How comedians and slasher icons inspired Art the Clown in the ‘Terrifier’ films

How comedians and slasher icons inspired Art the Clown in the ‘Terrifier’ films

With old school practical special effects, extremely gory and bloody deaths and a sinister silent clown as the unforgettable antagonist, the low-budget “Terrifier” horror film gained a cult following upon its release in 2016.

It’s become even more popular recently thanks to the sequel, “Terrifier 2,” which came out last year on Oct. 6 and went on to gross more than $12 million at the box office.

Arguably, the standout star of the film is the sadistic Art the Clown, a creepy killer that carries his weapons in a black plastic trash bag and gleefully mixes murder with a touch of clown humor. Art is played by New York-based actor David Howard Thornton, who has earned praise for this portrayal, as Art the Clown is well on his way to achieving horror icon status.

  • Art the Clown from the “Terrifier” films is played by...

    Art the Clown from the “Terrifier” films is played by New York-based actor David Howard Thornton, who will be at the Creep I.E. Con horror convention Feb. 4-5 along with the cast of the film. (Image courtesy the film)

  • Art the Clown from “Terrifier 2” is portrayed by New...

    Art the Clown from “Terrifier 2” is portrayed by New York-based actor David Howard Thornton, who will be at the Creep I.E. Con horror conventions Feb. 4-5 along with the cast from the film. (Photo courtesy the film)

Howard Thornton and the cast of “Terrifier 2,” along with Damien Leone, the director, producer and writer of the films, will be a the upcoming Creep I.E. Con at the Ontario Convention Center  Feb. 4-5. On the first day, Howard Thornton will appear in full Art the Clown gear to take pictures with fans.

Ahead of donning the iconic outfit and makeup and delighting/scaring horror fanatics, we caught up with Howard Thornton to talk about what it’s been like to play such a complex and terrifying character. The following has been edited for clarity.

Q: What did you do before you became  Art the Clown?

David Howard Thornton: Before this, I was more trying to do Broadway and voice over acting. That’s the irony of it all. I did comedy and a bunch of crazy voices for kids shows, and now I’m known for being a silent murderer.

Q: In your audition for Art the Clown, what kind of mindset did you go in with to come up with this guy?

A: For the audition, I wasn’t given anything in prep for it, so I go in there not knowing what to do. I walk in the room and everyone else has scripts and they call me in and I apologized for not having a script and they’re like ‘You don’t need one, Art doesn’t talk, just improvise a scene where you gleefully decapitate somebody … and go.’ So right there, on the spot, I had to make a whole scene where I decapitated somebody.

Q: What makes Art the Clown so terrifying?

A: I think what makes him really scary to people is his unpredictability. You never know what he’s going to do next and he’s very mischievous and he really enjoys what he’s doing. He’s not doing it like so many other killers out of revenge or anything like that, he’s doing it because he just loves to badly maim people. He finds it extremely entertaining and I think that’s extremely frightening.

Q: Does the fact that he’s completely silent make him scarier? 

A: I think it’s because it’s more inhuman. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, you at least hear them breathing or you hear them grunt sometimes when they get hit. But you never hear any sounds come from Art and it’s very eerie in that way because that’s very inhuman. Especially from a clown, because you expect some kind of sound to come out of a clown.

Q: Did you watch anything in preparation to play this character? Or study any other characters that helped you develop Art the Clown?

A: Oh yeah, but I’ve been doing that my whole entire life. I’m a lifelong student and fan of great physical comedians and silent film actors. I grew up watching old silent films like the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and also great physical comedians like Jim Carrey and Doug Jones and Rowan Atkinson, who is Mr. Bean. I also had a great mentor when I was touring with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for five years. I was the understudy for the Grinch, who was the wonderfully talented Stefán Karl and he was an amazing physical actor, so I put a lot of what Stefán taught me.

Q: How about any of the genre’s great killers as inspiration?

A: I kind of look at Art as being a mishmash of all these great slasher icons that came before him. There’s a little bit of everybody in him from Freddy, of course, that’s a big influence, Jason, Mike Myers, Chucky, Jigsaw, Pinhead … there’s a trace off all those guys inside Art. There’s also a little bit of Joker as well. I just kind of blended all that together and that’s how Art came to be in my head.

Q: There’s a lot of talk about Art being the next great horror icon. What do you think of all the accolades you’re getting for this character?

A: I’m very humbled by that. It’s very surreal, it still has not sunk in yet.

Q: These are very gory, violent films. Is there anything in the films that’s been maybe too gory, even for you?

A: It doesn’t really bother me that much because I know what this is. This is not realistic at all, this is definitely heightened realism, almost fantasy. It’s all for fun and that’s how slashers are supposed to be, so I don’t take it that seriously at all. I kind of like that we can go crazy with the gore because that’s how a lot of horror films used to be, they used to just go cray with the gore and have fun with it.

Q: In “Terrifier 2,” Art is more of a supernatural kind of creature, how did you play him differently in that film?

A: I look at Art in “Terrifier” as being human; in part two he’s more than human now and I look at it. Like he’s still going to be Art, but he’s Art on steroids because he realizes he can take a lot more of a beating and keep coming back. So he’s a lot more arrogant and cocky this time around. He’s having a lot more fun this time around.

Q: What do you think his background is? Who was Art?

A: I can’t say, but I do know his background and we’re definitely going to explore it in future movies. But there’s definitely more to him than just him being a clown.

Q: What’s your future with this character? Do you see yourself playing Art for a while?

A: Oh yeah, I definitely want to do more films. I will do as many films as possible as Art because I love the character so much. There’s so much I still want to do with him, so many possibilities because he’s fun.