Killer Concept

Killer Concept (2021)

Killer Concept first published by

Blonde Mary-Rose (Maddie Ludt) chats on the phone in her kitchen as a hoodie-wearing figure with a machete watches her from the shadows of the street outside. These moments openly riff not just on John Carpenter’s iconic slasher Halloween (1978), but also on Wes Craven’s postmodern Halloween pastiche Scream (1996). As the woman, now in her bathroom, fails to see what we see – the stalker’s face reflected Maniac-style in the mirror – and disrobes for what is clearly going to be her final, Psycho-like shower, it is clear that this opening scene to Glenn Payne‘s Killer Concept is a self-conscious collection of stalk-and-slash clichés. The clue is in the title, as director Glenn Payne and writer Casey Dillard – who previously collaborated on Driven (2019) and here also play leads in the cast – try to take a somewhat stale psychokiller scenario for a conceptual spin. 

It is also what their characters are doing. For at the moment Mary-Rose’s clothes start to come off, we cut to Holly (Dillard) asking, “Why is she naked?”, and realise that what we have been watching is not Killer Concept itself, but pitched ideas for a screenplay on which Holly, Seth (Coley Bryant) and Mark (Payne) have been collaborating. What makes their premise unique – and uniquely exploitative – is that they are basing their story on an actual killer preying on women in the community, his murder spree as unfinished as their script. Genre freak Seth is pushing not just for gratuitous nudity and ‘tits’, but also for all the other sensational elements that horror fans expect from a movie – “blood, clowns, and incest hillbillies” – while Holly, an earnest, award-winning true-crime writer, is more interested in delving into the facts of the unsolved case. Serving as a grounding buffer between their bickering, Mark is a sensitive photographer with no writing experience, but with a definite impulse to get his untapped creative juices flowing. So far, though, his only artistic outlet, apart from obsessively watching and rewatching Bretaigne Windust’s made-for-television Technicolor musical The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957), has been the strangling and dismembering of online dates that remind him of his mother, so that he can continue courting (parts of) them at home. For Mark, as we learn before the film’s opening credits, is not just an oddly insightful (if largely ignored) co-writer on this screenplay, but also its psychotic subject.  

Killer Concept
Holly (Casey Dillard) plays strangler to Seth (Coley Bryant)

It is a set-up that affords a deeply metacinematic approach to the material, as these three, in their rôle-playing search for an approach – and an ending – to a very real horror story still unfolding around them, argue between themselves about the ethics of vicarious entertainment, the responsibilities of truth and the dangers of glamourising misogynistic villainy. Where Seth flirts with exploring the killer’s sexual relationships with his prey, Holly insists, out of respect to the victims, that this not in any way be shown on screen – and Mark backs her up, less out of good taste than out of a reluctance to be portrayed as a pervert. The erotic rivalry that develops – at least in Mark’s deluded mind – between Seth and himself for Holly’s affection means that this fractious talking shop is also a bizarre love triangle – and from its dysfunctional dynamics, a synthesis is emerging that will resolve, however messily, all the issues that have been blocking their writing. For here a way is found to focus on the film’s serial killer without lionising him, to make his latest victim a fully realised character (without ever showing her fate at his hands, let alone her tits) and to get rid of the third wheel – all while repeatedly breaking the fourth wall of a slasher in the making.   

strap: Director Glenn Payne and writer Casey Dillard also play collaborating leads in this cliché-questioning metaslasher.

© Anton Bitel