Released: 24th March
Seen: 18th March (Advance Screening)
The period of horror between the mid-70s and mid-80s was what some might (and Wikipedia does) call the Golden Age of Slasher Films. This was that glorious period when icons like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger were let loose on the pop culture landscape where they left a mark that was completely undeniable. They changed horror and in some cases, they changed how films were made.
One of the key things that happened at this time was an absolute deluge of cheap slasher films, understandably as they were cheap to make because all you needed was a bunch of nobodies who could scream and didn’t mind washing fake blood off their bodies. Incidentally, around the same time as the classic Slasher films, the pornography boom began… after all, they were cheap to make because all you needed was a bunch of nobodies who could screw and didn’t mind washing assorted fluids off their bodies.
Both these genres basically invented the entire direct-to-VHS market that changed how we view movies and inspired a lot of modern filmmakers… clearly, they inspired Ti West who, with his new film X, decided to ask the question “What if a porno accidentally got spliced with Friday the 13th” and what he made was something that is almost tailor-made for lovers of this strange period in cinema history.
X takes place in the good old days of 1979, just a year after Debbie Does Dallas was released and became a monster hit which has clearly inspired Wayne (Martin Henderson) to produce his own porno. He does this by getting his girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth), a few more people big in the sex worker world named Jackson (Scott Mescudi) and Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), cameraman and director RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend/Boom operator Lorraine (Jenna Ortega).
They decide to film this in a barn that Wayne’s rented from a pair of elderly people who have no idea why the small house on their property is being rented… but once they find out what’s going on, they’re not exactly happy about it and there’s only one way to deal with a situation like this. I’m talking about murder, very violent shocking murder with sharp objects, it is a slasher after all.
X is clearly a film made with an absolute love of this period of cinema, you can tell that the writer/director has seen all the classics and probably a few of the strange titles that only ever got a VHS release because X would fit right in on those shelves. It’s like someone found a slasher film from the late 80s in someone’s basement and gave it a 4K restoration and if you’re a fan of this kind of film then X is going to deliver exactly what you want from a cheesy 80s slasher, which is to say one hell of a fun time.
From start to finish, X is chock full of homages to the classics, a lot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th are obviously here but you could almost make a game out of calling out the various films that have leant a little piece of themselves to the creation of X, from Psycho to The Shining to Evil Dead, the list could go on and on but the brilliance is that while there’s a ton of homages, it’s there mostly as a seasoning on top of the main story that itself touches on how media affects people and the differences between the generations… Ok that’s what it’s about if you really want to look in-depth and find a meaning but mostly it’s just a lot of sex and violence and it’s glorious.
X knows what it is and what it wants to be, it wants to be one of the great classic slashers but the director had the bad luck to be born too late so he decided to make one of those classic slashers right now and thank the gore gods that he did. X is dripping with so much blood and gore that it would’ve undoubtedly earned the X rating that it clearly would’ve wanted. There’s no dancing around or hiding going on here, if you miss the days where Jason would swing a machete and Tom Savini would make blood cover everyone in the frame then this film will give you that, just showering everyone with the red stuff to an almost absurd level.
The only thing that keeps X from being exactly like those films from the 80s is just how good X looks. Those films in the 80s were testing out techniques that we take for granted, they were figuring out what you could do with a Steadicam or how to pull off a slow reveal from total darkness but X has that knowledge already and uses every trick perfectly. It looks so good, they clearly put so much work into making some absolutely gorgeous shots. This is all the knowledge gained during the slasher golden era but on steroids, it’s all turned up to 11 and it’s glorious.
X knows who its audience is going to be and that audience will love it. This is a glorious addition to the slasher genre, full of everything that makes it the insane weird scandalous genre that so many love. It’s bloody, it’s steamy, it’s got a ton of great tension and some of the best performances you could hope for in this kind of film. Throw on top of that one of the coolest soundtracks that a film like this could hope for and you have the recipe for an insanely fun time. The only thing that could make this better would be the promise of more films in this franchise… oh wait, we have one of those coming out later this year and if it can live up to the standard this film has set then we are in for a glorious time.
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