Tag Archives: Catherine Corcoran

The ‘Terrifier’ Films Mark a Return to Unsafe Horror

There’s a turning point in Damien Leone’s Terrifier 2 in which a character utters something along the lines of “Since when did Halloween become synonymous with sex?” 

I don’t know what rock that woman has been living under, but Halloween + horror + slasher movies = probably a lot of sex. Or, at least, that’s how it used to be. 

Eighties slasher movies, depending on your view, were either:

A) Reflective of a morality lesson for the Reagan era (you drink, you have sex, you die).
B) A satirical, mocking joke on all of that.
C) Merely an excuse to see female bodies get cut up in brutal ways as a form of male gawking entertainment — if you’re Carol J. Clover

When the Golden Age of slasher movies reached its end, and slashers like Scream and Candyman had more on their minds than just killing teens off for having nookie, sex in slashers (and accompanying visuals of nude bodies) started taking a back seat when it came to modern slasher movie requirements. In fact, slasher movies dwindled in numbers altogether when arthouse “trauma” horror took hold of the genre’s attention. 

But then a little indie movie called Terrifier appeared. A ballsy follow-up to All Hallows’ Eve with even ballsier kills, Terrifier shook indie horror with its outrageous approach to brutality, gore, and a Psycho protagonist twist. Terrifier grew a diehard cult following of the uneasily offended and made the genre feel unsafe again. 

The scene that takes center stage is THAT kill scene, in which Catherine Corcoran’s blond, attractive, full-frontal naked Dawn is hacked by a saw, upside down, from vagina to head, and split in half as Art the Clown slowly makes sure this young victim suffers. Oh, and cuts off her breasts to mockingly wear as if they’re his own. 

I suppose I was so impressed by the audacity of the scene, the mechanics of the special FX work, and the fact that I felt like the kill was a shocking slasher kill destined to be iconic — and not just a shocking slasher kill for the sake of brutalizing a woman — that I was slightly perplexed to discover just how many other members of the horror community (including a lot of men, interestingly) found that kill so misogynistic and offensive that they wrote off the whole movie. 

Art’s…fascination?…with the female form never felt like a middle finger to me, a female viewer, nor did it ever translate to Leone being a misogynistic filmmaker. To me, Art the Clown was always an equal opportunity offender, but the reaction is understandable — especially after previous decades of what seemed like regression, with everything from Jason stabbing topless ladies in the eye to hard-to-watch rape-revenge/slasher hybrids that made women chase after their perpetrators wearing merely a piece of cloth, all played for titillation purposes. 

After digesting the criticisms of the first Terrifier movie — “That’s so not the kind of person I am, all I can do is laugh,” Leone recently told me at a convention — Leone is more than happy to prove Art’s equal opportunity for bloodshed for T2. There is no greater movie for “#Hallowiener than a sequel with this year’s spotlight penis-ripping-apart scene whose previous iteration got picked apart by some for being sexist. So, now, the only crowd that may be offended is the “Where are the boobs?!” horror bros.

Some of those bros may see themselves reflected in Charlie McElveen’s Jeff, as Leone sets him up as a somewhat stereotypical “himbo” character from his first appearance. Jeff wears a “Just the tip…I promise” with a bloodied knife t-shirt to a Halloween party, intended as half douche-y, half cheeky self-awareness — with a side of lazy Halloween costume commentary, compared to his more creative female counterparts’ costumes. Most importantly, the shirt is a deliberate hint foreshadowing Jeff’s fate. 

As Jeff makes out with his girlfriend or at least hook-up buddy Brooke (Kailey Hyman) in the car while waiting for Lauren LaVera’s Sienna, Leone refrains from their encounter going into full-on heavy petting territory, making it the most sex we’ll see in the film, and the resulting outcome all the crueler. They snort blow up their noses, and laugh and joke around. Up until this point, I’m sympathetic enough to Jeff — he isn’t exactly likable, but he’s not dislikable either. Then, when a concerned Brooke ponders out loud where Sienna could be, his response is “Who cares?” Ok, now he can go to Hell. 

“I have to go pee-pee. Wanna hold it?” Jeff jokes. What grown man says pee-pee?

He exits the car and causes a couple fake-out jump scares for Brooke outside the passenger side window before finally taking a leak.

 The shot reveals “Just the tip” ominously handwritten across the foggy car window. Then comes Art, stabbing Jeff’s vulnerable penis, mid-stream, to his agonizing screams. Jeff gets stabbed in the D precisely 10 times (I counted) before Art completely pulls out his member from its root. Not just the tip — the whole shaft, like it’s a dead weed getting torn out of the soil during spring gardening season.  

We know Art the sadist wouldn’t simply stop there. He’s going to drag out the suffering by literally dragging the dismembered penis across the window, taunting Brooke with what she could’ve had inside her one last time. The temptation! Jeff didn’t even get to use it once more before he loses it. The “stabber” has now become the stabbed. 

In a current landscape where genre films have become sexually shy and Film Twitter discourse often scolds sex scenes altogether, we’ve slowly gotten a few more peeks at the ever-elusive male body in mainstream horror, whether it be bare butts in a Ryan Murphy production or brief, shadowy glimpses of a unit in this year’s X, or exposed in broad daylight like Midsommar. But when those units are prosthetics attached to less-than-savory men and created for the sole purpose of gruesome butchery, not for sexual purposes, it feels especially satisfying – like humiliation to a specific brand of male ego that renders their Johnsons ironically useless.  

The penis dismemberment may have been a direct response to the T1 split-in-half-girl backlash or part of a new wave of slasher movies that want to give everyone equal grounds for exploitation kill sequences. Art may have still racked up a few more female victims in this second round, but there’s a next-level gut-punch when forcing a man to watch his penis get stabbed off. If there ever was an imaginary battle between the genders in slasher kills, now we’re at least a little more even.

But it’s not all about just the #Wiener. From the get-go, we connect with Sienna, who’s a much more fleshed-out character (figuratively) than the girls from the first film. She’s a concerned big sister, trying to keep it together for her brother and widowed mom. She’s cool. She’s creative. Knows her way around some craft supplies to make a badass warrior costume from scratch.  

Leone’s lead gets to kick Art’s ass and survive this time around — something the first Terrifier had the audacity not to do, which also probably caused some knickers to get twisted. Perhaps this way is safer; perhaps this way adheres to a more traditional format. Regardless, getting a final girl who gets to live until the end may place T2 and Sienna into the slasher pantheon. Hell, even her shower scene feels empowering, like she’s preparing to fight for battle — she just doesn’t know it yet. 

Nothing feels voyeuristic or male gaze-y and gross. Even though her mom trivializes her for it, Sienna’s warrior costume is sexy enough without being crazily revealing, and there’s a sense of ownership to her sexiness. Art isn’t quite literally ripping her sexuality (or her genitalia) away from this girl this time, and he has no power over that or Sienna herself, whatsoever. 

Terrifier 2 manages to move the slasher franchise forward, without neutering (pun intended) what made it so fearless in the first place — and that takes big #Hallowiener energy.