“Terrifier” star Catherine Corcoran tackles internet trolls, genre conventions, and the infamous nude scene that made horror history.
I’ve been a huge fan of Damien Leone and his delightfully sadistic yet oddly endearing creation Art the Clown for years now — even before the unexpected breakout success of Terrifier and the unprecedented box office juggernaut that was Terrifier 2.
Seeing a microbudget, DIY franchise — made with little more than the blood, sweat, tears, and unbridled passion of Leone and his talented cast and crew — take hold of the hearts and minds of horror fans everywhere has been enormously satisfying.
Art made his first brief but memorable appearance in the 2008 short film The 9th Circle, which you watch right here on YouTube. He was brought back for the 2011 short film Terrifier, making his feature film debut in the killer horror anthology All Hallows’ Eve. The film incorporated the prior two shorts as segments, with the addition of a wraparound story featuring a babysitter watching VHS tapes on Halloween night.
Even early on, Leone knew he had something special with Art, and he had the foresight to feature the demented clown as the centerpiece of 2015’s Terrifier.
This tiny little indie endeavor was filmed on a budget of $35k. It was partially funded through an Indiegogo campaign, though it fell short of its intended goal.
Mike Gianelli, who portrayed all prior incarnations of Art, retired from acting before production began. In another stroke of genius, Leone recast Art with David Howard Thornton — a gifted physical comedic actor who elevated Art into a terrifying but wickedly funny psychopath worthy of the hallowed halls of iconic horror villains.
Himself a talented special effects artist, Leone wanted Terrifier to be a strong showcase for practical effects.
Though short on funds, he made the most of every penny and delivered an impressive array of memorable kills and gruesome set pieces.
Despite mixed reviews, the film quickly became a cult favorite — thanks in no small part to one of the most shocking, jaw-dropping, unforgettable kill scenes in horror history.
I’m speaking, of course, about the infamous hacksaw kill scene starring the lovely Catherine Corcoran (who happens to be one of our favorite people here at Morbidly Beautiful).
Catherine stars as Dawn — who, in the tradition of PJ Soles’ doomed Lynda in Halloween, makes the audience fall head over heels for her before she meets her gruesome and untimely death at the hands of Art.
If you’ve seen the film, you no doubt vividly remember Dawn’s death scene, and it’s likely in your top five list of all-time great horror movie kills. For those not in the know, the tragic Dawn is hung upside down by her feet, fully nude, and sawed in half while alive.
It’s hard to imagine a worse way to go. And it’s a scene that’s nearly impossible to top, setting the bar for future Terrifier films incredibly high.
When I saw the world premiere of Terrifier 2 at Fantastic Fest 2022, Leone addressed the challenge of living up to that scene in his highly anticipated sequel.
Fortunately, the sequel did not disappoint.
Leone successfully upped the ante in the gore department while introducing meaningful character drama and a worthy adversary for Art.
With Terrifier 2, a formidable franchise was born (plans for part 3 are already underway, no doubt with a much bigger budget and more studio support), and Art’s legacy is firmly secured in the pantheon of horror greats.
Thanks to the film’s unexpected but well-deserved success at the box office, everyone seems to be talking about Leone’s ultra-violent world of over-the-top chaos and carnage — a world sick and twisted enough to make unsuspecting audiences lose their lunch.
The film generated so much buzz that Kevin Smith recently hosted a Terrifier and Terrifier 2 double feature at Smodcastle Cinemas, featuring a Q&A with the cast and crew.
Joining the Q&A remotely was Corcoran, who shed some astonishing insight into the creation of her infamous scene in Terrifier. Enduring a grueling shoot over many hours in a freezing, abandoned warehouse — where she hung upside down without a stunt double or a rig — Corcoran truly suffered for her art and helped make horror movie history.
Smith lavished praise on Corcoran, pointing out how rare it is for an actor to truly own a scene in that way, especially one of that magnitude.
However, amidst all the praise and recognition, some misguided fans stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy and debate on Twitter by bemoaning the lack of nudity in Terrifier 2 — a criticism made all the more unsettling given the strong, wickedly smart, and exceptionally capable final girl Leone gives us with Sienna (played brilliantly by Lauren LaVera).
Corcoran, whose nude scene in Terrifier has been the subject of so much chatter since the film’s release in 2015, felt the need to speak up and shed some light on this topic.
And she did so with extraordinary intelligence, grace, and eye-opening sagacity.
In an exclusive op-ed for The Daily Beast, Corcoran speaks openly about the infamous Terrifier “hacksaw scene” for the first time. It’s incredibly well-informed — and it goes beyond just the scene itself. She also discusses nudity in horror films, particularly in queer horror, and her professional experiences (she was 19 during her first sex scene, which premiered at Cannes).
She talked to Morbidly Beautiful about her reasoning for speaking so publicly about the sensitive topic and what she hopes to gain from engaging in this dialogue:
“Having to navigate discourse about nudity isn’t unique to me. It’s something that every woman and non-binary individual in this business has to contend with. I wrote this op-ed, hoping it would not only provide some much-needed education but also serve as a reminder to marginalized creatives everywhere: the only one who truly has autonomy over your story is you.”
