SPOILER ALERT: Specific details from Totally Killer are included in this article so read at your own risk!
Known for her work with the groundbreaking sitcom Fresh Off the Boat and Dwayne Johnson’s NBC comedy Young Rock as well as the celebrated rom-com Always Be My Maybe starring Randall Park and Ali Wong, filmmaker Nahnatchka Khan dives into the world of slasher pics with the feature Totally Killer, which premiered at Fantastic Fest last week before bowing on Prime Video today.
Totally Killer, written by David Matalon & Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D’Angelo, takes place 35 years after a community experienced the brutal murder of three teens. The murderer became known as the “Sweet Sixteen Killer” and has now returned to present day to claim a fourth victim on Hallween Night. When Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) ignores her overprotective mom’s (Julie Bowen) warning and comes face-to-face with the aforementioned masked killer (Khan tells us that the mask was modeled after ‘80s heartthrobs like Rob Lowe and Kiefer Sutherland as well as Dolph Lundgren, Johnny Bravo, and… Beavis from Beavis and Butthead).
As she runs for her life, Jamie accidentally ends up time travelling to 1987, the year of the original killings. Forced to navigate the unfamiliar and outrageous culture of the 1980s, Jamie teams up with her teen mom (Olivia Holt) to take down the killer once and for all, before she’s stuck in the past forever. The movie also stars Charlie Gillespie, Lochlyn Munro, Troy L. Johnson, Liana Liberato, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Ella Choi, Jeremy Monn-Djasngar, Nathaniel Appiah, Jonathan Potts, and Randall Park.
We had the chance to interview Khan and she talked about her love for the horror genre, why she thinks queer people connect with slasher pics and if Totally Killer will have a sequel.
What is your connection with the slasher movie genre? Have you always been a horror movie buff?
I have always been a fan. I don’t want to say it’s “relaxing” but there’s something about immersing yourself in the world of slashers and horror.
There’s a lot of good, bloody death scenes in Totally Killer. What is your threshold when it comes to what you can and cannot handle when it comes to the horror spectrum?
I love slashers and the idea of a heightened humanoid like Michael Myers He can’t be killed –but I like that idea. I also like the supernatural. I love The Conjuring universe but I think a bridge too far is something like The Ring. The original Ring was one of the scariest things. I’m just so unnerved by that.
Agreed. The Ring has too short of a bridge between reality and fantasy.
I don’t want someone to kill me for watching a video tape. I remember watching that movie and and that night I couldn’t sleep. All the lights were on in my apartment! Normally I would like to put the TV on but I couldn’t even do that because of The Ring! I’m not trying to make somebody climb out of this TV.
Totally Killer kind of refreshes the genre with adding a time travel element to the traditional slasher genre. What was your reaction when you were first approached with the project?
I had met with Jason Blum and his team after Always Be My Maybe. I just went as a fan and I was like, “Hey, I’m a fan of the genre” and they were like, “Let’s figure something out”.
Usually there’s like a synopsis or something with the script so you kind of know the idea but there was nothing with the Totally Killer script when they sent it to me. It was just the movie. I started reading it and had no idea what to expect. I knew it was in the horror genre because it’s Blumhouse and then when I reached the time travel part, I was like, I’m in. I’m a thousand percent in because there’s so many elements here to play with and have fun.
It’s not just a slasher comedy but adding this whole other element of time travel to the 80s; there was a lot of juggling of balls in the air. I felt like this would be a real fun challenge to me and I just felt like it was a really fun place to play.
The horror and slasher genre isn’t known for being blatantly queer, but many members of the LGBTQ community have always gravitated towards genre movies like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Halloween. Why do you think many queer people connect so much with the horror genre?
I really think that there’s something about the idea of survival. Everybody’s background is different, but as a young queer person, you can feel so alone. — even in a crowd. You feel persecuted in a way or something. It’s almost a release when you see it epitomized in this way on screen. That inner fear and inner demon is actually there on screen and he’s in a mask and has a knife and he’s hunting everybody. It’s feel less targeted – but I don’t know. There’s something interesting about horror.
I like that idea of survival. Also, there are many iconic women in slasher movies like Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott in Scream and Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode in the Halloween franchise. Horror also tends to be campy.
I was just gonna say, there’s campiness! There’s also a slight level of homoeroticism at play. In Scream, towards the end, Billy and Stu are stabbing each other – and that’s like a gay scene. Just to see the way they’re stabbing and the way that they’re reacting. There’s something there!
Also I read something somewhere where people who feel like outsiders and are depressed love horror movies because they have already imagined the worst possible thing that could happen to them and so when you see something like that on screen, it’s almost like a release. It’s like a calming effect or something.
The ending of Totally Killer definitely leaves the door open for this to follow in the footsteps of slasher movies and become a franchise. Can we expect to see sequels?
Listen, every day from like day two of shooting our DP, Judd Overton, kept saying, “At the end of this movie, there’s still gonna be a time machine left in 1987” and I’m like, “Okay, yeah.” There is a possibility if we wanted – I don’t know – someone like Olivia Holt’s character to travel to 2023 and have no filter and just destroying all these like Gen Z kids!
Totally Killer is streaming now on Prime Video.