When Terrifier 2 was released in theaters, much of the conversation surrounding it was devoted to its gruesome practical effects, insane levels of violence and gore, and audience reactions that included vomiting and fainting on a level not reported since the release of The Exorcist nearly fifty years before. It was being sold as a movie that would test the mettle of even the most hardened horror fan, almost like a dare, and I was excited to take that challenge. When I settled into my seat a couple weeks later, I expected to be grossed out old school, to paraphrase Stephen King’s Twitter review of the film. What I did not expect was for memories of junior high confirmation and college religion classes to be awakened. I am no theologian, but I have read and studied the Bible throughout much of my life and familiarized myself with many of the prevalent interpretations of the text, and Terrifier 2 is surprisingly filled with Biblical imagery and symbolism.
This is not to say the film has a religious agenda, it does not, but writer/director Damien Leone clearly has a firm grasp on the archetypes and symbols that speak to the collective unconscious of the Western cultural psyche. Because of constant exposure to these archetypes in film, literature, art, comics, video games, television, and various other forms of storytelling, we often intuitively recognize the meaning behind the symbols without explanation or direct instruction in them. The most common of these symbols, situations, and character archetypes originate, at least in Western storytelling, from three main sources: Greek and Roman mythology, the Bible, and Shakespeare, who drew heavily upon the first two. Terrifier 2 is particularly grounded in the mythological and the Biblical, which is most clearly illustrated in four characters—Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton), the Little Pale Girl (Amelie McLain), Jonathan (Elliott Fullam), and of course the film’s heroine, Sienna (Lauren LaVera).
Though Art the Clown is introduced effectively in All Hallows Eve (2013) and Terrifier (2016) as a twisted and relentless killer, Terrifier 2 raises him to mythic proportions. Here he becomes the Beast, the incarnation of pure evil. This is established at the end of Terrifier when Art resurrects in the morgue after a fatal, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. This alludes to a passage from the book of Revelation about the Beast, commonly referred to as the Antichrist. The Beast is described as having seven heads with Revelation 13:3 saying, “one of the heads of the Beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.” In fact, Art sustains two more seemingly fatal head wounds at the hands of Sienna in the last act of the film, one with his own spiked club to the back of his skull, and another with a piece of rebar impaled through his forehead before Sienna finally beheads him altogether at the climax.
The post-resurrection Art the Clown is clearly supernatural, imbued with superhuman strength and a gleeful delight for misery and destruction. In the continuation of the morgue scene from the end of the first film, Art beats the coroner to death with a bone hammer and rips his skull open with his bare hands. If this and the slaying of the Halloween boutique worker leave any doubt of his superhuman nature, it is obliterated by the brutal evisceration of Sienna’s friend Allie (Casey Hartnett) in her bedroom. The extent of Art’s beastly nature is further confirmed with each kill and the pleasure he takes in physical and psychological torture. He does not merely kill, he maims, flagellates, scars, burns with acid, and preys on fears, all with a sense of insane joy as he does it.
Terrifier 2 also introduces a character that seems to be an even greater evil than Art, the Little Pale Girl, a mysterious entity that few can see, who seems to guide and empower Art in his exploits. According to Leone, the character was inspired by the little girl representing the devil in Spirits of the Dead (1968), an anthology of short films based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe. The Pale Girl seems to be the embodiment of the dark force that resurrected Art, something of a power behind the throne. From her, Art derives his authority, strength, and insatiable appetite for death and destruction. Revelation 13:2 says, “the dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.” In this context, the dragon refers to Satan, a being of even greater power and evil than the Beast.
Like the Biblical Satan and Antichrist, The Pale Girl and Art are deceivers. She frames Jonathan in a school prank and is later able to imitate his voice in a phone call to Sienna. Both take the playful image of the clown, an image of childhood innocence and humor, in order to entrap and deceive. Like the Antichrist of prophecy, Art has developed something of a following as indicated by Allie’s line, “there are going to be hundreds of douchebags dressed up as that psycho tonight.” Again, these archetypes underscore the depth of depravity of the characters of the film and these two villains embody the epitome of evil. Their only motive is chaos and they lure the Chosen One, Sienna, to themselves in order to destroy her because they know that she is all that stands between them and a reign of total chaos.
When we first meet Sienna, she is fashioning a costume of angelic armor and wearing a shirt printed with butterflies, indicative of the transformation she will experience throughout the course of the film. The armor takes on multiple meanings, but I will highlight two in particular. In one sense, the armor alludes to the armor of God described in Ephesians chapter six, which the Apostle Paul encourages those who believe to put on in order to “take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” In this passage there is a specific mention of the “sword of the Spirit.” Sienna’s sword was a gift from her father and fashioned after a Roman sword, which Paul would have likely had in mind when writing the passage. In the film, the sword takes on characteristics of two pieces of the armor described, the sword and the “shield of faith” which has the ability to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” In the film, Sienna uses the sword in the Clown Café sequence to deflect literal flames from Art the Clown’s blowtorch.
This costume also evokes the Archangel Michael, the defender and protector of Israel mentioned in the books of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation. Revelation 12 recounts the story of Michael and the faithful angels of God who fought against the rebellious angel Lucifer and his army who were cast out of heaven to become Satan and the demons. In the film, Sienna is shown a picture of herself, drawn by her father before he died, of her in the armor holding the head of a devil-like being complete with horns and pointed ears. As Michael and Lucifer battle over the souls of humanity, Sienna and Art are direct adversaries fighting to claim one representative soul.
