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Sink Your Teeth Into These Terrifyingly Good Art The Clown Facts

It's been a long time since we've had a new horror franchise villain. We all know the classic guys like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, Pinhead, and Jigsaw, and horror fans have probably been wondering who's going to be the next icon of terror. Enter Art the Clown, star of the "Terrifier" films.

"Terrifier," like the original "Halloween," is an indie horror film that is quickly growing into a phenomenon, and it could end up becoming the next big franchise. Unlike the usual run-of-the-mill horror films, the "Terrifier" movies are refreshingly original and not for the faint of heart. (In fact, recent audiences have reportedly become physically sick watching "Terrifier 2.")

"Terrifier 2" was supposed to play in theaters for a week before hitting streaming services, but audience demand kept the film in theaters for nearly a month, an extension practically unheard of in today's day and age, when the window between theatrical release and streaming debut is continually shrinking.

While the "Terrifier" movies are on the verge of becoming the next big thing in horror, there's a lot you probably don't know about the creation of Art the Clown, the person who brought him to life, or the actor who plays him. Here are the terrifying facts about Art the Clown and the "Terrifier" series.

Why clowns scare the heck out of us

Clowns are supposed to bring great joy to children, but they clearly scare the bejesus out of a lot of us. There's even a term for fear of clowns: Coulrophobia.

As the Cleveland Clinic explains, "Awareness of coulrophobia is relatively new. The terms first appeared in the late 1990s. 'Coulro' is the Greek word for stilt walkers. Recent movies featuring creepy-looking clowns, like 'It' and 'Joker,' made people aware of this phobia."

The Cleveland Clinic adds that there are not many studies on coulrophobia, and some experts feel that one in ten adults could have it. (It is also more likely to affect women than men.) One way to treat this is to watch someone put on clown makeup, which will remind someone suffering from coulrophobia that clowns, especially evil clowns, are not real creatures. ("Exposure therapy with a mental health professional can help you manage this phobia," the Cleveland Clinic adds.)

Although "Terrifier" was not the first film to tap into coulrophobia, there's still plenty of room for more scary clowns in horror. The fact that they strike a nerve with a lot of people gives them even more potential to scare the wits out of audiences.

Who created Art the Clown

Art the Clown is the creation of writer/director Damien Leone. He also does the special FX and edits the "Terrifier" movies, making him a true auteur of horror. Leone is an indie director at heart, and he created the "Terrifier" movies because he longed for the great slasher films of old.

As he told Dread Central, "There weren't any slashers that we grew up with in the eighties and nineties that were really new. Maybe Jigsaw was the only new one at that time...The more iconic ones, the more graphic ones, the more violent ones are the ones that I really enjoyed as a kid. I felt like I could do something fresh but modern in that regard."

Like a lot of indie filmmakers, Leone didn't go to film school, and when he took a formal filmmaking class, he realized it wasn't for him. As he told Morbidly Beautiful, they wanted to teach him about Godard, and while he respected him, "it wasn't what got me into filmmaking at the time. I wanted to make a killer clown movie."

Art has a supernatural element

Although Michael Myers is human, he was essentially created by John Carpenter to be evil incarnate, an entity that can't be killed. It's an element that Leone has incorporated into Art the Clown as well.

As he told Entertainment Weekly, "In most of these slasher franchises, the killer usually winds up getting killed, and then he's supernatural, but the filmmakers just gloss over it. I wanted to really explore that supernatural evil as a character, and it actually is a physical apparition in this film that luckily we really haven't spoiled yet."

Leone then explained that Art is driven by a force to return to the town where the initial killing took place, and this also brings him back to Sienna. This element may become clearer in the next "Terrifier" movies, which Leone says will have "this sort of weird, mystical, supernatural element working its way into her life as she starts to realize that she may be destined to become Art's nemesis."

This actually sounds similar to the relationship between Michael and Laurie Strode, and it will be interesting to see how this dangerous relationship could play out down the road.

How the character grew from a short

Like the saying goes, from small things great things come. Art the Clown first appeared in a short Leone made called "The Ninth Circle," which he hoped would serve as his calling card in the film industry.

