Dismissing a work as repellent is easily done. Content is important especially in our culture where we are much more aware of sexism, violence, and other elements that can reduce and marginalize. Terrifier is a work repellent enough to be dismissed outright. A low-budget slasher, what it lacks in clever plotting it makes up in gruesome horror. In the first scene, a reporter is interviewing a survivor from the killer’s previous attack. The victim’s face is mangled, a grotesque parody of a face. The film intercuts the interview with Art the Clown, painting his face, affixing a tiny black derby on his head. This juxtaposes the deformed, mangled features of a female victim with the killer’s own visage. The victim’s face is partial, something viscously destroyed, while Art’s face is a heightened symbolic one, a mask of pain and pleasure, a parody of emotion. Later in her dressing room, the reporter’s dismisses the victim’s story, mocking her ugliness and is subsequently attacked by the mangled woman. The scene is important as a frame because it describes violence as a reproductive act. This reproduction is a masculine one. Art begets violence on the mostly female cast. The movie is a courtship of violence with Art the clown stumbling across two victims, stalking them, and then murdering them. The scenes of murder are particularly disturbing not only because of the graphic nature in which they are executed, but their overt sexism. Early on Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) making light of Art’s menacing presence takes a selfie with him, flicking his nose playfully. The viewer knows Dawn has created a situation where her death is a given. She’s trespassed over some invisible line, transgressed against the tripwire of masculine rage. Dawn pays for this transgression in one of the more graphic scenes which feature genital mutilation among other things. Once her graphic death is performed, Art flicks her nose, using the same gesture. Art’s disguise, dressing like a clown, describes masculinity itself. As a clown, laughing and crying, heightened emotions boil over into humour or violence without any discernible way of notating which. The clown is a figure of suspended law, one that upends established order and revels in upsetting it.
In Terrifer, Art levels female bodies, creating grotesque images out of the flesh of his victims. Once these victims have been dispatched, Art uses their bodies to terrify others. Once Art kills Tara (Jenna Kanell), he slices off her breasts and wears her scalped hair while stalking Tara’s sister, Victory (Samantha Scaffidi). He canters after her, walking in an exaggerated “feminine” pose, mocking the woman he’s just killed by pretending to embody a grotesque femininity. The title Terrifer refers not only to a noun, but an verb. Art is the one who terrifies, each act of misogyny meant to create menace. Art is a dark actor, a caricature of all masculine brutality and fragility, one easily offended and driven to violence. Running across a homeless woman in the subterranean building where most of the movie takes place, Art terrorizes her by stealing a doll she insists is a living child. Rocking the doll back and forth, he threatens to destroy the foe child, mocking the woman with a toothy grin. She asks him has never felt the touch of a woman and leans her head onto his shoulder. Art suddenly becomes emotional. Leaning against her in response. The homeless woman cradles him, suddenly the killer is a transplanted child.
Terrifer makes it clear the world of the film is a masculine one. A world where the slightest action by a woman can cause a violent reaction. Watching the film is an experiment in repulsion, not simply because of the practical effects used to create gore, but because these actions suppose a world in which the only reason someone like Art would exist was to visit retribution on women. True, Art kills men and women in the film. Most of the men die in a perfunctory way for a horror movie, while the heroines deaths are drawn-out, exaggerated and lingered on by the camera. The question which flits into my mind is can a slasher movie be anything but masochistic. The earliest Gothic horror stories are built on the foundation of women being menaced by a dark hero/villain chewing the scenery. The hero/villain usually gets his comeuppance via an ancestral curse. The slasher craze of the eighties followed suit, adding in a final girl, the last of her group who was resourceful enough to destroy the killer, at least until the sequel.
Terrifer ends with the anticlimax of Art taking his own life, only to be resurrected at the coroner’s office in the final scene. That Art takes his own life without a final girl, signals this is a new kind of slasher, one particularly apt for our time. Art’s violence is the overriding force in the world. Only he decides where it begins and ends. In the #MeToo era this is a disturbing film because it doesn’t create a fantasy world, but plays out in our present day. Infused with the violence of men, the film doesn’t ask us to imagine, simply allows us to see the carnage, offering a repellent nightmare of masculine violence.