Caught in the balance between these forces of good and evil is the lost and confused soul that is Sienna’s brother Jonathan. He is simultaneously drawn to and terrified by Art the Clown and the Little Pale Girl. He is fascinated by the true crime events from the previous Halloween (depicted in the first film) and plans to dress as the “Miles County Clown” for this year’s festivities despite the protests of Sienna and their mother Barbara (Sarah Voigt). Like the animatronic baby caught in the tug of war between two clowns seen in the Halloween shop, he is feeling torn. He could be pulled either way—toward Sienna and the force of good or Art and the force of evil. In other words, Jonathan is us, the on-screen surrogate for the audience that is enamored by our new horror icon but rooting for the film’s compelling heroine. Jonathan is also responsible for bringing their father’s sketchbook to Sienna, which serves as a book of prophecy directing Sienna toward her destiny.
By the end of the film, Sienna becomes even greater than an angelic protector, she becomes a true chosen, or even anointed one, a Christ figure. The seeds for this are sown in the Clown Café sequence, which Damien Leone describes as much more than merely a dream; it is, in his words, a “divine test.” While those around her in the playground are enamored with Art, she is frightened and realizes he is a force of evil that must be stopped. She reaches into the cereal box filled with broken glass, razor blades, and insects, experiencing great pain along the way, to retrieve the sword, the weapon that can destroy the Beast. This is all foreshadowing of the final showdown that she will endure at the Old Carnival inside The Terrifier, the bizarre funhouse where Art awaits her.
Before making her way to this showdown, she even experiences a kind of “desert temptation.” According to the gospels, Jesus went into the desert to be tempted by the devil, and is essentially given the opportunity to abandon his destiny. Sienna is offered an opportunity to be a normal teenager while at the club, experiencing euphoria as her friend Brooke (Kailey Hyman) slipped the drug molly (aka ecstasy) into her drink. For a time, there is a clear temptation to ignore her responsibilities, forget about her family, and bask in the elation of the moment. Ultimately she comes back to reality when she receives a phone call from who she believes is Jonathan telling her to come get him at the Old Carnival. After this, she embraces her destiny and resolves to face the fears revealed to her in the Clown Café.
Throughout the film, Sienna hits pretty much every stop on the mythical road that scholar Joseph Campbell dubbed “The Hero’s Journey,” but in the climactic sequences of the film at the Old Carnival, she also experiences something very much akin to the Stations of the Cross, the experiences of Jesus leading up to and including his crucifixion and death. She is beaten multiple times, spit on, and eventually flogged by Art who uses a flagellum not unlike the Roman cat o’ nine tails. In the film, it is a multi-strand whip made from the hair of Art’s previous victims and tipped with surgical clamps and scissors. He uses it to whip both Jonathan and Sienna, who in her role as protector, uses her body as a shield, taking the brunt of the beating rather than allow her brother to suffer. She continues to battle with Art but is ultimately no match for him. He stabs her in the stomach with her own sword and throws her into a red glowing pit, which turns into something of a portal to hell.
Once inside this personal hell, Sienna finds herself trapped inside a water tank, a tentacle wrapped around her leg, where she struggles for breath until she dies, her arms upraised. This is in essence her crucifixion, a method of torture that brought about death through hours of slow asphyxiation. She bleeds from a wound in her stomach, not so far removed from the spear wound in the side of Jesus on the cross that brings forth a flow of blood and water. The tank is also something of a grave, the tentacle shackling her to her apparent death and imprisonment in hell. These images are striking but what happens next cements the Christological imagery. The wound in her stomach begins to glow and heal with the same power that is apparently imbued in the sword, she awakens, tears the tentacle from her leg, and escapes, rising out of the hell portal more powerful than before. In the meantime, Art has begun to literally devour Jonathan. Because Sienna has risen as more than human, taking the full mantle of the Chosen One, she is able to overpower and behead Art, fulfilling the prophecy found in her father’s sketchbook of her holding the head of the Beast.
Of course, the Little Pale Girl lives on, which also has significance. In the Biblical narrative, the death and resurrection of Christ defeats the power of the devil, but the Beast and the dragon are not fully and finally destroyed until the end of time. In the period between, the devil continues to tempt, plot the downfall of humanity, and destroy as much as possible. In the vernacular of the horror film, the killer lives on for the sequel. The tag at the end, itself a dark subversion of the virgin birth, announces that this story is only the beginning. This epilogue implies that whatever spirit possessed the Little Pale Girl may be responsible for Art’s rebirth, or at least the rebirth of his head. This spirit, be it the devil, a demon, or some other evil force, may now be in possession of Victoria (Samantha Scaffidi), the lone, and mutilated, survivor of Art’s previous rampage.
For all of this symbolism, Terrifier 2 never descends into Biblical allegory, but the archetypes and imagery presented imbues the film with meaning that strike the chords of our collective unconscious. It is the same reason we respond to the stories of Frodo, Luke Skywalker, John Rambo, Mad Max, and dozens of others. In horror, the battle between Nancy Thompson and Freddy Krueger comes to mind, and latches upon similar imagery of the hero’s journey and the supernatural Beast. As the story continues, the symbols of Terrifier 2 may well take on different meanings as more questions are answered and almost certainly raised by the third film. However the Terrifier saga unfolds, judging from the depth of characters and situations established through the mythic storytelling of Terrifier 2, I will certainly be along for the ride.