[Interview] Damien Leone Talks ‘Terrifier’ Films, Creating Art the Clown, and Halloween (Part 1)

Continuing our new series of video interviews, Halloween Daily News recently talked to writer/director/makeup effects artist Damien Leone about creating horror’s newest icon, Art the Clown, making his mark in the genre with 2018’s Terrifier and its highly anticipated upcoming sequel Terrifier 2, celebrating Halloween itself, and lots more.

Actually named after the character “Damien” from The Omen, he also talked about growing up a horror fan. “I was raised on a steady diet of horror movies since I was a little kid,” he said. “She (my mom) would just let me watch horror movies from a very young age, it really didn’t matter about them being rated R, which was cool. I think the first horror film she let me rent from the video store was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. For some reason that VHS cover art, it was like a painting of him (Leatherface) in the middle with the chainsaw and then Sally’s big eyes behind him, it was just speaking to me. I guess it was that segue of it sort of being a cartoon, the imagery of it, and I was just like, I have to see what this is. So I begged her to let me rent it, and she did, and I just fell in love with horror movies.

“But that was renting movies. Prior to that, I had already been watching (horror movies). Jaws has been there since I’m like three or four years old. And we had the first Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th Part 3, and Halloween all taped off of television. We had those on VHS tapes, so I had already been watching those.” 

It was watching Tom Savini’s Scream Greats VHS tape that first opened Damien’s eyes to the world of special makeup effects and inspired him to start making his own, which would later evolve into filmmaking. “I just started experimenting,” he recalls, “…putting latex on my friends and wax, and sending them home to their parents and freaking their parents out. When I saw that, when I was able trick an adult at that age, that really gave me the bug, and I was like, ‘Alright, I’ve got to pursue this.’ Then I just started filming the effects, because a lot of his (Savini’s) effects are film illusions, they don’t really work unless you do it through an edit. So then we got my friend’s father’s camcorder and started filming the effects, and then I fell in love with filmmaking as a whole process.”

On making his third feature, Leone explains, Terrifier I feel like, to me personally, is my first official movie, because it’s the first movie that I got to make exactly what I wanted to make how I wanted to make it… Terrifier I had a passion for. I knew exactly what that movie was. That came straight from me, which is important. And that’s the same thing that’s happening I hope now with Terrifier 2. I feel really good about it. It’s very genuine. It’s all coming straight from me.”

In our conversation, Leone goes into detail on some of the most memorable kill scenes in Terrifier, from the hacksaw to the skinning of one victim and the disturbing image of Art then wearing her female parts. “That idea started with my girlfriend at the time. When she read the script, she said something like, ‘I would love to see a scene with Art the Clown wearing a wig.’ So I was just thinking of the imagery of Art wearing a wig, and I was like, yeah that’s definitely creepy. But then I was like, why would he just wear a wig? It’s Art, he’d be wearing a scalp. So we took a woman’s scalp. But would he only take her scalp? Everything that makes her a female, he would take and he would wear. That’s where my mind was going. I mean you’ve got to think, you’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of Art the Clown. 

“So when I wrote that in the script, I had him wearing the pieces, like her breasts and everything, over his costume… How are you going to take your slasher out of his costume? You’re never going to take Jason or Michael Myers out of their clothes. So we were getting close to shooting, and I called up Dave (Art actor David Howard Thornton), and I was like, ‘I don’t think it’s going to have the same impact with the skin over your costume. I think it’s going to be very creepy if you’re naked and you have this (skin) on. You’re bloody, the body parts are bloody, so it’s like you actually now look like a woman, like you transform, and it’s just going to be way more disturbing that way.’

“To Dave’s credit, he said, ‘Yeah, if Catherine (Corcoran) could get naked and hung upside down like that, I’ll do it. I’ll take one for the team’… Very awkward day of filming, but we did it, and it’s definitely a more memorable image than if he had a costume on. But that’s another one of those risks that I like taking with the character. Let’s do things that other slashers don’t do… I like taking risks, because sometimes it’s going to fail but sometimes it’ll pay off, but you’re going to get something different.” 

Damien also discusses the initial creation of Art the Clown in two shorts that were later compiled into his first feature-length film, the 2013 anthology All Hallows’ Eve, plus lessons learned from his sophomore feature Frankenstein vs. The Mummy, some of the challenges of making the 2018 horror juggernaut Terrifier, and much more, including finding the perfect Art in David Howard Thornton.

You can watch Part One of our exclusive new interview with Damien Leone below.

For more Halloween news, follow @HalloweenDaily.

Matt Artz

Founded Halloween Daily News in 2012 and the Halloween International Film Festival in 2016. Professional writer/journalist/photographer since 2000.