Art the Clown is back in the vicious and visceral sequel Terrifier 2 (read our review here), and as the unprecedented success of the sequel has spawned even more popularity for the original Terrifier, released five years ago, we were beyond excited to talk to the first film’s star Catherine Corcoran recently about how playing Dawn changed her life, shooting her unforgettable death scene, her thoughts on nudity in horror, and lots more in a fun video conversation last week.
Of working with legendary independent filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman early in her career at age 19 in Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 (and its sequel Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High aka Vol. 2), Corcoran tells HDN, “Whenever he’s working on a project, his films, everybody just kind of comes back. The answer from everybody across the board is always Yes, and I don’t know if it’s just that we have weird Stockholm Syndrome, but I really think that it’s because of who Lloyd is and the respect he has for everybody that he works with, and for what he does and how he champions people. I don’t know of any other director that that happens for, especially at the lower budget horror level, so I think that speaks for itself.”
On Terrifier‘s ever growing popularity, Catherine said, “Damien (Leone; watch our interview here) says he always knew, but I certainly had no idea.” She also reveals, “Unless you see Jenna (Kanell) and I on camera at the same time in the frame, a lot of times, we’re not even on set together, because we couldn’t because we were both on other projects. So it was really kind of a labor of love, because they just worked around what we could do for them, and made it happen.
On her now infamous death scene in which Art the Clown hangs her character, Dawn, upside down and saws her in half with a hacksaw, Corcoran tells us, “It was definitely kind of nerve wracking thing to film in real time. I knew it was going to be provocative. I just don’t think I expected it to have the impact that it did.
“Logistically, when we were doing it, there were a lot things there that were pretty dangerous, and we’re pretty candid about that. It was a condemned building, we didn’t have a rig, which, as somebody who does do stunts – and Jenna, who is an incredible stunt performer, will tell you – is really necessary for something like that. The way that we kind of came to a compromise – because it was the last day and we were like, ‘We’re here, it’s below freezing, we need to get this done’ – the compromise we came to was that I wouldn’t be upside down more than 42 seconds at a time.
“If you do yoga headstands, I think people can be up for up to seven minutes, but it’s different because your cranium is supported, but this was a little different because you’re completely beholden to gravity, and when you’re flipping like that, there’s this rush that happens, so you’re at risk for seizure and brain trauma. So to kind of combat that, since we didn’t have a rig that would allow me to sort of even out my weight distribution, I was on this platform. I’m actually in BDSM shackles. They’re real, I’m actually strapped in there. They would yell action, they would pull out the platform and I would be kind of let down, and we’d go, and there would be a timer. At like the 38, 40-second mark, someone would yell, ‘Cut’, and they’d hoist me back up onto the platform.
“That was the only thing we shot that night, and it was a full 10 to 12-hour night in 20-degree weather. I remember they did have like a quilt to put over me in between, but at a certain point it was just wet and cold, and there was no getting warm, and it just kind of made it worse, so I was just like, ‘Let’s just do it’.
“It was a lot of checking in with your scene partner to make sure that everything is okay. I am really grateful to David (Howard Thornton) on that day in particular, because it was just nice to have someone there with you, going through it with you and on the other side.
“At one point, I do remember getting kind of dizzy and a little nauseous, so there’s one closeup – the entire scene I’m actually hanging upside down – but there’s one closeup where you only see Dawn from here to here (just her face), and it was because I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I’m hanging off a table.
“The next couple days I was really sick, and I kind of expected to be sick, but I was really dizzy and I didn’t know why. So I went to the doctor and he goes, ‘Well, you have strep. But do you swim?’ I told him what I had done, and I don’t know what he was thinking, but he was like, ‘Well, yes and no. Yes, 40 seconds is a good window to not risk seizure; however, that’s assuming you are right side up again, and you never were. Your legs were in the air the entire time. The way gravity works is every time you go down, blood is rushing to your cranium, and when you don’t go back down, it just pools in your body’.
“So what had happened was I had experienced cranial swelling, which is what the nausea was, and my eardrum was not where it should be anymore. Because I had an infection, I had strep, it wasn’t able to go back to where it was supposed to be. A few antibiotics later and a minor medical procedure where they moved it, all’s well that ends well.
“But it actually does speak to why it’s super important on these things to have a safety person, have a stunt supervisor doing things correctly. I do sometimes see people trying to recreate that scene, and I always want to make it very clear that that is not safe. Please, I am so grateful for the love and I’m a huge fan of the cosplay and everything like that, but please do not attempt it without the supervision of a trained stunt professional and a stunt supervisor, because we’re very lucky that was all that happened. Please do not try any of the things that you see in these films at home. I don’t want anyone to get hurt, and I think Damien would agree with that.”
