As someone who holds horror and clowns, but especially clown horror, near and dear to his heart, I am afraid to admit this to you. Art the Clown and the Terrifer series didn't initially click with me when it took over the horror zeitgeist. But when I sat down to watch Terrifier 2, everything clicked into place with the honk of a red nose. Since joining the Art Army, I have been absolutely fascinated by Damien Leone's series and David Howard Thornton's portrayal of the character in both of the main series releases. There is a reason that Art the Clown has become the biggest slasher since Freddy and Jason. Art is a culmination of everything that makes the clown work as an archetype through its history, from comedy stylings to distinct designs. Art the Clown is the apex Clown.
Commedia dell’Art (the Clown)
Modern depictions of the clown and his mannerisms find their root in Commedia dell'Arte, which was a form of Italian theater that relied heavily on archetypes of stock characters, which were exaggerations of the different people you would find in society. The specific character of the Arlecchino (Harlequin) was the fool who served as the comic relief. They would often use larger-than-life movements and slapstick comedy during the performances. Despite their absurd actions, the characters would often flip between brilliance and stupidity.
Those character features are something you see in all appearances of Art the Clown thus far in his style as a killer. At one moment, he could be staring down his next victim from across the room, making silly faces, but then be two steps ahead of his prey during a chase in the next scene. Despite his silly actions, there always seems to be some twisted plan behind his eyes.
Many of Art's kills and violent acts invoke a level of slapstick elements as they veer into the absurd much more than a typical slasher. In the second film, Art goes above and beyond with his violence. After he slices one of his victims into ribbons, he runs out of the room to grab salt and bleach to pour onto her.
While this act of violence is absolutely heinous (so heinous it won the FANGORIA Chainsaw Award for Best Kill), it becomes almost cartoonishly over-the-top as he gleefully pours away. It subverts what we have become accustomed to in modern horror by harking back to those comedic slapstick elements honed by the Arlecchino characters. With slapstick characters like The Arlecchino, audiences accept that no matter the violence or pain inflicted upon them, they can spring back without much consequence. If you stuck around until the end of Terrifer 2, you would understand how apt the comparison is.
One distinct feature of Commedia dell'Arte is its use of masks instead of makeup, which came later for clowns. But the Arlecchino's masks often had exaggerated cheek features to draw more focus to that portion of the face. For Art the Clown's face, prosthetics similarly pronounce his cheekbones. It's a unique inclusion to the character that only helps exaggerate his facial expressions, which can be drawn back to these masks.
Black and White
Clown makeup is visually striking in its design on purpose in order to exaggerate the facial movements of the person underneath. Two major clown types are known as the Joey and the Auguste. The Joey is the one most often seen in pop culture and the style that Art's design most closely resembles. The Joey is named after Joseph Grimaldi, who pushed the role of the clown as the art form we most often encounter today.
One of the biggest factors to the Joey clown style is the white paint base that covers the actor's face. The absence of color allows any accents or colors added on top of it to stand out more pronounced than it could on unpainted flesh. Grimaldi's design has black eyebrows and large red triangles on his cheeks, but the Joey design has grown and evolved since its inception. The makeup intentionally drew on Grimaldi's exaggerated facial expression under the stage lights. Since those initial makeup designs, many clowns have started adding more colors and flourish to stand out. Clown costumes have always relied on colorful fabrics and patchwork to make everything pop, but Art the Clown's power comes from the absolute lack of color.
While other iconic horror clowns like Pennywise and the Killer Klowns have splashes of color in their makeup and clothing, Art the Clown is a staunch outlier to the trend with only shades of black and white. Leone's makeup design for Art the Clown relies heavily on what makes a clown successful while still sticking to the black-and-white theme.
Art's makeup relies on a minimalist design aesthetic to exaggerate David Howard Thornton's distinct facial features. Even when Art the Clown made a cameo in the show Bupkis, he still looked incredible in a black-and-white scene because of his versatile design. Leone's design is visually simple, but with David Howard Thornton bringing it to life, it's not only one of the best killer clown designs but one of the best slasher designs out there.
With only four areas of black on Art's otherwise white face, the viewer's eye is drawn to the areas that highlight Thornton's emotions. Whether it be his eyebrows moving when he is laughing or bringing the focus to his rotting teeth with the large black circle around his mouth, the design helps elevate a character who doesn't speak.
The greatest choice in this minimalist approach is the small black dot at the center of Art's nose. While most clowns have a big red nose or a distinct design over their nostrils, Art's prosthetic nose only has one small black dot at the center in a sea of white. It acts as a focal point for the design, so your eyes have somewhere to focus while drinking it all in.
With David Howard Thornton standing at 6'2" in the highly contrasting black and white design, Art the Clown takes total control of the screen. His costume is a simple design of contrasting black and whites that alternate back and forth between his sleeves and arms. The costume itself is a bit baggy over Thorton's thin frame. It is always bright but never flashy. One of the goofiest elements of his costume is a tiny top hat he wears to the side of his head. All of it flows together perfectly. Throughout the films, Art paints on that canvas with the excessive amount of blood he spills.
And Red All Over
With Art the Clown being an imposing but colorless threat, the abundance of blood in the films flows perfectly with his black-and-white aesthetic. As Art slashes his way through victim after victim, blood covers his body and his costume. It is one of the most visually pleasing things about his design because it allows the ultra-violence the films are known for to be literally worn on its sleeves. Art's costume allows the white areas to become blood-soaked to create almost a different look in each of his outings. While many other slashers don't seem to keep the juices of their victims on their costumes like a bad wine stain, Art wears it like a badge of honor (until laundry day). Blood in the Terrifer films is less of a prop and more of a design aesthetic.
While I love the simplistic design of Art, it also allows for variations to keep that same amount of visual prowess that the original brings to the table. When I first saw the teaser trailer for Terrifier 3, I almost jumped out of my seat at the sight of Art wearing a Santa suit. When you see that stark makeup design smiling under the Santa hat, you can't help but realize how well it works. While we only see it for the short trailer, it shows how versatile the simplistic design is. His unique clown makeup allows him to be slotted into any cleanly designed costume and have it pop because of his lack of color.
The Future of Art The Clown
No, I am not about to write out my pitch for Art the Clown X. Is Art the Clown human? Who's to say. But one thing is for sure —Art is firmly grounded in the roots of what's made Clowns stick around since their initial inception around 2400 BC, and he is primed to become the slasher. With the combination of the over-the-top slapstick humor harking back to Commedia dell'Arte origins of the clown to the design choices brought upon by Joseph Grimaldi and his love for blood… Art is unstoppable. I am not sure about you, dear reader, but when Terrifier 3 hits theaters on October 25 later this year, I am ready to welcome Art home for the holidays along with whatever black-and-white nightmares he has in store.
Ready for more Art The Clown? Terrifier 3 is currently filming in New York, here's everything we know so far about the upcoming Terrifier 3 including release date, cast, and plot details.