Review: West’s ‘X’ a slashingly effective horror flick

Jenna Ortega in X / A24

Slasher movies aren’t my preferred brand of horror. Growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, I had my fill of the genre before I graduated high school.

If I never see the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Michael again, I’ll be perfectly fine.

However some movies escape the borders of the mundane tropes film fans have come to expect, or at least they execute them so well that they provide a killer time.

For me that’s the case with director Ti West’s “X,” the raunchy, bloody slasher film that pays homage to classics of the form like “Psycho” and the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with a great deal panache, humor, and gore.

It’s another winner from A24, the studio that specializes in low-budget yet high-end movies like “Hereditary,” “Lady Bird,” “Moonlight,” “Uncut Gems,” and “Midsommar.”

The initial plot of the film might remind classic movie fans of a twisted version of an old-time Micky Rooney-Judy Garland musical where a group of friends pool their talent to “put on a show.” Only this time the show is porno flick called “The Farmer’s Daughters” and the performers work at a strip club.

They gather together in a sweaty, little coastal Texas town to shoot their movie in ramshackle farmhouse that would give Rob Zombie the heebie jeebies. It’s owned by an odd, old couple, whom you know are going to be trouble from the first time you set eyes on them, and unfortunately we get to see way too much of their wrinkly flesh before the movie is over.

Brittany Snow and Kid Cudi in X / A24

The first half of the film is innocent enough — well as innocent as a porno movie shoot can be. It’s an ode to by-the-seat-of-your-pants film making that’s somewhat charming, but just like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” the film takes an ominous turn midway through that’s harsh, bloody, and horrifyingly effective.

One can tell that West had a ball shooting this film, and his mastery of camera movements and effects lifts the movie above the regular slasher swill Hollywood so often dishes out. “X” is clearly a B-movie, but it’s shot with the craft and care of top-tier film. West’s script is meta, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it, and it’s also quite amusing before the bodies begin to pile up.

Mia Goth gives a surprisingly special performance as Maxine, the girlfriend of porn movie producer Wayne (Martin Henderson). Brittany Snow spices up the film as dancer Bobby-Lynne and Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi plays her boyfriend and porno co-star. Owen Campbell is the put-upon director of the film RJ, and Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) is his shy girl friend/helper, who comes out of her shell, while shooting the movie.

The performers adequately play their roles, but West is clearly the key talent behind the movie that works better than it should, considering the the content.

Again while I don’t love the genre, this is a well-made and effective film by West that delves into meta commentary, but doesn’t overplay the hand like the “Scream” franchise has done.

(R) 1 hr. 45 min.
Grade: B

  New in Local Theaters

Radhe Shyam (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 20 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Pinnacle

X (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 45 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale

James/Kannada (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 30 min. / Malco Pinnacle

Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 20 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne

Bachchan Pandey (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 30 min. / AMC Fiesta Square

Umma (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 1 hr. 23 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Towne

Stand with the Ukraine: The Guide (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 7 min. / Malco Razorback

The Outfit (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 45 min. / Malco Razorback

Classic Corner – Designing Woman

Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck in Designing Woman / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Hollywood is filled with stories of films passed on by one actor or another only to become a cherished part for the one who received the role. There are also stories of performers who fought tooth and nail for a much-desired part.

The backstory to the 1957 romantic comedy “Designing Woman” features both.

The movie, which plays at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on Turner Classic Movies, features Gregory Peck, as hard-drinking, gambling-addicted sportswriter Mike Hagen, who somehow catches the sophisticated eye of Lauren Bacall’s fashion designer Marilla Brown, despite having another girlfriend, played by Dolores Grey.

Marilla helps Peck out of a fix while covering a golf tournament in California, and despite the fact that his hangover clouds his mind enough that he mistakes her for a prostitute, the two fall in love and into a whirlwind marriage, despite the fact that their lifestyles, friends, and goals absolutely do not mix.

Hilarity ensues. Watching it, you’d think the movie was crafted for the two; however, the film, directed by Vincente Minnelli from an Oscar-winning script by George Wells was actually written as a vehicle for Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.

Stewart passed on the role to work on “The Spirit of St. Louis,” Second choice Cary Grant didn’t like the fact that story hinged on the alcoholism of the male lead, allowing the script to fall into the hands of Peck.

While the movie was written as a star vehicle for Kelly, she passed on the movie and her acting career in general to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco in the spring of 1956.

With Peck in place and Kelly out, the actor pushed for the regal Bacall, at her behest, to get the role, and their chemistry was steamy as the bickering couple whose lifestyles crashed into one another. Bacall quipped in her memoir that “Kelly got the prince, and I got the part.”

Sadly, Bacall desired the role in part to take her mind off the plight of her husband Humphrey Bogart, who was dying of cancer.

The movie is ironically funny with Peck showing a not often seen deft comedic touch, and Bacall embodying the class, style and fiery spirit that made her a star.