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.
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.
PK: It's listed that you previously worked with Patricia Gomez on Graveyard Alive, which if I'm correct is your first feature. Have you guys collaborated on anything else, or is there anything down the pipe we can expect?
Yes that’s right. Graveyard Alive was my first feature; Patricia co-wrote the story with me, and co-produced it. Patricia and I have been decades-long friends and creative collaborators! She produced my second feature, Go in the Wilderness. We have several projects in development, some of which are decades old as well! (we are slow but steady!) One is a vampire TV show, called Sweet Blood, which we developed through the Torino Series Lab, and a feature called The Dark Age, which follows a young priest through a metaphysical transformation via his battle with a threatened and vengeful ecosystem (there goes that word again!). I also co-wrote a French-language feature called Chair Obscure, with another friend, which Patricia is slated to produce. It’s set in Québec and is a possession story.
PK: There are lots of nods to other great horror pieces, it feels like Romero's Dawn of the Dead is an obvious one, but I also felt reminded of Quentin Dupieux's Rubber in the sense of the looming threat of inanimate objects. Any other film inspirations for Slaxx or any of your other work?
I actually wasn’t inspired by either of those films, Slaxx really came into my mind on its own. I can’t say I had conscious story inspirations. However, visually I’ve been greatly inspired by Dario Argento, with his bold color scheme and use of wide lenses. Other inspirations, for my filmmaking in general are Antonioni (Red Desert, L’Avventura), and Bertolucci (The Conformist). I really love Italian cinema from the late 60’s, early 70’s and feel really connected to this cinema.
PK: With Brea Grant's 12 Hour Shift, Amy Seimitz' She Dies Tomorrow and Natalie Erika James' Relic, it's safe to say 2020 was a year dominated by breakout female-directed horror films. Do you feel that 2021 and on will see more representation for women behind the scenes?
I sure hope so! We are 51% of the population, so it’s mind-boggling to think that for the first 100+years of cinema our voices were the minority!!! We desperately need female voices and eyes behind the lens. It’s critical that women’s perspectives get equal weight. I do think we have reached a tipping point and that it won’t be long until we reach parity in horror as elsewhere.
PK: Thank you for your time, is there anything else you'd like to add?
I’d love to mention that, to me, Slaxx is a very political film. Corporations dominate our world, and are instrumental in its destruction via climate change and the ecological emergency. We desperately need to remove our minds from their sphere of influence, of their brainwashing to consume items we don’t need which are planned to be obsolete before they are even shipped out. It is really a crime. I see corporations as the biggest villains of the mid 20th and 21st century. There is a high percentage of CEOs that are on the psychopath scale according to the DSM. It’s crazy to think that these new, all-powerful empires are run by mentally ill people!
If viewers are moved by Slaxx, I urge them to reconsider their buying habits, and the “needs” corporations create in them. We can choose not to buy, or buy more wisely; to recycle, repurpose, swap, buy second hand. It’s critical that we put a stop to our endless cycle of consumption. We are on a finite planet, but are acting as if our resources are infinite. We have to stop and reclaim our minds. Rethinking consumption is a political act!
Slaxx is currently streaming on Shudder.
Elza Kephart's previous films can be found at her website www.midnightkingdom.com .