WTF Did He Say: EXCLUSIVE Interview with Terrifier Damien Leone

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Horror has a new face, and its makeup artist is Damien Leone. This 34-year-old Staten Island native has recently released Terrifier, the 80s slasher throwback that is several deep cuts above the competition. 123WTF was lucky enough to corner the man himself and get him to open up about Art the Clown, filming horror, and his intense fans…and we didn’t even have to use a machete to do it.

[Note: All stills / photos link to the Terrifier website, Art the Clown Facebook page or Damien’s Instagram page.]

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Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) and Tara (Jenna Kanell) in Terrifier

There I was, walking down the midway of a local town fair that was too poor to be anything other than sinister. Flickering neon glazed dangerous rides like candy on apples that were as rotten to the core as the carnies filling the shadows, whispering for me to join them.  Shrieks from freaks that tortured each other inside dirty tents echoed in my ears like childhood fears killing off my memories to become real. Incurable clowns that could make you scream and howl with anything but laughter leaked out of the doorways and walked behind me, their steps pounding the stones sounding like a rusty knife being sharpened on babies’ bones. I knew that I was lost in the bad part of the devil’s carnival and that the only way out was in a hearse, so the sight of the bright light over the face painter’s stall appeared to me like the Christmas star did to men far wiser than I. 

Seated behind the sign that read ‘Caution: Fresh Pain’ at a table covered with pallets of paint that shone blood red and bruised blue beside brushes with death was a handsome man ministering these wounds onto the faces of smiling children lining up to be his next victims volunteers. He spotted me and understood the emergency, so gestured that I was free to hide at his table while he covered me with his best disguise.

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Damien Leone

Saint Pauly: Oh my God! You’re the real Damien Leone, master make-up artist and horror director extraordinaire! [He nodded in acknowledgement as he worked on my face.] You’re better at make-up than any Kardashian and just as scary. How in the literal hell did you become so good at it?

Damien Leone: My mother.

Saint Pauly: Did she make you dress her up before she went on dates with fake uncles? Been there, made that up!

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Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) and a Crazy Woman (Pooya Mohseni)

Damien: [He looks at me a bit askew, though continues disguising me as the evil clowns approach] She introduced me to horror films at a very young age.

Saint Pauly: How young?

Damien: She named me after The Omen.

Saint Pauly: It’s hard to get younger than that! But after?

Damien: When I was twelve, I became fascinated by make-up artist Tom Savini and his VHS tape “Scream Greats”

[N.B. Savini is among the most famous make-up / special effect artists in the business, having worked on Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow and Friday the 13th. I’ve included the Tom Savini “Scream Greats” episode at the bottom of this post.

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DamienMy love for special effects and making home movies eventually led me into film making as a profession.

Saint Pauly: Hmm, my VHS films of G.I. Joe and Ken led me to into trouble for free. Different strokes, I guess.

[Damien shushed me. At first, I thought he was just doing what everyone does but then I realised it was because the clowns were right behind me, smelling my fear like it was microwave popcorn on movie night. I continued our conversation to throw the clowns off the scent.]

Saint Pauly: Speaking of trouble, do you ever root around in the morgue for inspiration?

Damien: [Retching a little at the back of his mouth] I’m squeamish when it comes to actual violence.

Saint Pauly: I never would’ve guessed. Do you scare easily?

Damien: Some movies like The Exorcist still freak me out. Mainly I’m scared of bills…or actual psychopaths living amongst us.

Saint Pauly: Let’s not talk politics, though, OK? I’d rather hear about how your idea for ‘The 9th Circle’ came about.

Damien: ‘The 9th Circle’ was my first official short film, so I just wanted to incorporate as many cool creatures and effects as I could to make it stand out as a calling card.

Saint Pauly: And what a calling card it was…it introduced the world to Art the Clown! He was so intense, you gave him his own ‘Terrifier’ short. [Click on the link to watch the entire short film]

Damien: Once I knew Art the Clown was effective in ‘The 9th Circle’, I knew the next logical step was to make a short film where he was the star.

[By this point in the interview, the clowns had moved on and I was feeling safe, so I moved aside and let Damien continue to work on the children. They giggled with delight as he transformed their little faces into a kaleidoscope of horrors.]

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Saint Pauly: Still, Hollywood is full of clowns who would kill to star in a film. What made you decide to give Art a stab at it?

DamienHe’s a cool character with a lot of potential and people really seem to respond quite favourably.

Saint Pauly: Yeah, so much so you filmed an Art the Clown feature, also called Terrifier. Hold on a moment, let me show you what I mean.

Saint Pauly: I mean, bloody hell, that must’ve been murder to film…

DamienThe tone on set was very up-beat as opposed to the morbid and disturbing subject matter of the film. We filmed primarily in Trenton, NJ for a few months. 

