A Conversation with Elza Kephart

by Paul Deeter

I'm sure it's no surprise to say that my go-to genre of film viewing is horror, I've spent most of my life as a film buff immersing myself in these slasher/creature/paranormal features. However, it's easy to classify each genre to its film; over the course of the past 40-50 years slasher films were wildly popular in the 80's after an emergence in the 70s. I do speak fondly of the 80s for the unbeatable Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, both some of my favorite extended film series ever. And as fond I am of the horror films of years ago, there's definitely a staleness that comes with an over-saturation of slasher flicks for gorehounds. Post 80's-90's it was about time to mix things up, and while remakes of popular films like Halloween and My Bloody Valentine have done well to homage these classics, the horror films that really stand out now have to be more outlandish to break the mold.

Enter the slasher meets satire film from Elza Kephart: Slaxx. The tone of this film is nutty but simultaneously respective of the slasher genre. The uniqueness of this movie comes from the antagonists: killer designer jeans. And as promisingly goofy as the premise alone is, the movie deftly balances satire with scares, while also painting an all-too-real picture of the silly and often vapid culture of high fashion. The movie has its slew of characters, but also focuses on the human element of the reason why these pants are on their killer spree. Mix that in with some very creative kills and over-the-top gore, and you have Slaxx, one of my biggest surprises of 2021. I was incredibly lucky to get the chance to speak to the director, and chose to ask a few questions about her career and some behind the scenes stories. We discuss "retail culture", inspirations and thoughts on the promising future for female horror directors.

Purely Kino: The concept of Slaxx feels conceptually relevant while also timeless in its spin on the horror genre. Was Slaxx something you'd been working on or wanted to work on for a while?

Elza Kephart: Thanks! Honestly Slaxx happened as a joke almost 20 years ago (summer 2001) between co-writer Patricia Gomez Zlatar and myself. We were on a roadtrip and were teasing another friend about words we hated; she hated the word “slacks” so we kept repeating it over and over to make her cringe. And eventually it ended up sounding like a killer pair of pants! In my mind, at least. 😉 So the character of Slaxx was born before the story itself.

It took a good 15 years to get the script to where we wanted to- we worked on and off over the years, not more than a few months at a time. People always loved the concept, so I think there is something timeless about it. However, it took until this last draft, which we wrote sporadically over 2016-2017, to get the fast fashion critique in. It seems like a natural fit, but it really wasn’t its original intent. I think the idea knew what it wanted, it was just waiting for us to catch up. So we wanted to get Slaxx right for many, many years! We just had to wait for everything to gel creatively.

The Slacks Attack actor Kenny Wong in Slaxx (2021)

PK: The retail "culture" in this film is brutally honest and accurate, right down to the walkie-talkie codes everyone uses across the store. Do you have experience in retail, or just a vested interest in exploring the lifestyle satirically?

EK: Patricia worked 2 years at GAP, in university, so she brought a lot of the details, the characters and the culture to the story. She is like the Shruti character. I worked as an office temp a few years, so had a brush with corporate culture, but never worked retail. However, I’ve always been fascinated and repulsed by corporate and consumer culture, so I’ve just been intuitively gathering intel over the years. I used to keep a notebook full of terrible corporate expressions (“ecosystem”, etc) and knew one day I would put it all in Slaxx!

PK: So many great performances including Libby (Romane Denis) and Shruti (Sehar Bohjani). Had you worked with these young actors before, or had any relationship to them before their casting in this film?

EK: Not at all. We went through a typical casting process and were just really lucky to hit on such a great team. They were amazing to work with.