Following this, Leone made a short film that was adapted into a feature called "All Hallow's Eve." As Leone told Variety, he first created Art back in 2006, and after making two short films he really felt he had something special with Art. Leone put the short up on YouTube, and it got him the attention of a producer. Then when "Terrifier" hit Netflix, things blew up from there.

These films are a grassroots phenomenon, with Leone making the first "Terrifier" for just $35,000 (the second film cost about $250,000). Leone has thus far committed to the indie route, making both movies without any major studio footing the bill. (Leone says he's open to working with a larger studio, but he's concerned about them toning down the violence of his work.) So far, "Terrifier 2" has made back what it cost ten times over, making it one of the most successful indie films in recent memory.

Who plays Art the Clown

Art the Clown is played by David Howard Thornton, a native of Huntsville, Alabama. Like most horror actors, he's nothing like the evil entity he plays onscreen.

As Leone recalled in an interview with Morbidly Beautiful, Art was originally going to be played by another actor who ended up leaving the industry. Then he found David, who he says is "literally Roger Rabbit come to life; he is a walking cartoon. And he brings that to the role with his Looney Toon antics." Thornton was the sixth actor who auditioned for the role, "and as soon as I saw him I basically shut it down after that."

Thornton described himself to Alternative Press as "a shy geek from Alabama who got lucky. I would never imagine being compared to the greats like Freddy, Jason, Mike Myers or even Bela Lugosi's Dracula – That echelon of characters is pretty surreal."

Thornton had years of stage experience under his belt, and he said, "I understand the character and can turn it on and off at a rapid pace. As soon as the character is living in my head, I can just access it. I greatly appreciate silent film actors and physical comedians, and that's what I pulled a lot from since my character doesn't talk. I had to learn other ways to convey my voice."

The inspiration for Art the Clown

An evil, scary clown is a no-brainer for a horror film, yet surprisingly we haven't seen them that frequently — at least not quite like Art.

The vision of Art the Clown came to Leone over ten years ago. As he told Entertainment Weekly, "I had this idea of a clown terrorizing a woman on a city bus. She's all alone, coming home from work or whatever, in the middle of the night. Then this clown gets on and sits across from her, and starts staring at her and toying with her. It's awkward and uncomfortable and maybe even funny, but then it gets progressively more intimidating and aggressive." 

Even though the big screen version of "It" made clowns terrifying again, Leone felt there was room for another scary clown in horror. He told Dread Central, "I felt like there was a void with clowns that I hadn't quite seen done the way I felt like I could execute one."

Leone told people that "Ninth Circle" was his "kitchen sink" movie where he threw in a lot of different elements, but Art the Clown was the one creature that really stood out. "I truly saw something special in him," he said. "I knew there was something there that was working."

Why Art is different from Pennywise

"It," which was published in 1986, was first adapted into a TV movie in 1990. It lay dormant for nearly two decades, until it was resurrected in 2017 for a big screen adaptation. But those who think Pennywise and Art are similar are only looking at the surface. There are actually quite a number of differences between them.

With Art the Clown becoming a new icon of terror, there are already debates comparing him to Pennywise from "It." One site even boldly claimed that Art is the scarier clown of the two. As Screenrant writes, "Pennywise is certainly a notable villain, but Art the Clown has the edge ... Art is a human serial killer, unlike Pennywise ... [and] while Pennywise does crack jokes, he's rarely if ever funny. Art has audiences genuinely laughing at points, only to follow up with a swift and shocking kill."

As Leone told Dread Central, he went out of his way to make the opposite of Pennywise. "Art is bald, he's black and white. Pennywise is colorful, he has hair. Pennywise speaks, Art doesn't. Pennywise doesn't use weapons, Art the Clown uses any weapon he can get his hands on, so all these little things came together."

There may be four Terrifier movies

Horror films, like Marvel movies, were clearly designed to be made in multiple parts. As Leone explained in a recent interview, there may be four "Terrifier" movies in all.

The audience for "Terrifier" is growing every day, and obviously, horror fans would love to see more sequels in the future. As Leone explained to Variety, the next film could be split into two parts, like "It" or "Kill Bill." "I had a 'Part 3' in mind when writing 'Part 2,'" Leone said. "I pretty much have the entire treatment ready for 'Part 3,' but it's getting so big that it could potentially split into a 'Part 4.'"

