Totally Killer via Amazon Prime Video

‘Totally Killer’ Is ‘Back to the Future” Meets ‘Scream’ With a Hearty Dash of Disney Channel

Two time traveling photo booths out of five

‘Tis the season—the season for blood, guts, and gore, that is. As October cools down and horror season gears up, Amazon Prime Video has yet again thrown its hat into the ring with Totally Killer, the latest product of Amazon’s fruitful collaboration with horror mainstay Blumhouse. Following a pit stop at Fantastic Fest, Totally Killer—a horror-infused twist on Back to the Future—is now out on Amazon Prime Video. Though its script doesn’t quite deliver enough “horror” or “comedy,” there’s enough charm to be found from the spirited performances to make Totally Killer a serviceable B-movie.

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Starring Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, and Julie Bowen, Totally Killer follows Jamie (Shipka), a rebellious teenager looking to shirk her overbearing mother’s ever-watchful eye and head out for a night of freedom on Halloween. Jamie’s type-A mom Pam (Bowen) is hyper-vigilant and on high alert, especially around Halloween—when she was Jamie’s age, three of her best friends were killed in a spree of murders carried out by a figure who’s since become infamous as the “Sweet Sixteen Killer” in their small town. At first, Jamie’s biggest problem is her mother’s unwillingness to let her have fun, but when the Sweet Sixteen Killer resurfaces and claims Pam as his next victim, Jamie ends up time-traveling to the ’80s, where she joins forces with her mom as a teenager (played by Holt) to take down the Sweet Sixteen Killer before he can earn his morbid reputation.

Tonally, Totally Killer follows a fairly recent trend of quippy, dry, female-led horror comedies—between the heartfelt emotional core and the constant cracks about how not PC the 80s were by today’s standards, the film feels very much in the vein of sister flicks like Freaky and Happy Death Day. Notably, both those films also hinge on the premise “What if this classic comedy/action film were a slasher?” But where Happy Death Day and Freaky both crank up the requisite blood and fear factor when the time comes, the horror sequences in Totally Killer feel somewhat sanitized, especially for an R-rated film that’s set in the heyday of gory slashers.

Yes, there are plenty of chase sequences, and the film’s answer to Michael Meyers—the Sweet Sixteen Killer—even dons the requisite iconic/creepy mask, but there’s a distinct lack of teeth to the horror in Totally Killer, mostly due to the airy, almost juvenile tone established in the first act. The script (when not bogging itself down with extensive exposition and sci-fi antics) is strangely airy and flippant—constant jokes about how people in the 80s chainsmoked indoors, teens love partying, sex, and smoking weed, and cracks from Jamie about the homophobia and sexism rampant in the era.

But the humor is all observational and surface level, never particularly character-driven, and this lazy approach to comedy hurts Totally Killer‘s credibility as a self-aware genre-bending horror comedy. Instead, the film (in its weaker moments) ends up feeling like a particularly violent Disney Channel Original movie. Jamie as a character is also responsible for the frustrating flippancy that permeates the script—she’s your classic “rebellious teen” without many notable personality quirks or interesting inner life worth mentioning. Her lack of grace in the first act concerning her mother’s understandable reservations about going out on Halloween is a particular failure of the writing, an obvious tee-up for a third-act emotional revelation that’s utterly predictable.

Still, having such an everyman for a heroine is understandable when the rest of Totally Killer‘s world is populated by broad, tropey caricatures of 80s teens, spearheaded by Olivia Holt as the bitchy teen queen bee version of Pam. Though the emotional beats are already telegraphed from the jump, Holt goes a long way in making Jamie and teenage Pam’s relationship and growth feel organic and meaningful—there’s a vulnerability and youthful innocence underneath the stone-cold-bitch attitude that makes the character easy to love.

Alongside Pam is her gaggle of (again, heavily cliched) popular friends, including Liana Liberato, Steph Chin-Salvo, as her fellow “Mollys”—that is, mean girls who dress like and named themselves after Molly Ringwald in a Heathers pastiche that falls flat. Like Holt, Chin-Salvo and Liberato a ready and willing to play ball with the trope-heavy script, and they play the shallow, horned-up 80s high school popular girls with admirable panache. Liberato in particular (who horror fans may recognize as one of the ghostfaces in this year’s Scream VI) brings a very charming if eye-roll-inducing energy to the ditsy Tiffany—a definite scene stealer whose presence in the film is sorely missed in the third act.

As for act three itself, Totally Killer‘s other biggest flaw (beyond the uninspired approach to comedy) is how tied up it gets with navigating its own narrative and time-travel shenanigans. After explaining away the presence of a working Time Machine as Jamie’s genius best friend’s science fair project, the film goes to great lengths to keep establishing and re-establishing new stakes for what will happen should Jamie fail in her mission to stop the Sweet Sixteen Killer.

The mystery itself is a satisfying one that’s (refreshingly) not as predictable as one might expect, but the left turn of a killer reveal in act three raises just as many timeline-related questions as it answered, which wouldn’t be much of an issue if the film hadn’t made such a fuss about the rules and consequences of time travel in the first place. There’s also the matter of runtime—at an hour and forty-five minutes, Totally Killer certainly isn’t gargantuan, but it could stand to lose twenty minutes in act two, and that extra weight bogs down what might otherwise have been a breezier, punchier script.

Still, as far as lighthearted, sci-fi shenanigan B-movie horror goes, you could certainly do worse than the delightful 80s ridiculousness that is Totally Killer—even If the script falters in a few crucial places, there’s still plenty of fun to be with an unabashedly Back to the Future-inspired. Though fans looking for some wit in their horror comedies may leave disappointed, Totally Killer‘s strong premise and game cast make for an entertaining (if not particularly frightening or funny) flick.

(featured image: Amazon Prime Video)

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Lauren Coates
Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. Besides writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, RogerEbert, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates