Terrifier

Terrifier is a video nasty throwback: a lurid, squalid, and brutal affair. It’s even gorier than the last uber-violent killer clown movie we’ve seen, the wonderful Irish horror, Stitches (a movie with an unfurled ocular assault that made its way into our book, Death by Umbrella, though it was actually the killer umbrella in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 that inspired the title).

Terrifier’s clown is a leaner, meaner, emaciated, commedia del’arte Captain Spaulding. And man is he terrific. David Howard Thornton thoroughly and completely embodies Art the Clown, easily one of the most uniquely, and yes, “terrifying” horror antagonists to come down the pike in a long, long time. His birdlike fidgeting and prominent gums make for a revolting and memorable spectacle.

A lone survivor is recounting Art’s exploits on some sleazy investigative journalism show. Then we’re on on the streets and back alleys of Anytown, USA on Halloween. It’s dark, largely abandoned, and its mise en scène recalls the desolate Brooklyn boulevards of Bill Lustig’s Maniac.

Two young women are being accosted by a clown, who follows them into a pizza parlor after slashing the tires on their car. Since they’re both inebriated, one of the girls calls their sister to come pick them up. Then, their hell night ends up in a creepy warehouse that’s being fumigated by pest contractors who for reasons unexplained, don’t bother to wear protective masks (but that’s another story entirely).

The rest is dour nighttime stalk-and-slash, and there are some terrific and truly surprising set pieces, including a truly vicious kill can only be described as “too brutal by half” (no spoilers here). Some sinister stuff indeed.

However, Terrifier somewhat unravels by failing to follow the “less is more” ethos when it comes to showcasing the killer. When there’s an antagonist this fearsome and foreboding, his impact is diminished by keeping the camera on him for so long. It’s something John Carpenter understood in the first Halloween, but what David Gordon Green fails to grasp in the new one. Here, there is just too much Art, almost Art for Art’s sake.

While the rest of the film doesn’t entirely coalesce around him, there’s enough marrow on this bone to more than satisfy gorehounds.

***1/2 (out of 5)

Unfriended

The cinematic equivalent of a workplace training video, Unfriended forces viewers to stare at one character’s screen interface, complete with Skype notifications and a moving mouse. Exhilarating stuff, eh?

At a budget of $1 million (spent on what, champagne and caviar craft services?) the 16-day production schedule drew a big box office gross — but we’d mostly sooner ctrl-alt-delete it from memory.

The tale unfurls via, er…laptop POV…that of bland high schooler Blaire (played by ex-pageant queen, Shelley Hennig) and concerns the bullying and subsequent online shaming of one Laura Barns, who then commits suicide. On the one-year anniversary of Barns’ death, her friends yak over Skype.

The group notices an uninvited user, billie227, and thereafter, that lewd photos of them are being updated to their Facebook pages (this was back when this young demographic actually used the social media site  — they’ve since left it in droves. Still, kudos to Blumhouse/Bazelevs co-producers for using actual websites rather than made-up ones…hence we get actual Google searches. Yay).

The new chatter is an anonymous intruder who claims to be Laura Barns’ restless spirit. He/she forces the other kids to play a game, Never Have I Ever, wherein they incriminate one another. This is similar to Panic Button, a British reality TV- and social media-based horror where the tormenter gets victims to turn on one another.

It’s this latter element that makes Unfriended fall apart.

One backstabbing Never Have I Ever revelation would’ve packed more of a dramatic punch than a series of them, especially when none of the characters is in any way developed. Yes, characters are seldom developed in horror films…but for a flick that is exclusively based on conversation, that’s no excuse here.

And as you can see from the screen shot above….a whole movie of this? In small doses, perhaps, a short film, most definitely…but the Brady Bunch / Hollywood Squares visual set-up begins to wear thin pretty quick.

As aficionados of weird horror movie weapons (see our book, Death by Umbrella) Unfriended features one pretty neat demise we shan’t spoil here, as well as 1-2 genuine scares. That’s not really enough to justify Unfriended: Game Night, its sequel.

So, is it better to deftly execute something that’s been done to death, or to break new creative ground and mostly fail? See for yourself.

**1/2 (out of 5)