The Vancouver Horror Show Film Festival (VHS) was back earlier this month to terrify audiences with the best of horror and genre film from Canadian and international filmmakers. The 2022 festival offered the usual robust program of shorts and feature films, as well as an industry panel discussion on the female gaze in cinema.
This year, we managed to catch two of VHS’ bloodiest and most highly anticipated features: Terrifier 2 on November 5 and the Canadian premiere of Mad Heidi on November 8.
Writer/director Damien Leone takes a “more-is-more” approach to filmmaking with the follow up to his 2016 cult hit Terrifier. Like its predecessor, Terrifier 2 is a gross and gory nod to 80s horror classics like Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. But be warned: this is not a movie for the faint of heart.
Terrifier 2’s best features are its murderous antagonist, Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton), and its excessive theatrical violence. Thornton reprises his role as the silent Art, a character so simultaneously charismatic and repulsive that he deserves a place on every single “Scariest Movie Villains” list from here to eternity. This time around, Art returns to Miles County just in time to terrorize a teenage girl named Sienna (Lauren LaVera) and her little brother (Elliott Fullam) on Halloween.
Thanks to Thornton’s performance, Art is a fully realized character even without a single line of dialogue. It isn’t just his brutality that makes him memorable, either. Though Art is the sort of maniacal villain that delights in impaling, scalping, dismembering, and otherwise brutalizing his victims, what stands out is his self-awareness. He delights in the carnage he causes, and his knowing nods, exaggerated shrugs, and winks to the audience draw attention to our own enjoyment at watching this performance of violence play out on screen.
Our appetite for violence as audience members aligns us more with Art than with Sienna. Are we afraid? Grossed out? Of course. But we also whoop and holler with delight when Art commits yet another horrific murder.
Where this becomes a bit uneven is in the third act, when the camera overtly sexualizes the under-age Sienna. Though sexy teens are a horror movie staple, the objectification of Sienna lacks the conscious irony on display elsewhere in the film.
Art and his violence are the highlights, but they aren’t enough to carry the movie through its almost two and a half hour run-time. (For comparison, the 2016 film was less than 90 minutes long.) Terrifier 2 doesn’t quite hold up when it comes to story and characterization. And, by the third act, even the most gratuitous mutilations start to feel a little one-note.
Leone is a talented filmmaker, and it looks like he’s found a winning formula with the gruesome antics of Art the Clown. But the cracks are beginning to show — there are clearly limits to the filmmaker’s ability to maintain pacing, characterization, and tension across an extended run-time.
Marketing itself as “the first Swissploitation film”, Mad Heidi is a delightful effort from first-time co-writer/directors Johannes Hartmann and Sandro Klopfstein. It’s also a fun, crowd-pleasing action horror comedy filled with blood, cheese, and explosions.
Set in a dystopian Switzerland controlled by the head of an all-powerful cheese company (played by Starship Troopers’ Casper Van Dien), Mad Heidi reimagines the children’s book character for a decidedly adult audience. Heidi (Alice Lucy) and her paramour Goat Peter (Kel Matsena) live a peaceful life in the Alps, until their world is ripped apart by cheesy fascists hell-bent on exterminating the lactose intolerant.
The story’s outlandish premise ends up feeling natural, thanks to the story-book quality of the visuals, which occasionally feel like two dimensional illustrations. The film quickly establishes its bizarre world as a space of fantasy and imagination, which is fitting given the character originated in a series of children’s books by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. Just don’t expect any reverence for the source material here. This is the sort of movie that refuses to take anything seriously.
Hartmann and Klopfstein strike the perfect balance between polished action sequences, visual gags, and gruesome violence. It’s hard not to have a good time. Alice Lucy gives a strong performance, and Heidi’s transformation from rural sweetheart to hardened warrior is as satisfying as they come.
Not everyone will appreciate Mad Heidi’s silliness. Is this basically just one, very-long cheese joke? Yes. But graphic violence and satire are a tried-and-true combination. While not exactly sophisticated cinema, Mad Heidi is sure to become a horror-comedy cult classic.