Corcoran is quick to point out that the hacksaw scene is so powerful because it cuts to a deeper level than gore (or nudity) just for the sake of it. “I’ve heard when women talk about it, how upsetting it is to watch, for both men and women, but particularly viscerally, physically as a woman. I think a huge part of that is it’s so rooted in this realism. Even though this is obviously a fictional movie, genital mutilation happens every singe day. That’s not new. And women all the time are brutalized and ‘punished’ for being dynamic, strong women.
“I think one thing that horror movies do, and they have been doing for decades – you saw it first in the Halloween franchise – is that they have these women who are just confident within who they are, within their bodies, within their intelligence level, and when that happens, often in these films the killers, who are like these representations for the patriarchal society misogyny, end up brutalizing them and killing them. It’s like a punishment for being an intelligent, mutlifaceted woman.
“I think what’s so jarring about what happens to Dawn is that she doesn’t do anything wrong. I mean she should certainly ask permission – well, she does actually, but she should have heard a clear ‘yes’. That’s a consent rule. But she’s just kind of being silly and fun, and confident in who she is, and she’s punished for that by the very essence of what makes her biologically female. That’s what’s so upsetting about it. She’s punished for being a woman by the very physical essence of what makes her a woman. I think that’s what makes it so shocking.”
She says that Leone correctly predicted the scene’s impact when he told Catherine, “Are you ready to make horror history,” but she is also quick to point out that it is really nothing new in cinema. “This has been going on in horror films for years. I didn’t think it was really going to have that impact.”
In the wake of some Twitter trolls recently complaining that Terrifier 2 does not have as much nudity as the original Terrifier, as the person at the center of the first film’s most talked about nude scene, Corcoran wrote an op-ed for The Daily Beast, in which she gives a brief history of nudity in film, linking Dawn to P.J. Soles’ Lynda in Halloween.
“I never thought about the power of that scene really coming down to the fact that Dawn was nude in it,” she said. “It’s something that people tend to latch onto, but it’s something that I never thought about truly when we were making it. I think that’s such an interesting thing when we’re talking about nudity in horror films, or in films in general, because it’s like this weird double edged sword, right? As a woman, you’re always asked to it. Always. I don’t know a woman in the industry, regardless of the genre they typically work in, that that doesn’t happen to. You’re damned if you do, damned if don’t. The first time I did it I was 19.
“If you don’t do it, they’re like, ‘Oh, she’s not really an artist. She doesn’t take her art that seriously.’ But then if you do do it, they’re like, ‘Oh, well she doesn’t really take herself that seriously.’ And it’s just kind of like this thing that is so ridiculous, and it’s been part of cinema sense its inception, and I think people often don’t want to think about that. They just like this idea of like frivolously writing things off for one thing or another. Often I tend to just let that go. I think cinema is really unique to the individual and whatever your experience is is your experience.
“But with the release of the second film, naturally people were taking about the first. When that (the nudity in the films) became a talking a point, it was kind of something I thought frankly was a little juvenile and sophomoric. Because there are so many other things that go into these films. I didn’t understand why this was like the evaluatory mechanism. And while maybe the second one doesn’t have as much nudity, it certainly has some scantily clad women. One of the things I always really loved about the first Terrifier was the inclusivity in Damien’s casting. A lot of the people who work on our films identify as queer.
“We don’t talk enough about, in my opinion, Pooya (Mohseni), who plays the homeless woman in the first film, who is a trans woman. Often you see on screen trans people having to play trans characters, and that was never a talking point for this. It was, ‘She is a woman and she will play a woman,’ and I just thought that was incredible and exactly how it should be done. So there are so many other ways you can evaluate these films.
“I think where I just got frustrated was not being able to speak for myself or people feeling it was okay to speak for me when we’re talking about something that I did. It’s been such a talking point in so many facets of my career because I did it so young, but I haven’t really done it that often. I just happen to have done it twice in ways that kind of made a splash.
“So I just decided maybe it was worth talking about. I was definitely pretty nervous about it, because I think sometimes you worry that audiences don’t want you, as a young woman working in the industry, to have a voice or to have a perspective or to know cinema history and be able to weigh in on this. It was definitely a vulnerable thing to do, but I felt like it was worth talking about, and I’m so humbled that it’s resonated in that way… I’m really grateful to The Daily Beast for wanting to talk about genre and these things such as nudity and queer identity in film, because I think the more that mainstream press takes these types of stories seriously, the more you’ll be able to see them grow and the more we’ll be able to address these topics.
“What I talk about in the article is that horror has always done that, genre has always done that, and often they can do it because of the diehard following they have before mainstream films are ready to. I think it’s important as storytellers to be the ones who champion these stories, so I just hope that continues to grow and resonate.”
Be sure to read Catherine’s op-ed here.
We also of course discussed celebrating Halloween itself, as well as her next genre project Do Not Watch, and much more about Terrifier.
You can watch our full exclusive video interview with Catherine Corcoran below, premiering at 10:31 a.m. EST on #TerrifierTuesday, Jan. 17.
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