Review: Everybody's Favorite Slasher Sweetheart Returns in 'MaXXXine'

: Kurt Loder on

"Do you know what happened to the last person who tried to kill me?" Maxine Minx asks the creep who's followed her down Hollywood Boulevard into a dead-end alley. The guy's not very scary -- he's dressed like Buster Keaton, complete with Keaton's little flat hat. And anyway, Maxine, the upwardly mobile porn star, is armed and decidedly dangerous. After pulling out her gun and making the stranger strip off his clothes and sink to his knees, she lets him in on what did happen to the last person who tried to kill her.

"I crushed her fuckin' head!" she explains.

Who could forget? That was two years ago in "X," the opening installment of director Ti West's affectionately satirical scuz-horror franchise. That film, set in 1979, introduced Maxine (played by one-of-a-kind slasher queen Mia Goth) as a young stripper who lusted for movie stardom and was taking the first step toward achieving it by joining a group of low-budget movie nerds making a cheap porn film at a remote farm outside of Houston. This project went well for about five minutes before the unstable Maxine started acting out (cue copious bleeding), as did the farmer's wife, a white-haired psycho-biddy named Pearl, who was reliving her own youthful dreams of sex and stardom and getting angry about their passing.

"X" was a lively little B-movie with some resonant ideas about the human predicament (and a senior-citizen sex scene, too -- something pretty different for a slasher film). West followed "X" with "Pearl," a prequel flashing back to 1918 to recount the disturbing early years of the old farm lady in the first film (who'd also been played by Goth). Where "X" partook of the grungy vibe of '70s porn and indie horror (especially "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), "Pearl," cowritten by West and Goth, saluted the lush orchestral scores and vibrant hues of Hollywood's Technicolor golden age. It also gave Goth a soul-baring seven-minute monologue that confirmed her arrival as a full-glow star.

Now, in "MaXXXine," West and Goth return to the world of Maxine Minx. The year is 1985, and our girl has made it big in the porn biz: She drives a Mercedes, snorts the finest cocaine. But as she tells the director of a legit movie she's angling to be in, "I've always had a larger vision for myself." The director (Elizabeth Debicki) auditions Maxine and is convinced she's got the goods to be huge in respectable movies. But unseen forces are working against her. For one thing, a vicious serial killer called the Night Stalker (a real-world malefactor of the period) is spooking L.A. with an unending succession of murders and rapes. And there are two other menacing characters tailing Maxine around town. One is a scummy private eye named Labat (Kevin Bacon, oozing sleaze) and the other is Labat's employer, a mysterious figure in full-body black leather who knows things about Maxine -- horrible things -- that she thought had been forgotten.


For someone so borderline-adorable, Mia Goth has an unsettling facility for playing the crazy-ass Maxine, shifting into unhinged mode with barely a flicker of transition. Maxine rails at the impediment her porno background is sometimes seen to be in mainstream Hollywood ("Brooke Shields got naked, and now she's in a fuckin' Muppet movie!"). She's often vexed by other people, but she's also willing to make the hard choices required to solve the problems they cause -- opting for a poke in the eye, maybe, or a knife up the nose, or a messy encounter with a car-crushing machine. Somebody has to call these shots.

"MaXXXine" isn't being promoted as the final film in West's series, but it feels like it is, or should be. The movie is trim and entertaining (West has brought each of these pictures in at well under two hours), but the way-overcooked ending of this one suggests that the franchise might be running out of road. Which would be OK. It's been a fun ride.


To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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