Terrifier 3's Bigger Budget Could Be It's Undoing
This revolting horror franchise has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity, but could its success come back to laboriously brutalize it?
Of all the slasher films that dotted the past few decades, who would've thought that a newcomer would become the most profitable? Freddy and Jason have been sidelined, Leatherface has been embarrassed by bad reboots, and even Chucky is getting old. Art the Clown, of Terrifier fame, is the new murderer on everyone's mind, but his sudden escalation from gritty indie cinema to big-budget blockbuster might get messy.
Trilogies are a common goal for creative endeavors, though they frequently follow the same decline. The first film makes all the money, the second perfects the formula, and the third knuckles down to ruin everything. Spider-Man, Terminator, Alien, Shrek, and many more franchises fell at the third hurdle. The problem is often excess, an issue that will soon face the grotesque adventures of Art the Clown.
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Damien Leone's 2016 film Terrifier is extraordinarily bare bones. It follows a mysterious mute serial killer called Art the Clown who inexplicably moves through the world with no motivation more complex than eviscerating every living being he encounters. Art meets Tara and Dawn, a pair of friends traveling home after a raucous Halloween party. As they attempt to leave their brief meeting with Art, they find their tires slashed. Tara and Dawn find themselves assaulted by the murderous mime at all turns. A derelict apartment building is the closest thing to shelter the two women can find. Everyone they call for help or run into along the way is prey for Art. The film's driving force isn't the actions or motivations of the named characters. It's the oppressive air of all-purpose transgression. Terrifier is a film about visceral unpleasantness. It takes place in a world free of beauty or meaning. Creating a sequel to an experience like that is challenging, to say the least.
The first Terrifier film could charitably be described as a niche success. It received unpleasant reviews from critics and rarely saw the inside of a theater. Its shoestring budget allowed it to bring home a profit. In 2018, the film enjoyed a tiny theatrical release that boosted its profile substantially. The following year, Leone started writing a sequel and turned to a handful of private investors and an Indiegogo campaign to fund the project. The final price tag landed around $250,000, just over seven times the predecessor's budget. Terrifier 2's theatrical run also dwarfed its predecessor, giving it a chance to succeed the old-fashioned way. Against the expectations of the fans, cast, crew, and entire filmgoing community, it did succeed.
Terrifier 2 made $15.1 million. It's hard to overstate the level to which this film defied expectations. It's probably the biggest upset in the genre since Paranormal Activity. It doesn't hold a candle to Oren Peli's found footage classic, still known as the most profitable horror film ever made. It is, however, a niche product that massively outperformed expectations. Terrifier 2 takes the first film's obsession with excess to its logical conclusion, delivering kill scenes that seem to go on for weeks. However, it also featured a shockingly strong main character in Sienna Shaw, performed admirably by Lauren LaVera. The franchise has a final girl, a charismatic killer, and a bit of lore, so it's ready for a franchise.
Damien Leone has a massive success on his hands. He has no excuse not to pour more resources into the next entry. Sure enough, Leone is suggesting that the next film is so big that it might be a two-parter and that it's working with a "low-mid seven-figure budget." Fans might be excited, but the process of expansion might hurt the franchise more than it helps. Sure, Terrifier 2 was a far bigger success, both critically and commercially, than its predecessor. However, it's not without its drawbacks. Terrifier 2 is almost a full hour longer than the first film. Its newfound freedom allows for extremely prolonged violent set pieces, but it also demands an actual story. As the budget ramps up, the gore will cease to be a unique selling point. Perhaps more notably, as the financial risk increases, producers will be less likely to allow for that excessive gore.
Terrifier was shocking once. It was transgressive, risky, and even surprising. By the second film, the franchise demonstrated some actual depth. The first film may as well be a series of Faces of Death clips, but the sequel features one shining ray of artistic success in the performance of its star. Leone found meaning in his grim world, but continuing to expand outward is unlikely to aid that quest. Is there a point at which Terrifier's transgression obsession finally leaves its target audience's comfort zone? Will the consistent escalation eventually sink the franchise? Art the Clown can't seem to die, but that doesn't make his popularity immortal.
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Joshua is a lifelong film buff, D&D enthusiast, tournament winning Smash Bros. player and extremely passionate writer. He also has a BS in Psychology.