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‘Totally Killer’ balances horror and humor

Have you ever wondered, “What if they made ‘Back to the Future’ today, and also made it a slasher?” I’ll be honest, that had never occurred to me, but when I saw the description for Nahnatchka Khan’s “Totally Killer” streaming on Prime Video, I knew that she had something that was right smack in the middle of all of my special interests.

It’s Halloween, and Jamie Hughes (Kiernan Shipka) is trying to figure out how she ended up with such overbearing parents. Her mom Pam (Julie Bowen) and her dad Blake (Lochlyn Munro) carry with them fear of the Sweet Sixteen Killer who murdered three of Pam’s friends back in 1987 and was never caught. It turns out that their fears are grounded when the masked killer shows up again and murders Pam. A bereft Jamie visits her friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) who is working on a time machine when the killer shows up for her. When he jams his knife into the machine, it activates, sending Jamie back to 1987 to try to stop the killer at the source.

I wholly enjoyed this movie. It is the blend of “Scream” and “Back to the Future” that I never knew I wanted, but that is exactly what I needed. The premise is, of course, absurd, but the movie never takes itself so seriously that I cared much about that.

Finding the right tone between humor and horror is a tough needle to thread, but writers David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver and Jen D’Angelo were able to thread it. The movie never shies away from a bloody stabbing, but it also isn’t afraid to make some pretty entertaining jokes. The writers were able to balance Gen X and Gen Z humor really well, poking fun at both while never crossing into exasperation with either group.

The characters are all great. Slasher films don’t generally give the opportunity for stellar performances, but as a whole, this cast delivers. Shipka is a great scream queen and Olivia Holt, who plays young Pam does a great job as the popular 80s girl. There aren’t any stand out performances that make me wish that awards shows looked at genre movies for best acting awards, but the ensemble is clearly having fun with this, and that radiates through the screen.

Period pieces like this often fall into the trap of making absolutely sure that we know what decade its taking place in, but this was more subtle, trusting the audience to understand that it was the late 80’s without making unending “do you get it?’ references.

Slasher movies are rarely considered high art, and this one doesn’t fit into that category. But “Totally Killer” is a really fun, bloody time that balances horror and humor better than most, and that is worth a recommendation from me.

Like, totally.

ALISE CHAFFINS is a Morgantown writer who loves movies and sharing her opinions. She reviews a movie from a streaming service every Saturday and one newly in theaters every Sunday. Find more at MacGuffin or Meaning on Substack.