Corcoran begins with an important history lesson, where she explains the evolving role of nudity in horror and places it in a meaningful socio-political context.
She poignantly echoes a refrain I often repeat as an avid defender of genre films and their impact on cinema and society. Horror has always been “about” something. It’s always reflected the collective fears, anxieties, and aspirations of the time. It’s always been at the forefront of societal change and cinematic evolution.
Horror films have consistently pushed boundaries and buttons in a way that forces us to critically assess who we are and who we want to be.
Nudity in horror is not just about titillation and exploitation.
In the right hands, nudity can also be about empowerment and sexual liberation; vulnerability and victimization; even offering pointed commentary on how sex positive women are so often demonized and diminished.
We live in a culture where sexuality is weaponized, commoditized, and stigmatized. Women’s bodies are consistently sought after and shamed in equal measure — and labeled obscene in ways men’s bodies are not.
When nudity is used liberally in a horror film, it’s often dismissed as base and valueless. If a filmmaker refrains from nudity, they face backlash from some horror fans who consider it a sacred staple of the genre.
These judgments often happen regardless of whether there’s meaningful intent behind the inclusion or omission of nude scenes.
Corcoran argues there is tremendous merit and purpose to her nude scene in Terrifier.
Her editorial chronicles the history of nudity and gender representation in genre cinema, offering parallels to her performance as Dawn in Terrifier to PJ Sole’s Lynda in Halloween (1978).
“It was, and continues to be, the most dangerous undertaking that I have ever participated in as an actor, and frankly not one that I would ever encourage anyone to attempt. And yet, the scene’s impact is undeniable,” she writes.
“The reason Dawn’s death in TERRIFIER holds such gravitas is because it is heavily rooted in reality.” Corcoran writes.
” […] She is assertive and outspoken, and as a result, the brutality by which she is “punished” for said traits forces her to be horrifically vulnerable, highlighting the very physical essence of what makes her female. The visceral, gut-wrenching, bone-chilling emotions evoked when watching her death scene do not lie in the fact that she is nude; they lie in the mercilessness of stripping someone of their autonomy and personal power and forcing those who care about them to watch.”
As she so adeptly articulates, her scene it Terrifier is handled with thoughtfulness and meaningful intent by Leone. It’s not exploitative or male gazey. It’s a harrowing scene that elicits absolute terror, dread, and anguish from viewers. It shocks us to our core. A vibrant, self-confident woman in her prime is made to suffer unimaginably, significantly raising the stakes for our surviving heroine and making it painfully clear exactly what our vicious villain is truly capable of.
The nudity in this scene feels purposeful and relevant.
Likewise, the lack of nudity in Terrifier 2 does not make the death scenes any less brutal, unsettling, or unforgettable.
The scene most comparable to Dawn’s hacksaw death in Terrifier is Allie’s (Cassie Hartnett) death in Terrifier 2, often referred to as “the bedroom scene”. Hartnett remains fully clothed in the entire nearly five-minute agonizing scene. And it’s as horrific and shocking as any kill scene could possibly be.
Unlike other slasher icons, Art is not sexualizing his victims. Nor is he shaming them for their sexuality. He’s not Jason punishing the promiscuous camp counselors. He delights in killing men and women equally, and he gets his rocks off by torturing his victims and making them suffer in the most ingenious and outlandish ways possible. He’s like a cat toying with its prey.
He doesn’t kill because he has to; he kills because he wants to. It’s fun for him.
It’s rather astonishing that a franchise known for its extreme content and scenes so shocking even seasoned horror fans are shaken would find itself at the center of controversy for not being obscene enough.
And it’s a sad commentary when what some fans really want isn’t just violence in their horror films but violence specifically against women — violence that is intrinsically linked to the sexualization and objectification of women.
It’s the reason the genre and genre fans so often face criticism and disparagement for being shallow and tasteless.
Fortunately, this vulgar attitude does not represent the majority of those passionate about making and watching horror films.
As Corcoran’s insightful article beautifully illustrates, many of the people involved in making horror films have tremendous respect and appreciation for storytelling and for the power of the genre to challenge us, unite us, and reveal what matters most.
A great horror film is more than just the sum of its parts.
It’s more than the gore, jump scares, and naked bodies. A great horror film, like all great cinema, has the power to make us feel, experience, and empathize. It takes us on a journey. Like the characters whose ordeals we follow breathlessly on the big screen, we leave a great horror film feeling like we’ve been really been through something. And that something leaves a lasting impact.
That’s exactly what you get when you watch Terrifier and Terrifier 2.
With nudity, without nudity, the outcome is the same: visceral terror and exhilarating thrills. If you left Terrifier 2 thinking, “It was good but not quite sexy enough,” channel your inner Taylor Swift and repeat to yourself, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.”
Corcoran ends her must-read piece urging readers not to fall victim to “nudity-seeking Twitter trolls” and box-office numbers. Instead, she argues, we should seek out cinema which “challenges our psychological depths and understanding of what it is to be human.”
That’s the Dawn of enlightened thinking we can really get behind.