Killer fashion in ‘Slaxx.’
Slaxx was a happy accident.
“My co-writer, Patricia Gomez, and I came up with the idea as a lark. We were teasing one of our friends with the words we hated most, and one of the words was slacks. We were repeating it over and over in a weird voice, and we thought it sounded like a pair of evil pants,” explained director Elza Kephart.
“That’s what started it all. We didn’t know where to go from there, but we knew we had to make a movie about killer pants. The more we talked about the idea, the more excited everyone got. Many years passed, we couldn’t make it work because it was too silly, so when Patricia suggested that it be set in the retail world, we knew we had something.”
Slaxx, which is about a murderous pair of jeans that wreaks havoc on the staff of a trendy boutique, has its own victim in its sights, namely the labor ethics behind fast fashion.
“When it became apparent that it had to be about the fast fashion industry and added this social commentary, it came together,” she added. “I watched Rubber and as many other killer object movies as I could find to make sure that I wasn’t tripping up or doing anything redundant. People have compared Slaxx to Rubber, and even Peter Strickland’s In Fabric, but all these films are different in key ways.”
Getting Slaxx off the page onto the screen was a journey for Kephart but not always in the way she expected.
“To our great surprise, it wasn’t hard to get the funding together. People latched on to it. When we pitched it to a room of producers, our pitch captured their imagination,” the filmmaker and co-writer enthused. “We applied to the SODEC, the Quebec some funding agency, but we didn’t get it the first time. They loved the idea but told us to reapply, and that time we got the money. The response was super positive, so we didn’t have that much trouble. I couldn’t believe it. Slaxx was my first officially funded film.”
After premiering at a range of festivals, Slaxx debuts for wider audiences on the acclaimed streamer, Shudder, who became a financing partner on the project. While support for the film was not an issue, the horror-comedy did throw up other challenges.
“I think I’m, by my nature, a very funny but very acerbic person, and Slaxx really represents me. The script was easy enough to write, but it was in the editing that was hard,” Kephart recalled. “We realized that it wasn’t ‘haha funny’ as a comedy, and it wasn’t horror that was full of frights. It’s more about the gore and stuff like that. So we had to balance the comedy with the horror and make sure the Slaxx, as a character, was always present, even in really small doses. The film was ironic and gory, and not a horror-comedy, so then the editor and I were able to pinpoint that tone much more effectively.”
“When we were trying to finesse the music choices, we realized that scary music didn’t work when it came to people being picked off by these pants because the deaths were scary. As soon as we created this weird, almost ludicrous soundtrack, we knew we had hit it. It was very, very hard to get that fine balance between the horror and the comedy.”
The pants in ‘Slaxx’ are to die for!
The small-budgeted Canadian indie forced Kephart and her team to get creative if they wanted to pull off this evocative sartorial satire that slays.
“We opted to do a lot of the effects in-camera rather than expensive CGI. The close-ups of the pants crawling were effective,” she explained. “We were able to create really small sets, and we just had to choose the right angle. We had one or two puppeteers doing it, and so the sort of slithering motion, and I think it really paid off. That was quite easy to do when it’s all done in-camera.”
“After a kill, red thread fills up part of the logo on the jeans, and that was done in post, but everything else, the actual pants moving, was done, live. That’s something that myself and the production team wanted. We’ve all grown up watching 80s and 90s films, and we knew that for the pants to have a personality, it was important for us to have it be done there on set and have the actors interact with the pants and for me be able to talk to and direct the puppeteer. If I wanted a different expression or something to be done a different way, I wanted to find out that things didn’t work at that time and be able to correct it right away rather than finding that out six months down the line.”
Creating an army of killer pants was a feat in itself.
“We had to create 45 pairs of pants for each different expression that the pants have, and we had backups. Getting the pants right was one of the hardest elements, giving them a personality, almost turning them into an animal.”
“We weren’t able to get them specially made, so they were all off the peg. An actual ethical company from Montreal called Naked & Famous made the pants. They were awesome to work with, and they’re partnering with us for the release. They want to create some Slaxx-themed thing. I’m not quite sure if it’s going to be pants or a jacket or maybe a DVD cover. We couldn’t afford for them to create the pants just for us, so we just had to look through their entire selection and then choose the ones we felt were the scariest. We chose these pants because pockets sort of look like menacing eyes.”
Is Slaxx the jumping-off point for a series of killer clothes movies?
“For us, it’s a standalone movie. The point of it is not just the pants that kill, but it’s the message behind it,” Kephart mused. “Once you’ve said that the fast fashion world that produces things we don’t need and endure troubling conditions, the point has been made. I don’t feel like I need to repeat that. I have other ideas, though. Patricia and I are working on a killer tree movie. It’s about a tree that seeks revenge.”
Slaxx is streaming on Shudder now.
Simon Thompson is an experienced journalist and groundbreaking producer based in Los Angeles. He has worked for the biggest brands in the industry, including Variety, E!