Damien Leone is a director to keep an eye on. With his new film, Terrifier, Damien has solidified Art the Clown as a future horror icon. I got to interview the man himself, and here’s what he had to say.
You’re a relatively new name in the horror scene. How did you get into horror and what led you to directing?
Honestly, I can’t remember a time in my life when horror wasn’t prevalent. My mother named me after The Omen and I got my first Jason mask when I was three years old. Horror was just a staple of my childhood. Finally when I was around twelve, I began experimenting with special effects makeup. Special effects wizard Tom Savini was a hero of mine and his VHS tape Scream Greats really inspired me to embrace that field. I purchased my first starter makeup kit and instantly began filming little home horror movies with my friends. At first they were just a way to practice and showcase the makeup I was learning but eventually this led to my love of filmmaking as a whole. Directing is now my favorite part of the process.
I just watched Terrifier, and bravo! What is your goal with this film? What are you hoping audiences will take away?
Thank you so much! Well I hope there is still a longing for the type of film Terrifier is, which is a throwback to the slasher films of the 70s and 80s. The slasher sub-genre has sort of faded with time and I really think horror fans can use a modern horror icon with an old school flair. It’s nice to have a boogeyman that you simultaneously loathe and root for so I’m hoping Art the Clown really resonates with people and helps fill that void.
It seems to me that since you keep revisiting Art the clown in your work that you are very passionate about this character. Where did the idea of Art the clown come from? Does he have an origin story?
I am very passionate about him and I truly hope that I get to make more Terrifier films. Art was originally just this supporting character in my first “official” short film called The 9th Circle which I made back in 2006. It was basically this 12 minute film that I filled to the brim with every horror cliche imaginable: monsters, demons, witches, the devil and a clown. I always appreciated clowns and I felt I had never seen a clown depicted quite to my satisfaction. I had come up with this idea of a woman riding a city bus all by herself in the middle of the night when suddenly this clown gets on. He sits across from the woman and slowly begins messing with her, playfully at first but increasing hostile until he’s eventually trying to stick her with a needle. Who knows where this idea came from but I thought it was cool and it became the opening of my short film only we changed the setting to a train station waiting room. Long story short, out of all the demons, witches and monsters, Art was the only character everyone kept talking about. Eventually I knew I might have something special there, so I made another short film which focused solely on Art called Terrifier in 2011, and now we finally got to make a full length version after all these years. Art does have an origin story and we will explore it in the sequel should I get an opportunity to make one.
How much of Art was there, and how much was created by the man under the makeup?
I think it’s 50/50. The look of a monster is of the utmost importance, first and foremost, but that only gets you half way there. A bad performance could’ve easily ruined the character no matter how cool he may have looked but thankfully David Howard Thornton truly knocked it out of the park. Dave is a very talented actor with a broad set of skills. He was able to bring nuances and quirks to the character that I hadn’t seen before because of his theatrical background and his love for silent films. He also gave me a variety of performances I could choose from in the editing room ranging from subdued to completely outlandish. I always encourage actors to go as far as they can because you can always pull back. You need to know just how far you can go with a character so you can push it to the limit. I really hope we get to play with this character again because Dave and I really have a blast working together and he’s just one of the most pleasurable people to be around.
The special effects were wonderful! I take it you have a passion for practical FX?
Thank you. Well as I mentioned earlier, Tom Savini is one of my biggest heroes and practical FX are my first love. I knew the FX would be a strong suit going into this film so I purposely set out to make them as graphic and relentless as possible. I tried taking everything I had learned up to this point and using it to the best of my ability. After all, this was an extremely low budget film. I knew in order to stack up against the big studio horror films, we were gonna have to show things you can’t get in an R rated Hollywood movie. On a personal level, this movie was a symbolic re-setting of the clock. I feel like the genre has gone way off track and there are a lot of fans yearning for this type of film again. In that regard, this film may have even been made out of some personal frustration. The majority of horror films being made now are not the kinds of horror films I grew up watching and adoring. Honestly, if I was born ten years ago, I’m not so sure I would even be a horror fan today. That’s not to say there aren’t some terrific horror films made every now and then but for the most part, there is a charm and a set of balls missing from a lot of them.
If you could were going to curate a double feature, what would you pair with Terrifier?
That’s a good question. Obviously there are so many movies that have inspired Terrifier so I think a number of old school horrors would suffice. Oddly enough, as brutal as Terrifier is, it gets a lot of laughs because of Art’s sense of humor. In that regard I wouldn’t mind seeing Terrifier paired up with A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 or 3. I also think there’s a savagery and some moments of hysteria in Terrifier the likes of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre so that would be another honor.
I can easily see Art becoming the next horror icon. I get the feeling we may not have seen the last of Art the clown.
I really appreciate that. Well, I certainly have a sequel in mind. I currently have a little notepad filled with wonderful ideas — soon to be drafted into a screenplay. As I mentioned earlier, I’d tackle a bit of Art’s origin while pushing the story forward. I also want to introduce a formidable protagonist that maybe even be able to stop Art. That’s not to say the women of Terrifier weren’t tough as nails. They put up one hell of a fight, but Art is a no good, cheating son of a bitch.
What are you currently working on, and what do you hope to tackle next?
It all depends on opportunities and money. Money is always the biggest factor. If Terrifier is a success and some one wants to throw me a reasonable budget, I would love nothing more than to jump right into a sequel. If on the other hand I have to start from the ground up on something else and money is an issue, I have a low budget vampire film I would like to get off the ground. I think it’s been a long time since vampires were truly terrifying. I’d love to make a modern day vampire film that has the essence of the original Salem’s Lot….but with a lot more blood and gore!
Thank you so much for your time!