In just a matter of days, Halloween 2023 will be a thing of the past. Until that time, there are still plenty of horror movies to watch to put you in the mood to be sufficiently scared, as well as amused. In keeping with the currently popular horror comedy trend, consider queer filmmaker Nahnatchka Khan’s “Totally Killer” (Amazon Studios).
Set on Halloween night 2023, “Totally Killer” opens with a reminder that in late October 1987, three 16-year-old girls (known as “The Mollys,” after Molly Ringwald) were brutally murdered by the masked “Sweet 16 Killer” in the small, peaceful, Washington town of Vernon. First Tiffany (Liana Liberato) was butchered in the family garage. Then Marisa (Stephi Chin-Salvo) died in her family’s cabin in the woods, and finally Heather (Anna Diaz), was killed in a parking lot on Halloween. Ultimate mean girl Pam (Olivia Holt), known to her classmates as “the wicked witch of Vernon,” was spared.
Years later, Pam (Julie Bowen), is the mother of Jamie (Kiernan Shipka), a smart, socially aware 16-year-old high school student, who doesn’t fear Halloween the way her mother does. Jamie and her science nerd best friend Amelia (Kelcey Mawema) are headed out to a Halloween concert by aging metal rocker Eddie, who also happens to be a former classmate of Pam’s.
Wouldn’t you know it? The Sweet 16 Killer, who was never caught, makes a return appearance in 2023, finishing off what he started by stabbing Pam 16 times (as he did the others). The small town is once again in the midst of a murder investigation.
As luck would have it, for her science fair project, Amelia has been working on turning a photo booth at the town’s abandoned amusement park (where the science fair is being held) into a time machine. Amelia has set the date for a few days before Halloween 1987 in the hopes that, if it works, she can travel back in time, and stop the Sweet 16 Killer before he strikes, thus preventing Jamie’s mom’s death.
If that sounds like a lot to process, well, it is. Fortunately, director Khan and the three (!) screenwriters have found a way to make it all fit together; part “Scream,” part “Heathers,” part John Hughes.
A few days after her mother’s murder, as she is being pursued by the masked killer, Jamie ends up activating the time machine and finds herself in 1987. The presence of a savvy teenager from 2023 at a high school in 1987 provides plenty of comic fodder. From the lax attitudes of the administrators and teachers to the unacceptable-by-today’s-standards cruelty of the students, to the general indifference and incompetence of law enforcement, “Totally Killer” makes genuinely funny, and occasionally frightening observations about how things have changed.
There’s not much more to say without risking spoilers. However, the movie’s queerest moment (aside from Jamie shooting down a classmate’s homophobic slur and the rainbow flag on the wall in Jamie’s parents’ house), is the revelation about the older brother Jamie never knew she had, which is handled respectfully.