MaXXXine Review

Hollywood, 1985. Porn star and massacre survivor Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) gets a part in a horror film — and is stalked by a serial killer.

by Kim Newman |
Published on
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In Ti West’s 1979-set slasher movie X, Mia Goth played would-be porn star Maxine and elderly killer Pearl. Spinning the film out into a triptych rather than a trilogy, the 1919-set Pearl was about the younger days of the murderess, while MaXXXine is set in 1985 and catches up with what the final girl of the Texas Porn Star Massacre did next in her life. Eventual binge-watchers will notice the way elements recur with variations across all three movies — something Maxine does at the climax mirrors what Pearl did in her film.


In a moment of metatextuality which functions also as a scare scene, Maxine has her head coated with goo as a make-up artist makes an impression to be used to create a severed-head prop for a dream sequence. She is transformed by dripping white gunk into the ghost image of old Pearl, who actually told her she would end up looking like her. The fact that Mia Goth must have been through this process in real life to create the make-up mask which transformed her into Pearl in X adds a further layer to a film which is in some danger of becoming too clever by half, but consistently pulls back to deliver a cinematic coup or reveal another facet of determined protagonist Maxine. Goth’s not-exactly-admirable survivor-type is always centre-screen.

Some twists are well foreshadowed, but there are still plenty of eye-popping surprises.

X was a homage to the grainy, gritty, sunstruck look shared by 1970s porn of the Deep Throat variety and the down-home horror-movies often made by the same film students at a different step in their careers. Pearl was a sumptuous candy-Technicolor recreation of the style of classic Hollywood melodramas, musicals and small-town nostalgia movies, with a lush, sweeping old orchestral score. It’s a risk to make a series where every instalment looks and sounds different, but West has been a master of evoking bygone styles since his homage to 1970s TV movies, The House Of The Devil.

In Maxxxine, the series moves away from the made-in-New Zealand Texas farmhouse with adjacent alligator lake of the first two pictures into a 1980s Hollywood which is at once scuzzy and vibrant. With perfect needle drops — Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’, Kim Carnes’ ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ — and an array of authentic costumes and hairdos, this inhabits video-rental space with Abel Ferrara’s Fear City, Brian De Palma’s Body Double, William Friedkin’s To Live And Die In L.A. — not to mention a whole lot of non-auteurist exploitation pictures like the teenage-hooker classic Angel trilogy, the cult-of-killers cop flick Cobra and the extraordinary mad-movie-buff film Fade To Black. MaXXXine revisits the Hollywood locations of some of these VHS gems and is packed with film Easter eggs: an early alleyway threat comes from a stalker dressed as Buster Keaton, and a key backlot chase scene has Mia Goth chased by Kevin Bacon through the Bates Mansion created for Psycho II.

X and Pearl both take their time getting to the very gory horrors — that house façade isn’t the first reference to crime story-turned-gothic Psycho in the series. MaXXXine is more upfront and ’80s about things, with a simmering air of menace and regular atrocities as Maxine sticks to her plan of getting out of adult movies into mainstream cinema, despite bodies dropping all around and a sinister figure out to coerce her into appearing in yet another type of film with an even more twisted agenda.

Like Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, West creates a visual and aural collage of Tinseltown at a specific time — when moralists targeted heavy-metal music and franchise horror sequels as the tools of Satan. It was established in X that Maxine was the runaway daughter of a television evangelist and that trauma involving the church prepared her to hog the limelight at any cost, but also to fight back against violent attacks. A serial killer is stalking her, but the threat escalates so that it seems a whole cult has been deployed — with robes and camera equipment — to make a martyr out of Maxine Minx. Some twists are well foreshadowed, but there are still plenty of eye-popping surprises.

Capping an unusual trilogy, MaXXXine is an intense woman-fights-back thriller. Mia Goth’s Maxine is what you’d get if the Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster of Taxi Driver were fused in the telepod from The Fly.
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