I’m a big fan of grindhouse and exploitation cinema. There’s something really fascinating about watching a sleazy horror or an excessively violent action movie. From Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond to Ferrara’s Ms. 45, grindhouse cinema covers many circuits of the low-budget genre including slashers, sexploitation, nudies, mondo, & more. Many of these movies were banned and left to rot due to the reactions when they first released, but as the years pass, they are being restored for the new generation to experience their delights. Many directors have been inspired by the works of this kind like Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Rob Zombie, & Robert Rodriguez, amongst others. Even the term “final girl” started to arrive during this circuit, primarily thanks to Carol J. Clover, who wrote Men, Women, and Chainsaws in 1992. You
This time around, we see director Ti West (The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers) teaming up with A24 to deliver X, a film that is “dying to show us a good time”, and successfully does as stated. Set in 1979, a group of young filmmakers goes to rural Texas to make a cheap smut film. “I need to be famous. All the best people are.” quotes Maxine played by Mia Goth, who channels her inner Sally Hardesty, stating that there is indeed a hustle from the crew to try and earn the big bucks in the Hollywood pornographic industry. The team arrives at a reclusive western cabin, albeit they don’t tell the hosts about what exactly they are doing. But, of course, you already know that things will not go as they planned, and it will eventually end in their bloody demise. Once Pearl and Howard catch them in the act, they start fighting for their lives, hunted one by one in pure Texas Chainsaw delicacy.
The TCM comparisons would inevitably come at first hand with the grimy look, creaking household, and slasher flair, but there’s more to X. It has more to offer, other than referencing its charmingly schlocky predecessors (The Basement, Slaughterhouse, and The Mutilator) and other works (Eaten Alive, The Big Doll House, and Night of Bloody Horror), in addition to having some jumpy segments reminiscent of a grindhouse double-bill playing at a drive-in. Ti West’s latest explores the themes of repressed passion and the slowly developing ache of aging through the porn industry, the hopes of stardom, and wince-inducing gore (hat’s off to the makeup artist). Via the characters of Maxine and Pearl (also played by Mia Goth in cosmetics), West examines the juxtapositions between the impotent elderly (victims of their environment) and the riotous youth (free to do their so-called “sins”).
One thing I liked about the kills, other than how they were done, is that there’s a purpose to them, outside of the acts these people are doing behind the villain’s back. They aren’t just bodies waiting to be chopped, cut, or pitchforked. Overall, outside of the exploitation film references, X is like a round-up of things that I love. Tyler Bates and the Los Angeles princess of darkness, Chelsea Wolfe, make the music, including a rendition of “Oui Oui Marie”. Also on the team, there’s costume designer Malgosia Turzanska, production designer Thomas S. Hammock, and long time West collaborator cinematographer Eliot Rockett. And let’s not forget about the cast of modern horror alumni Mia Goth and Jenna Ortega, as well as likable screen presences, Kid Cudi and Brittany Snow. Although it has some predictability, X is a real treat, especially for horror fans looking for late 70s-esque splatter, cheeky humor, and a hell of a good time.