Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2 hit select theatres this weekend, completely uncut and in full gory glory. Eyeballs are scooped out of their sockets, faces are ripped off, heads are exploded, and scalps are scalped! As far as slasher sequels are concerned, Terrifier 2really goes for the jugular. Suffice it to say, gorehonds and fans of David Howard Thornton’s Art The Clown will not be disappointed.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Damien Leone to chat all things Art. In just this movie alone, Leone is credited as writer, director, editor, sound designer, and special effects maestro. It’s really no stretch or stylized credit to call it Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2. This twisted tale is pulled from the brain, and produced by the hands of Leone himself and it really shows. Terrifierwas as unique a slasher flick as any you’ll dig up, but Terrifier 2 is a horror movie in a category all it’s own.
When I first sat down with Damien Leone I told him that I thought his movie was “super fucked up” (a compliment, I assure you). He happily thanked me for the kind words and the interview went on from there…
“This has to be our Evil Dead 2, our Dawn of The Dead. We really got to swing for the fences.”
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: When you were shooting Terrifier, did you ever think that you’d be making Terrifier 2? Cause you really went for broke with that first one.
Damien Leone: Listen, I take every movie I get to make as a blessing and I try to make it as if it’s the last film I’m going to be able to make but toward the end of Terrifier I knew I wanted to make a sequel and, originally, I didn’t have the scene where he’s resurrected in the morgue. I didn’t want to leave the audience, if they do happen to like this movie and they want more of this character, I don’t want to leave them hanging. I want them to know that he will come back and he will get a sequel, so we went and reshot that ending to edit real quick. So, I knew I wanted to make a sequel for sure because the character is so much fun and there’s so much more to do with him.
But then, years were going by and the fanbase was growing, and some people were really starting to put Art on a pedestal. I started to get excited but nervous [cause] if we’re going to do another one it’s got to live up to their expectations. This has to be our Evil Dead 2, our Dawn of The Dead. We really got to swing for the fences. That was our mindset going in to Terrifier 2.
NOFS: What’s your writing process like for something like this? Do you start with the kills you want to see and build out from there?
Leone: Sometimes I do. It depends. There were so many elements already in place for Terrifier 2. The Sienna character, played by Lauren LaVera, who’s the Final Girl in this- I’ve had that character in my head since around 2008, so I always knew I wanted he to be my epic Final Girl. The Final Girl, the hero, the protagonist that I could put on a pedestal alongside Art The Clown, which they don’t typically do in horror movies. It’s all about the villain but I really wanted [Sienna] to be like my Ripley. I’m not comparing anything, I’m just saying that this is where my fantasy is.
But this was also the first time that I got to sit down and write a script and do nothing else. Usually, I always have to work, or deliver flowers or do other day jobs. I had to find time in between all of that to actually write, but this was the first time that I got to do nothing but write a script and I did that for about 3 months straight. The way it worked itself out, I would work from 7 o’clock at night until like 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning.
It was really awful. I wasn’t seeing a lot of daylight. It was a really unhealthy experience but it was cool. It was fun to just immerse myself in nothing but screenwriting. And then when I wasn’t writing, all I was doing was reading books and screenplays and listening to screenwriters talk about their process and the principles they like to follow. Sometimes it would trigger cool things that would help me bring the movie in another direction.
“…I love making it extreme but it’s important that we have that heightened level of fantasy.”
NOFS: What’s the vibe like on set when you’re ripping someone’s face off? Because a lot of the special effects in Terrifier 2 are super gross.
Leone: The vibe on set is very upbeat. We’re all jokesters and goofing around most of the time. It’s not like Dave is in character or anything like that. As soon as I yell cut he’s back to being a cartoon character. Dave is like a walking Roger Rabbit. He’s so funny, just constantly joking and stuff. You know, it’s just stressful. It’s intense. No matter what movie you’re making the clock is always ticking so there’s always that element of stress somewhere.
But a kill sequence is very technical. [There was a kill scene] that took us 5 days to shoot, because some days it would just be one effect and it would just be four hours of me applying a scalp and [Art] cutting it and ripping it off. It was a whole day just for that. If anything, it was brutal for Cassie Hartnett because [during her kill scene] she was almost naked and we filmed that scene in a barn in the middle of the winter so it was freezing. It was insane. We had space heaters going and she was covered in blood, getting stuck to the rug and blankets, but not once did she complain or anything. She’s my MVP. I give her the “Every Right To Complain Award”. She was amazing. But it was fun. It was a fun atmosphere. Everybody was having a good time.
NOFS: Do you do your own practical effects because you know exactly how you want it to look or is it more of a money thing?
Leone: It’s a money thing. I would love to have a team come in and do it for me. I actually tried to hire a team for the first time in my life. Not to do all the effects but to do like 40% of it because it was so overwhelming. The script was ridiculous. It’s like 5 times the amount of effects that are in part 1. I told my producer, “we really gotta get somebody this time because we’ll never be able to finish this movie,” and we were talking to a company for a while trying to figure out budgets and stuff, and it seemed like it was going to work. We actually started buying materials for them, and then we just could not come to an agreement on the money that they wanted and then they wound up pulling out.