Saint Pauly: New Jersey? Now I know you’re kidding about the set being up-beat.  Although it’s true that Dawn’s death scene at least was ‘up’ and then ‘beat’.

DamienThat was the biggest undertaking. We knew it would be the most talked about set piece of the film so we put a lot of time and energy into building the effects. On set, we had to be extremely safe and prepared. Catherine [Catherine Corcoran, who plays Dawn] could only hang upside down for a little under a minute so we had to make sure she was safe at all times. It was very intense and probably the only time on set when the cast and crew was all business and there was no joking around.

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Saint Pauly: Sounds as serious as that mole. Are you organised on the set?

Damien I like to have everything storyboarded before I get to set, so everyone knows exactly what’s going on. The worst thing that can happen to a director is having the entire cast and crew standing around and waiting for you to make a decision or figure out how a scene should be shot.

Saint Pauly: I quite understand there was no joking but, in honour of this website, wasn’t there something WTF?

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Damien: We filmed in a really bad neighbourhood in the middle of the night so we encountered a few junkies while filming exteriors and we had the cops show up to our location one night with their guns drawn.

Saint Pauly: That sounds like my average party! Well, all except the ‘bad neighbourhood’ — my neighbourhood is far worse than ‘bad’. But look on the bright side, Art the Clown is really killing it!

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DamienThank you! I’m thrilled with the amount of positive reviews and love from the fans. It’s great seeing all of the custom artwork and people getting tattoos…

Saint Pauly: Tattoos! Wow, I hope Art doesn’t go and do something horrible that might ruin his reputation. Like save a puppy or cure some disease. But speaking of fan love, one of my coolest Instagram followers, @killerjoecooperwrote this review of Terrifier:

OMG THIS WAS SO GREAT!! … It pays homage to our favourite slashers of the 80s while still being original, and also doing things much better, with the star of the show being a creepy, SEXY and amazing icon that is Art the Clown, brilliantly played by David Howard Thornton. I am IN LOVE. With a great synth score and beautiful cinematography you literally can’t complain at all about the aesthetic. … It hits all the high points for me in every aspect of a horror film and gives me everything I want and more!! But don’t be fooled-although Art is a clown, this movie is not campy at all and doesn’t try to be funny, the tone is very dark and it’s wonderfully macabre-this is what I like the most about this film. The gore in this is so well done…! I would be more than happy about a Terrifier sequel, & maybe Art will get 12 of them-1 more than Jason 😏

DamienI’m honoured when I read stuff like that and hear words like ‘icon’ thrown around. To create a slasher icon would be a dream come true. I do take offence to bad-mouthing Jason, however! [He laughs out loud here] I’m sure she was joking but Art wouldn’t exist without the legends like Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers. Art has a long way to go and a lot to prove before he can officially be included with those guys.

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Saint Pauly: You’d have to do a sequel, for example.

[N.B. At this point, I couldn’t help but notice that something was happening to the children. He kept applying monster make-up to the kids, but they didn’t look so good, and I mean more than just the monster part — and the kid part. What was happening? What was he doing to them?]

Damien: My biggest goal at this point is not letting fans of Terrifier down, if and when a sequel happens.  I’m currently writing the script but I want to shoot it as soon as possible. I have the whole story figured out in my head and I’m very excited about it. It’s going to deliver everything people liked about Terrifier but there will be a lot more substance and many surprises.

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Saint Pauly: Is that what you want to tell your millions of fans?

Damien: Millions?? Wow, I guess Terrifier is a bigger success than I realised! [He lols again, but I’ve still got one eye on the little monsters around me. Something is definitely wrong with them…and getting worse.] I would like to say thank you for all of the support and the extremely kind words. We love seeing all of the artwork and reading the amazing comments on social media. We made this movie especially for the genre fans so it’s great to see how much enjoyment they’re getting out of the film. Stay tuned for the sequel! It’s gonna be kickass!

[Without warning, I understood what had happened to the kids. They’d been turned! Leone’s make-up was so damn good, it transformed the imps into the monsters he’d made of them! Suddenly, the ankle biters were biting my ankles, the rug rats were hungry for blood and the little devils were coming for my soul. I jumped from my chair as fast as I could, leaving Damien Leone alone with his creations and abruptly ending the interview.]

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[Disclaimer: Of course you realise none of this action ever took place. There was no psycho carnival and Damien Leone has never touched my face. This entire interview was conducted via email, where Damien (can I call him ‘Damien’?) sent me answers to my questions and I wrote them up in story format, though I changed not one word of his answers — unlike his special effects, I could not make them up.  I would obviously like to thank Damien for the time and effort invested in this interview. There are many demands on his time from promotion of Terrifier to writing the much-awaited sequel and I’m much appreciative of the time he accorded me.]

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