Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt and Charlie Gillespie
Directed By: Nahnatchka Khan
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Amazon Prime Video
Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Some of the hardest genres to write are comedy and horror. So, even if a comedy-horror ultimately comes off as generic, but still manages to tickle the funny bone while splattering the screen with blood and gore, that’s a good time in my book. While not a sharp generational criticism like 2022’s “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies,” or an entertaining mockery of horror tropes like “Scare Package,” “Totally Thriller” earns points for tackling one of the toughest genres with enough scattered jokes, gruesome kills and a dash of “who cares, just enjoy it” attitude to become an enjoyable slice of comedy-horror. Emphasis on the comedy.
“Totally Killer” opens on Halloween 2023 in the small town of Vernon which still can’t escape October 1987, when a masked killer, referred to as the Sweet 16 Killer, murdered three 16-year-old high-school girls by stabbing them 16 times. I’m not sure why he didn’t kill 16, but I digress. Pam Hughes (Julie Bowen) lives in fear that the killer will return, especially since she was friends with all three victims. Her daughter Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) is all like, “Whatever mom, get over it. Leave me the hell alone.” Then her mom is murdered by the Sweet 16 Killer. Distraught, Jamie meets up with her friend who is building a time machine (this is the first of many instances where the movie gets intentionally silly and once again shrugs its shoulders). Later on, Jamie is attacked by the Sweet 16 Killer only to be transported back in time to October 1987 through a bizarre knife to the time machine interface mishap.
“Totally Killer” works because it seems like as the film progresses, Jamie is slowly realizing she’s in a bad slasher film. Jamie name drops horror and time travel films, including “Back to the Future” which “Totally Killer” steals heavily from, comments on the out-of-date circumstances throughout the 80s and seemingly doesn’t mind screwing up the space time continuum by changing history. The film also gives away its future plot points through its movie name drops as if to say originality dies in this film with the teens. Even the killer’s mask, one we’ve never seen before, looks like Max Headroom doing Jim Carrey’s patented eyebrow raise. I’m not sure if anything in this movie isn’t a reference, wink or nod to something else. Like I said, this movie just kind of shrugs and goes, “Here’s a joke and knife to the guts.”
While this could normally ruin a film, “Totally Killer” just relishes in its own ridiculousness and it’s helped by Shipka’s performance which matches every scene perfectly. When she needs to point out the absurdity of a plot point, she does. When she needs to be the parent in charge of a bunch of horny drug fueled teens to make sure they don’t die, she does. When she needs to deliver exposition without questioning the absolute stupidity of what’s happening, she does. Even in the final act, when she has to be the movie’s badass, she does. If Shipka wasn’t with us on this crazy time traveling journey, “Totally Killer” would totally suck.
“Totally Killer” is totally unoriginal, but still totally fun. It’s a film that utilizes every slasher cliché while ridiculing the 80s decade it pulled those same clichés from. Sure, some of the jokes are predictable and the parody isn’t witty like “Airplane,” but “Totally Killer” is so comfortable with what it’s doing that you ultimately relax and wait for the next unpredictable joke or slasher moment. The whole intent of the film is to entertain, no matter how cheesy, lazy and predictable it sometimes is. There’s something admirable if not ultimately meta about that. Maybe “Totally Killer” will ultimately be forgotten and I’ll never watch it again, but if its entire intent was to make me chuckle and make me forget about the cruel world around me for 103 minutes, mission accomplished.