Exclusive: Terrifier red band trailer reveals the return of Art the Clown

A decade after he first arrived on the scene, Art the Clown is ready to step into the spotlight. It's probably a good idea just to let him go where he wants.

We've got the exclusive red band trailer for Terrifier, the upcoming horror from writer-director Damien Leone, and it's all about Art — the maniacal, murderous clown who first appeared in Leone's 2008 short The 9th Circle. Art got his own short (also titled Terrifer) in 2011, and he was at the center of Leone's feature debut, the 2013 anthology All Hallows' Eve. This time, however, there's a different man behind the blood-smeared makeup: David Howard Thornton (Nightwing: Escalation) takes over as Art from Mike Giannelli.

Here's the synopsis: "On their way home from partying, Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) cross paths with a mysterious clown on Halloween night. What begins as a seemingly innocent encounter soon takes a turn for the worse as the clown's playful antics become the prelude to something much more terrifying: The stranger is a sadistic madman named Art the Clown who murders everyone in his path. A gruesome game of cat and mouse ensues as the women take refuge in an abandoned warehouse, becoming the maniac's latest target. Who will make it out alive and what will be left of them?"

Leone told us he came up with the idea for Art back in 2006. "One day, this idea just popped into my head about a young woman being harassed on a city bus in the middle of the night by this psychopathic clown," he said. "His antics slowly go from playful to threatening until he's eventually trying to stick her with a needle. What could be more nightmarish? This essentially became the opening of my short film The 9th Circle which was the first introduction to Art."

But while the character has become something of a cult classic, we still don't know much about his origins. Leone hinted that we'll learn a little more in Terrifier. "You will certainly be given some clues as to who or what Art is, but whether or not you're given the whole story is for the audience to find out," he said. "Personally, I like the fact that fans are pretty much split down the middle when it comes to his origin. Some really love the ambiguity and feel that not knowing adds to the creep factor, whereas others feel that not disclosing that information is a total cop-out and due to a lack of imagination. I tend to agree with both parties, but a character without a backstory can only go on for so long before you are, in fact, cheating the audience, in my opinion."

Of course, Art isn't the only killer clown out there and Leone knows it. "As far as his look is concerned, I made a conscious decision to differentiate Art from Pennywise [from Stephen King's It] as much as I could," he said. "For instance, Pennywise is very colorful, he speaks, he has bright red hair and doesn't use weapons. Art is black and white, doesn't speak, wears a bald cap and uses any weapon he can get his hands on. It was always important not to step on Pennywise's toes. After all, he is the king of the killer clown arena. This is something I was adamant about way back in 2006 before the [It] remake was even a thought."

As for the new actor as Art, Leone has nothing but praise for both Thornton and his predecessor Giannelli. "David certainly had the biggest shoes to fill on this production — pun intended — by stepping in to replace Mike Giannelli as Art. Mike had done such a fantastic job, and now that he was no longer interested in acting, I had to replace something that wasn't broken. If we couldn't find the right actor for this part, the whole movie would crumble. Thankfully, by the grace of the movie gods, David came in to audition one day and it was clear from the moment he began doing his killer clown shtick that this was going to be our guy. During his audition, I asked him to pantomime the act of sawing someone's head off, which he did with absolute glee and enthusiasm. David's also very animated and theatrical, so he added this almost silent film-type quality to the character that wasn't there before."

Leone also explained what separates the full-length Terrifier from the original short. "[It's] longer, scarier, sicker, bloodier and [has] more victims," he said. "I did try my best to keep the feature as close to the short as possible in terms of simplicity and tone. The short was brutal and intense and once the action started, it didn't let up. If I could cut out as much filler as possible and make the entire feature feel like the last 20 minutes of most slasher films, then I felt we'd be on the right track."

But let's get down to brass tacks here. Who would win: Art the Clown or Pennywise? "In all fairness, both characters live in different worlds with different rules, so each character would be at a disadvantage on the other's turf," Leone explained. "Having said that, in order for Pennywise to gain power, he must feed on fear, and there's just no way in hell he's scaring Art. No disrespect, Pennywise."

Terrifier will be released in limited theaters on March 15 and 16, distributed by Dread Central Presents, the new horror label from Epic Pictures. It'll be available on VOD on March 27.