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Who is Art the Clown and why is he a meme?

The sadistic black-and-white clown is getting a new life outside of horror

Who is Art the Clown and why is he a meme? The sadistic black-and-white clown is getting a new life outside of horror

A new character has started to populate memes around the world: it's a clown with black and white clothes and makeup, with a hooked nose and a frankly terrifying smile. What some may not know is that this clown has been one of the new icons of world horror for a few years now: Art the Clown from the Terrifier saga. Now, the saga of Terrifier (consisting of All Hallow’s Eve, Terrifier 1, and 2 with a third film coming soon) is a series of films that originates from the mind of Damian Leone for a relatively small niche of extreme gore enthusiasts. And we're not exaggerating: the famous “bedroom scene” in Terrifier 2 is perhaps one of the most sadistic and brutal moments ever created for the screen in the last twenty years. Nonetheless, the character of Art the Clown, divinely portrayed by David Howard Thornton, who has studied mime in the past, is actually funny. His way of moving, inspired by cartoons and slapstick, makes him a human factory of reaction gifs and memes of all kinds, especially those circulating here in Italy about the "accumulated anger" hidden behind a smile but ready to explode. But how was Art the Clown born?

Originally, Damien Leone, who is a great horror enthusiast, created the character in 2006 for the short film The 9th Circle. His idea was to create an iconic cinematic monster like Freddy Kruger, Pennywise, or Jason Vorhees. Believing that killer clowns in movies were too playful and stereotypical, he decided to create one that was completely silent, bald, unstoppable, and incredibly violent. What makes Art the Clown scary is both his appearance and his humor but also the fact that his presence is inexplicable; he has no backstory or explanation, he is simply a force of evil that kills randomly and capriciously. After the initial success of the short at the Backseat Film Festival, Leone also included the character in the new short film Terrifier, released in 2011. Producer Jesse Baget saw the short on YouTube and contacted Leone to direct a segment of the anthology horror film All Hallow’s Eve, released in 2013, which soon became a project exclusively curated by Leone, where Art the Clown had a significant prominence. Leone's goal was precisely to feature the character in a full-length film and then spread it through the DVD market and horror circuits in hopes of finding new fans, which indeed happened. In 2015, Leone launched a crowdfunding for the first film in the series, also titled Terrifier, presented at the Telluride festival in 2016 and then released in theaters two years later, in 2018.

At that point, Art the Clown became an absolute cult: the films had a minimal script, the only constant being the silent, threatening, and absurdly sadistic clown who tore apart the entire cast. It should be noted: for the almost decade-long period before the film's release, Leone worked part-time and carried forward the franchise as his personal project, which gave his films a vibe that only lovers of '70s and '80s B-movies can recognize. Finally, thanks to the success of the film, Leone produced the second one: this time there was a real protagonist, significantly improved special effects, and a level of violence shocking enough to forever place the film in the golden canon of gore cinema alongside Antropophagus, the August Underground series, and The Human Centipede. Those of Terrifier and others mentioned are films not born for wide distribution; on the contrary, they are openly anti-commercial and intended for very limited circles of horror fans. Unlike mainstream cinema fans, horror lovers are ultra-specific in their tastes, constantly updating themselves unbeknownst to the world (for example, one of the current films is the French Vermines which practically no one outside the fandom knows) and have immediately adored the Terrifier films. Remember: these are not films to watch with the family—unless it's the Manson family.

@yeetorbeyeeted00 original sound - Donkey Kong

But when did Art the Clown become a meme? According to the bible KnowYourMeme, it was in recent weeks, on TikTok, where the scene from the first film in which the clown suddenly changes expression, smiling (or grinning) abruptly in one of the very first scenes of the initial film, could be used for humorous purposes—especially since the clown's expression contrasted greatly with his honestly scary appearance. On May 21, the green screen template appeared on CapCut with the title “Creepy Clown template”, being used more than 152,800 times in two weeks before being removed from the platform. On the same day, on TikTok, user @j3thrx posted the first meme about Art The Clown obtaining 100,000 views in a couple of weeks. Two days later, a similar meme by @romeroshero obtained 1.6 million views on TikTok, and the next day another meme received 5.5 million views in ten days. Another video from May 27 received 6.5 million in a single week and today, it is estimated that there are over 20,000 memes featuring Art the Clown. We hope this success helps Damian Leone, a modern hero of horror cinema, to continue with his saga. The new film in the trilogy, Terrifier 3, set at Christmas, and which has already shocked half the Internet with a simple teaser of a few minutes, will be released on October 11.