Last week at the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ, the 2019 New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival provided thousands of horror fans and gorehounds with an escape. Dozens of celebrity guests filled the halls signing autographs, doing Q&A panels, and posing for photos with adoring fans. One guest was David Howard Thornton who plays the crazy killer clown Art in Damien Leone’s Terrifier, streaming on Netflix now. In a year where Bill Skarsgard revamped the classic horror clown Pennywise for It: Chapter 1, Thornton’s Art may have been horror cinema’s most “terrifying” new painted face killer. On Friday, he appeared in costume for photo ops and even took a stroll around the convention floor to frighten and amuse eager guests. I got a chance to speak with him later that evening about the film, clowns, and an upcoming Terrifier sequel.
Geeks of Doom: I saw you walking around in costume before scaring everybody.
David Howard Thornton: Just a little bit.
Geeks of Doom: Did you see the little kid dressed as Art the Clown?
David Howard Thornton: Yes, the little girl, we took a photo together before. I had seen pictures of her from other conventions, so it was great to finally meet her.
Geeks of Doom: Is that the dream when you become a horror icon, that you meet little kids cosplaying as you?
David Howard Thornton: Yeah, that’s such a surreal thing, because I did that a lot as a kid too. If they love the character that much that they want to dress up, that means a lot, I love it.
Geeks of Doom: I have an 8-year-old who I’m trying to wean into horror; I think Terrifier might be too much right now.
David Howard Thornton: A little bit.
Geeks of Doom: But I was 8 when I saw It for the first time and it destroyed me. I’ve been afraid of them ever since. Obviously you enjoy clowns, so from someone who hates them to someone who loves them, what is it about clowns?
David Howard Thornton: I’ve just always loved clowns since I was a kid. I grew up on the Bozo show. Living in Alabama, somehow we got WGN and we used to get the old Chicago show so I watched Bozo every single morning. I loved Bozo and I loved clowns, I just think they’re funny. I was never scared of clowns.
Geeks of Doom: I guess had I been introduced to clowns through Bozo and not Pennywise things would be different. Now we recently saw that Terrifier 2 is officially happening.
David Howard Thornton: Oh yeah.
Geeks of Doom: How are you going to top “the kill”? (Anyone who’s seen Terrifier knows exactly what I am talking about!)
David Howard Thornton: That is the challenge, because we were thinking, ‘Oh crap, did we set the bar too high for ourselves?’ But we have some pretty interesting kills in mind for this next one. I’d love to say more, but I don’t want to spoil it. We definitely have some surprises in store for everybody.
Geeks of Doom: I saw you post on social media about The Joker. What do you think of that new film – from one clown about another?
David Howard Thornton: Well, let’s see. I think [Joaquin Phoenix] is going to do a great job playing him. I’m just such a Joker purist, and we’re just not supposed to know who he is. We’re not supposed to know what his origin is. When Batman is the world’s greatest detective and he doesn’t know who he is, and he gets him in the Mobius Chair and his one question is ‘What is the Joker’s name?’ then WE are not supposed to know who he is. Of all the Joker stories they could tell, I think they are telling the wrong one. I wish they were doing the story from the comic I think that came out around 2008 which is from the point of view of his henchmen who picks him up from Arkham. You see how messed up he is and the terrible things he is doing to people. That would make such a good Joker story. Yeah, but what do I know!
Geeks of Doom: Well, bringing it all together, along with The Joker and Pennywise you are now an established clown icon. What’s that mean to you?
David Howard Thornton: It’s pretty cool, I did not expect anything like that to happen in my life. It’s very humbling. It’s not all sinking in yet.
Geeks of Doom: Well, I’m sure there’s more to come.
David Howard Thornton: Oh yeah, I mean Art is such a fun character, I want to keep doing these as long as I can.
Geeks of Doom: Part of what makes Art so fun are the facial expressions and the emoting you do without speaking at all. How difficult is that?
David Howard Thornton: It definitely can be. It’s funny because I do a bunch of voiceover work too, so I’m used to relying on my voice; that’s my toolset there and it’s all taken away. With Art I have to rely on my physicality alone to sell this character. But it’s a fun challenge.
David Howard Thornton spent the rest of the weekend meeting and greeting fans and was super cool. You would not expect him to be wielding hacksaws and big knives while riding a tricycle and smiling maniacally. Thornton along with writer/director Damien Leone screened Terrifer Saturday night and participated in a Q&A with fans after. The Huntsville, Alabama native can be seen in his breakout role as Art the Clown in Terrifier, streaming on Netflix now and stayed tuned for updates on Terrifer 2.
The New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival returns to the Showboat in AC later this year, October 11th – 13th. Go to their official site for all guest announcements!
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