays his menacing grimace, you know you're in the presence of a gleefully sadistic monster who's already planning three steps ahead on how he's going to mangle you.

Everyone's "Terrifier" mileage will vary on what you can handle, but one thing's for sure: Art's history on the screen isn't going away anytime soon, with a "Terrifier 3" sequel all but guaranteed.

"Terrifier 2" is now playing in select theaters nationwide.