Metro Weekly

‘Totally Killer’ is Slasher Science at its Prime

'Totally Killer' director Nahnatchka Khan set out to create a world where anything is possible, and she slayed the assignment.

Totally Killer
Totally Killer

A slasher horror-comedy with a sci-fi twist, Prime Video’s Totally Killer might have posed a steep multi-genre challenge for director Nahnatchka Khan.

But the queer filmmaker and TV mogul behind Young Rock and Fresh Off the Boat, came in with a strategy for juggling laughs and scares in Totally Killer‘s tale of a Gen Z 17-year-old who time-travels back to 1987, and faces off against the infamous “Sweet Sixteen Killer.”

“Part of the plan for me was to invite people into this world in a way where anything could be possible,” says Khan. In the film, Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka portrays teen Jamie, who’s aching to go out with her friends on Halloween night, against the wishes of her worry-wart mom, Pam (Julie Bowen). Pam was her daughter’s age when the Sweet Sixteen Killer terrorized the town.

“There’s a little bit of mother-daughter tension, typical teen stuff,” says Khan. “So when that first fight sequence happens, that really launches us on our story, it takes you aback,” says Khan. “You know, ‘Oh, my God, we’re going for it here. That’s not part of the comedy. We’re not checking our swing with any of this slasher killer stuff.’ And that was really important, too, to have it be satisfying on both levels.”

Totally Killer
Totally Killer

Then, of course, there’s the time travel element. An accident with a friend’s time machine sends Jamie back to ’80s high school with her mother, played as a teen by Olivia Holt. The two join forces trying to stop the Sweet Sixteen Killer murders before they happen.

The script, by David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, and Jen D’Angelo, plays up the ’80s teen-movie references, including a great Fast Times at Ridgemont High sight gag. And Jamie’s usual shorthand for explaining her out-of-time predicament to disbelieving ’80s folks is simply asking them if they’ve seen Back to the Future — which almost everybody has seen.

As Khan recalls, the filmmakers “would always ask ourselves, if any of us went back to 1987, like, I’m not going to have a chalkboard moment. I’m not a scientist. I can’t break down how time travel happens, but I can be like, ‘Have you seen Back to the Future?'”

Throughout, the movie turns to pop culture as touchstones. “I really was just having fun with all of the teen tropes of the eighties, that we would see in all those John Hughes movies and Heathers and that whole world,” says Khan, noting that Totally Killer doesn’t just reference ’80s culture but sharply comments on what’s changed.

“It’s funny, when we look back with a 2023 lens, which we were able to do in this movie because of Jamie, and sort of see like, oh, a lot of that stuff doesn’t play anymore, [or] doesn’t quite hold up in terms of you can’t really say that, you can’t act like that. That to me was a fun element to bring into this.”

Totally Killer is available for streaming on Prime Video. Visit

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