Totally Killer is part Back to the Future, part Scream. (I’m certain I won’t be the only critic making that comparison.) Mixing a time-travel comedy with a slasher flick is an inspired idea. For the most part, the movie makes that combination work by embracing the silliness of it. There are lots of big laughs here as the story spoofs both the 1980s and the conventions of its genre inspirations.
A small suburban town was rocked to its core in 1987 when a psycho in a Max Headroom-like mask killed three teenage girls on Halloween. A fourth, Pam (Julie Bowen), escaped. Decades later, the so-called Sweet Sixteen Killer finally catches up with her. Pam’s distraught 17-year-old daughter Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) is able to use a time machine her best friend built for the school science fair to travel back to ‘87. She figures that if she can prevent the first murder, the others will never take place. Little does she know that her adolescent mom (Olivia Holt) is not the person she expected.
Totally Killer finds a lot of humor in contrasting the relative permissiveness of the ‘80s compared to today. Jamie is constantly shocked by how lax the rules are at school and how non-PC people are. Mocking that decade is easy, but the movie finds clever new ways to do it. Also funny are the scenes of Jamie interacting with her teen mom. Young Pam is a bit of a mean girl, so the rebellious Jamie gets to see that she has more in common with her mother than she ever knew.
Horror scenes come with an additional wink. One character is stabbed to death on a waterbed, leaks of water shooting up around her body. The big finale really goes wild, as the movie goofs on the often complex methods people in time-travel movies have to go through in order to get back to their own year. Director Nahnatchka Khan provides a lighthearted tone and a rapid pace that keeps you hooked throughout.
At the center is the irresistible idea of a young woman and the past version of her mom working together to catch a killer. Parent/child relationship themes run underneath the intentional silliness of the story, giving it just the right amount of emotion to ensure we care about the outcome. Kiernan Shipka is an appealing heroine, and her chemistry with Holt nicely plays on the idea that we all might be shocked if we knew what our parents were like in high school.
Totally Killer is, appropriately, the kind of fun high-concept movie we used to routinely get in the ‘80s. A clever story, a sharp screenplay, and good performances combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable genre hybrid.
out of four
Totally Killer is rated R for bloody violence, language, sexual material, and teen drug/alcohol use. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.