My producer said, ‘We just got to jump in and start filming this or else we’ll never make this movie,’ so we had to do a lot of stop-and-go. We’d film up to a point where a kill was going to happen, then we’d break and Phil (my producer) and I would have to build everything. He’s not even a special makeup effects artist, he just loves helping me out and he started just being my assistant on Terrifier but he learned how to do a lot of things.
He helped me build everything in this movie. It was just him and I, basically. We had a couple of other makeup artists come in. My friend Alana Rose, she was actually on that show Face/Off. She helped me mold a lot of people behind the scenes because we needed a lot of face casts, and she painted Sienna’s costume, and she painted a couple of props but other than that Phil & I did 99% of the entire movie. It was a lot work. […] You know, I do a lot of things- I do the editing, I do the sound design- but these aren’t things that I necessarily wanted to do. These save us thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.
“I wanted it to reveal itself as if it was a nightmare…”
NOFS: Was there any of that post-production stuff that you found you had a real aptitude for or anything you really enjoyed doing?
Leone: Yeah, I would say I’m pretty decent at Sound Design because I’m really meticulous. I’ll put a sound down for everything going on in the movie. It took me probably a month just to do all the sound design for Sienna just walking in her costume. I’m putting all this leather creaking and crunching, and her jewellery jingling, and her boots hitting the pavement that nobody even knows is there. You’re not even thinking about it, but you would know if it [wasn’t] there. The movie would just feel cheaper. You wouldn’t really understand why, but it would. Things like that, that people don’t realize take forever to do.
NOFS: What I loved about Terrifier and Terrifier 2 especially is that it really bridges the gap between Extreme Horror and goofy stuff like Troma movies. Where do your interests and inspirations land in between those two subgenres?
Leone: I love all movies and I’m inspired by so many things in this film, even [movies] that aren’t necessarily horror. They could be from an action movie or, obviously, sword-and-sorcery movies like Beastmaster and Red Sonya– that’s clearly in there. I take inspiration from everything. But I love the extreme gore because I’m obsessed with Tom Savini and his practical effects and that’s how I got into special effects and of course he’s the godfather of splatter makeup.
I love that, so I love making it extreme but it’s important that we have that heightened level of fantasy. I think that allows the audience to ease into it and accept it a little more because if it’s just a movie about a guy, like Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer, doing these extreme things and there’s no fantasy element- I mean, my god, everybody would leave this movie just feeling absolutely miserable and the world would seem so grim and bleak. But I want you to have fun. I want you to know at the end of the day this is a horror movie and it’s not steeped in reality. Even though the characters are grounded in reality, the events surrounding them are so far-fetched and outlandish. Hopefully, the balance works
NOFS: I also really love how strange of a sequel this is. It’s like you skipped parts 2-6 and went straight into Terrifier 7 so you could get super weird with everything.
Leone: [laughs] Exactly! Yeah, we swung for the fences with this one, no doubt. I really wanted to embrace that supernatural element in this one and make it a huge character- cause they never really do that in these movies until, like you said, they’re really deep into the franchise but it could be so interesting and it’s such a pivotal part. Like, how are these characters resurrecting? You have these supernatural characters now, and what is driving them? What force, you know? I wanted to really explore that and make it as interesting as possible, but not spell things out. I wanted it to reveal itself as if it was a nightmare and you’re getting just these images and things.
That one of the critiques. It’s not a universal criticism or anything, but some people wish they had a lot more answers at the end of Terrifier 2 because there are a lot of questions, and that’s done on purpose because I want this to play out over the course of a few movies. I don’t want to just give it to everybody now and then there’s nothing left to do in the next instalment, it’s just an excuse to bring the character back and have him kill another group of people. I want this to sort of unravel like a mystery and starting giving everybody pieces of this puzzle and then when it all finally comes together you’re like, ‘Oh, okay. Now I see what’s happening here. I see what’s going on’.
I would say for people that have that criticism, be patient, we’re obviously going to make another one. We left it open with that twisted ending [laughs]. Clearly there’s a lot more to say with Art, and with Sienna.
NOFS: In your mind, is it just a trilogy of films or do you see this as a continuing series?
Leone: Umm..no, honestly. I think at some point the well is going to run dry, and you’re just going to start repeating yourself and you’re not going to keep hitting those heights. My biggest fear is doing a disservice to the protagonist that you build up, which happens a lot in these franchises. Eventually, the villain overpowers everybody and all these heroes that you’ve been following for like 6, 7, 8 movies, they wind up petering out, or the actor dies, or the character gets killed off and then it’s just like, well, what was the point of all of that? You can’t really watch it as a whole complete series with a satisfying arc or journey.
I’m not going to say that I’m not going to fall into that trap. I hope I don’t but right now, in my head, I”d love to just tell a solid story. Way more talented filmmakers- filmmakers with amazing artistic integrity fall into those traps, so I’m not going to say that I’m not going to, but I’m going to try not to.
“We left it open with that twisted ending. Clearly there’s a lot more to say with Art, and with Sienna.”
Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2 celebrated it’s US Premiere at Fantastic Fest 2022, and is playing in select theatres now, but it sounds like the gory adventures of Art The Clown have only just begun! Let us know what you thought of this delightfully disgusting slasher over on Twitter or in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord! Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.
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