By MICHAEL GINGOLD
When Shudder debuted the Canadian horror/comedy SLAXX on Thursday, it marked the end of a long road from first conception to commercial release for writer/director Elza Kephart and writer/producer Patricia Gomez Zlatar. The latter speaks to RUE MORGUE below about the movie, which combines satirical gore with social commentary.
SLAXX stars Romane Denis as Libby, a new employee at trendy outlet store Canadian Cotton Clothiers. They’ve just gotten in a new shipment of Super Shapers: thermally activated jeans designed to adapt to any body size. Unfortunately, one pair is alive, and hungry, and starts preying on Libby’s co-workers after the store goes on lockdown to prepare for a Monday Madness sale. First conceived by Kephart and Zlatar way back in 2001, SLAXX was officially launched at the Frontières Co-Production Market at the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival, and had a successful run in Fantasia and other fests last year (see our review here). And it all began, as Kephart first told us, because Zlatar (pictured below at right with Kephart) hated the word “slacks”…
So…why do you hate the word “slacks” so much?
Doesn’t everyone?! I guess it’s such an old-fashioned word that it strikes me as silly. If the word were to disappear, I am not sure it would be missed. But the joke is on me, since it has now become part of my life forever!
How was your and Kephart’s collaborative process on the SLAXX script?
Elza and I have worked together for many years, and we are also good friends, so that process was quite smooth. After an early version set in a high school, we wrote a draft that took place in a store and dealt with corporate greed, but it was still missing something. Elza then saw a documentary on fast fashion, and knew that there lay the missing piece. She did a draft incorporating that idea, and it gelled instantly. There was some back-and-forth, and we ended up with a solid script.
Can you tell us some more about the changes from the original concept to the final film?
In the beginning, when SLAXX took place in a high school, nerdy Libby was pitted against the popular girls and Slaxx was inhabited by an evil spirit. I’m pretty sure there was some Santeria thrown in there for good measure. All to say, it was a generic script that was not very inspiring or exciting. There was no commentary on fast fashion or consumerism; the only thing the two versions have in common are bloody, gruesome deaths.
Tell us about the process of finding backing for SLAXX.
Once we had our script ready, everything fell into place very quickly. It certainly felt like the time was right for SLAXX, not only in terms of horror being a hot commodity, but also, it was thematically quite timely. We were able to secure some grants, and a Canadian distributor and executive producer followed soon after. From that point on, we were off to the races.
How important was Fantasia/Frontières to getting the movie off the ground?
It was instrumental. We had a great pitch and caught the attention of Anne-Marie Gelinas from EMAFilms, who came on board to produce the film with me.
What were the specific production challenges?
Trying to make the character of Slaxx not look like a Muppet! We did not want the jeans to look silly. This was very tricky and required a great deal of effort from our special effects team, puppeteer and visual effect creators. Another challenge was getting the art direction of the store just right. This included not only creating the brand of the Canadian Cotton Clothiers company, but making an empty space look like a real, functioning store. What I learned: It takes a lot of clothes to fill up a store, even one with a minimalist aesthetic. Not sure I would ever want to do that again!
How was it working with your cast?
It was great! We really got lucky with the actors on SLAXX. Besides being such fun and nice people, they were all committed to just going for it and putting it all out there without fear of looking silly. They all understood what we were trying to achieve and they did not hold back. Many hours were spent covered in blood and being attacked by a puppet, and not a single diva moment was had!
It was a fun shoot, and everybody was happy to be there. I really only have fond memories. Disclaimer, though: All producers stow away the horrible moments in a dark corner of their memory so that they can repeat the insanity of producing all over again in the future, kinda like childbirth. Seriously though, this shoot was one of the most enjoyable I have worked on.
Is it important to you to make horror movies that also have social/political relevance?
Absolutely! I love films that are layered and make me mull over their themes weeks after viewing–the ones that pop into my head at random moments and make me replay my favorite moments. Those films are the most satisfying to make and to watch, and I only hope that SLAXX can become one of those films.
How exciting is it to be part of the current renaissance of women filmmakers in horror?
100 percent. Horror has always been filled with supportive, nice folks, so that hasn’t changed. What is exciting is that women are finally being taken seriously by the people controlling the money, and being given a chance to prove themselves. That is amazing, because 20 years ago when I started in the business, these opportunities were pretty much non-existent for women. Here’s hoping that this renaissance is not a trend, but is here to stay.