Still, Leone wants to be careful. "My fear is that eventually the well is gonna run dry," he added. "We're gonna wind up jumping the shark, there will be nothing left to say with this character. I've watched all these 'Part 10s' and Part 13s,' but sometimes that could really ruin the franchise...I want to try and avoid that."

How the director is reacting to audiences freaking out

In the '80s, horror films really pushed the envelope with violence and gore, and many criticized the mad slasher films for their relentless bloodshed. "Terrifier" is certainly not scrimping on the gore, and there have been reports that audiences have become physically ill watching the movie in theaters.

A headline in the New York Post exclaimed, "Depraved horror movie causes viewers to vomit, faint in the theater," and the Post cited fan reactions on social media, including one that said, "My friend passed out and the theater called an ambulance. Highly recommended." Another wrote, "The guy behind me passed out cold n crashed into my chair...Walking out [the] theater door I heard a guy puking hard & loud in the bathroom."

Leone told Entertainment Weekly, "Listen, I would have loved to have a couple of walk-outs, I think that's sort of a badge of honor because it's an intense movie. I don't want people fainting, getting hurt during the movie. But it's surreal."

Why Terrifier has a female protagonist

When slasher films first took off in the early '80s, they got a lot of flack because of their violence against women. These days, women are more than just victims being set up for slaughter. Laurie Strode and Ripley showed that they can fight back against evil, and the "Terrifier" films have a female heroine as well: Sienna.

Leone told Morbidly Beautiful that she's his favorite part of the movie, and like Art the Clown, he had a vision in his head for her for a number of years before he brought her to life. "What you see on screen is what she evolved into," he explains. "A final girl, dressed like a Valkyrie. A real girl, grounded in reality, but who ultimately becomes a warrior."

Collider has already claimed Sienna as their "new favorite final girl," while Maddie Davis of CBR said, "'Terrifier 2 delivers the best final girl of the 2000s."

Leone told Awards Radar (via Slashfilm), "My primary goal this time was to really focus on a compelling protagonist ... I was really hoping that the audience could empathize with and get behind on her journey and really be scared for her and rooting for her during the film's climax. Thankfully, a lot of people have seemed to respond very favorably to her so that's awesome."

There were crowdfunding campaigns for both movies

Making a movie, any movie, is hard, and raising money is one of the most significant hurdles. In the old days, you had to hit the pavement to find potential investors in an indie film, but now we have crowdfunding, which "Terrifier" utilized as well.

In June 2019, Dread Central reported that "Terrifier 2" raised $50,000 in under three hours, and as Leone wrote on the crowdfunding page, "The fans in the horror community are the backbone of this film ... We want to give fans an opportunity to become a part of this unique experience while helping us bring 'Terrifier 2' to the next level."

As Thornton marveled in an interview with Al.com, "I think it's amazing that most of the budget ... came strictly from the fans. We were only trying to raise about $50,000, and we raised over $200,000 in just a month's time. We're fans of the genre, and we wanted to make the type of film that fans of the genre want to see as well."

Stephen King is a fan

If there's anyone who knows good horror, it's Stephen King — a thumbs up from him can do wonders for your career. When he gave "Evil Dead" a strong review, it helped put the film on the map, and his endorsement of Clive Barker immediately established him as a new master storyteller in terror.

So when it comes to Art the Clown, King's endorsement would be key. Back in October 2022, King went on Twitter and wrote, "That movie THE TERRIFIER looks pretty good. Has anyone seen it?" He soon followed up with another tweet praising the film, saying, "TERRIFER 2: Grossin' you out old-school." Leone was quick to respond to the famous horror author, tweeting, "This is such a tremendous honor from the master! You better believe that quote's going on the poster."

As Thornton says in an interview with Al.com, "It's mind-blowing to us, especially when you know that Stephen King's talking about your film. That's the master of horror himself, the true king. I'm a huge lifelong fan of his work, both film-wise and book-wise ... This thing has taken on a mind of its own recently."