DIE LAUGHING: Star of new killer clown horror Terrifier speaks to Dark Matter webzine
Be it in the lurching, coldly robotic menace of Jason Voorhees or Freddie Krueger’s oozing, lacerated flesh and knife-edged one-liners, there’s long been an irresistible lure and magnetism about 1980s horror. As generously drenched in gore as it is steeped in personality and nightmarish atmospherics, it seems our appetite for such blood-curdling classics has never been more insatiable. But while the big-budget likes of IT may have dominated cinema screens everywhere last September, a humble little slasher by the name of Terrifier has been quietly taking the charts by storm following its awaited DVD release last month. With this lovingly crafted tale of a killer clown being led by the bloody and blackly comedic stylings of David Howard Thornton, the American acting talent tells Dark Matter why it’s not just Pennywise we’ll soon be losing sleep over…
“He’s a real character in that, even though he doesn’t speak, he has a lot of character in him,” comments fast-rising actor David Howard Thornton on what’s doubtless proved to be his most uniquely challenging role to date. Numbering the Alabama native’s first cinematic foray thus far, Thornton’s deliciously twisted turn in Damien Leone’s Terrifier sees him revel in the role of mute yet murderous killer clown Art. With many a critic having already hailed his unique blend of slapstick and psychotic bloodlust as the stuff of horror legend, Thornton’s wacky and wildly animated villain harks back to a bygone era famed for such playful, psychologically absorbing personalities.
“You can tell he’s evil, but he’s having a blast doing all of this and you don’t really see that with a lot of modern horror characters nowadays,” David notes of his greasepaint-smeared protagonist. “There’s like a lack of fun to it, but if you go back to the Freddie Krueger or Chucky movies, those killers were so much fun to watch and you’re actually kind of rooting for them in a way ’cos they’re just so fricking engrossing and that’s what we wanted to add to this character. Even though he’s silent, he still somehow speaks to people on some level. You’re actually laughing at things that you really shouldn’t be and it’s all kind of messed up,” he chuckles warmly.
With David’s unique background in physical comedy and horror leaving him uncannily well-equipped to tackle the equally uncommon challenges of Leone’s richly nostalgic slasher, preparation for the role saw the actor source inspiration from icons as varied as Charlie Chaplin, Jim Carrey and Freddy Krueger. Having pieced together the bare-bones of his own uniquely self-styled monster from the composite parts of these cinematic legends, intensive rehearsal of the part saw Thornton develop and hone a fully-fleshed villain of his own inimitable design.
Fostered by Leone’s practised guidance and insightful direction, Thornton comments, “There were times when we were filming where Damien knew exactly what he wanted for the character, even down to his precise facial expressions. So in those scenes he was like, ‘I want you to do this, this and this’, especially the scene where I kill off one of the main characters. But in others, he was like, ‘Let’s just play around and see what we come up with’, like one scene where I’m torturing one of my victims, we did seven different takes and some really funny ones where I’m going through my bag of tricks and take out different ones, and there was a different shtick that went with each one. There was one that was a massive metal pole with a huge spike on the end of it and I was doing like this Bob Hope thing as if it was a golf club. It was really silly but we also tried a more serious approach where I’m just kind of messing with her head. I wanted to give them as many options as possible so it was fun to have that freedom to experiment. They even kept some of my out-takes in the film, like this one where I flip the bird when I thought the camera had stopped rolling and they all just died laughing saying, ‘Oh we’re definitely going to keep that one’.”
Following his ripping, critically admired turn as Art the clown, it’s unsurprising that Thornton’s schedule is currently awash with a variety of exciting new theatrical projects and parts. With upcoming series Nightwing: Escalation seeing Thornton playing his ultimate “dream role” of the Joker, it seems the young actor has some larger-than-average size shoes to fill with yet another clown caper currently in the works.
“It’s actually a fan made thing,” he reveals. “I don’t get paid but I also get to play the joker so, why not? He’s like my favourite villain of all time, so I kind of have this whole killer clown thing going on right now. At the moment, I’m also doing a lot of auditioning with the hope that this is going to open up a lot of doors for me in the near future. It’d be great to get cast in the IT sequel, I would love to play an adult version of Richie Tozier ’cos in the book his character grows up to be a radio personality. He’s known as the man of a thousand voices which is totally me because I do over like 200 character voices and dialects. I would love to play that character. Plus it would be cool to see the guy who plays Art the clown going up against Pennywise in the movie,” he jests. “ But yeah, maybe the director will see all these interviews I’m doing and be like, ‘Hey, wait a minute… That’s our guy!’ But, you know, I’ve been doing creepy faces and voices my whole life and all this stuff that my mom’s been like, “Well, you’re never going to make a career out of doing that,” and now I’m like, who knew? It’s definitely a wild ride.”