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MaXXXine, the 3rd installment in a horror film trilogy, debuts in theaters

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Horror movies get a bad rap. They rarely make the critics' best-of lists, and they get stiffed at awards ceremonies, so some movie snobs out there were a little shocked when the great Martin Scorsese stood up for a director of horror films. Here's part of what he wrote. Quote, "Ti West's movies have a kind of energy that is so rare these days, powered by a pure, undiluted love for cinema. You feel it in every frame." Scorsese had just seen "Pearl," the second in a trilogy of films that started with "X." Ti West's third movie in the franchise comes out today. It's called "MaXXXine," with three Xs.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAXXXINE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Maxine, your agent tells us you're quite a popular name in adult film and entertainment. Is that correct?

MIA GOTH: (As Maxine Minx) Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I'm curious - did you always want to be in that line of work?

GOTH: (As Maxine Minx) I always wanted to be famous.

MARTÍNEZ: Actor Mia Goth is Maxine Minx, the title character. Her arc begins in the first movie, "X," in the 1970s, when she and her friends attempt to shoot a porn film. In "MaXXXine," we've fast-forwarded to the 1980s, and she's hoping to make it big in Hollywood, but she also has a target on her back when it comes to creepy characters. In the first film, it was Pearl. Here, it's the serial killer known as the Night Stalker. Goth told me she loves Maxine. The character's strength is exemplified in her mantra, I will not accept a life I do not deserve.

GOTH: It's so Maxine Minx, and it so perfectly encapsulates her and her philosophy and her attitude. She has a dream, and she knows what it is that she wants, and she's going after it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAXXXINE")

GOTH: (As Maxine Minx) I'm not where I want to be yet. I want the good life.

MARTÍNEZ: Maxine's story is set in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, a place and a decade that I am very, very familiar with, and as I told Ti West, he really nailed the vibe.

TI WEST: And in addition to that, particularly in 1985, it was a big time for moral outcry against lyrics in heavy metal music, Satanic imagery, violence in movies, home video offering young people the ability to see stuff maybe they shouldn't see, and so all of that thematically relates to the trilogy as a whole, but specifically to the story that, you know, I'm telling with Maxine, and the movie that she's starring in within the movie.

MARTÍNEZ: That movie within the movie is called "The Puritan II." Here's Maxine talking with a friend about what getting cast in the sequel could do for her career.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAXXXINE")

MOSES SUMNEY: (As Leon) "The Puritan" is a future classic, as far as ultra-violent Satanic possession movies go - I mean, not exactly "Terms Of Endearment," but in 30 years, we'll see which one has more fans. Elizabeth Bender is a very underrated director.

GOTH: (As Maxine Minx) My agent thinks it's going to make me a crossover star.

SUMNEY: (As Leon) Like Marilyn Chambers.

GOTH: (As Maxine Minx) No, she's not a star. Brooke Shields is a star.

SUMNEY: (As Leon) Brooke Shields didn't do porn.

GOTH: (As Maxine Minx) So? She still got naked, and now she's in a [expletive] Muppet movie.

SUMNEY: (As Leon) True.

WEST: People have been having moral outrage about creativity for quite a long time.

MARTÍNEZ: Again, Ti West.

WEST: It was interesting to see, like, a decade of excess and people, you know, putting their own moral judgments on other people and taking it beyond just minor news stories, but all the way, like, deep into politics, and I think that was a very tense time, and it wasn't really obvious what was true and what wasn't true.

MARTÍNEZ: There's a lot of thoughtful meta-commentary happening in "MaXXXine," but in the end, it is still a horror film.

So maybe for a lot of people - or for some - it won't be for them, because maybe they're squeamish and they don't want to see certain scenes. Like, there's the one scene - I won't give it away, Ti, but Maxine is approached in a Hollywood - dark Hollywood alley, and the way that scene ends, I had a laugh, but there were a couple of people sitting near me that turned away (laughter), that just could not watch. You know, how do you decide, when you're putting this thing together, how much is too much or going too far?

WEST: There's plenty of gore in the movie, and it can be a bit much for people, but it's not really, like, nihilistic in how it's put on display, so I think your reaction is probably the most appropriate reaction - that you know it's coming; you can't believe it's about to happen, and then it's even more shocking when you see it, but it's not really mean-spirited. It's more for the sake of telling your friends, you got to go see this movie. I don't want to tell you why.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAXXXINE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Be careful walking home.

GOTH: (As Maxine Minx) I can handle myself.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Mm-hmm. So said every dead girl in Hollywood.

MARTÍNEZ: Ti West says it's a shame that the genre is not taken more seriously.

GOTH: I always say to people, you know, that say, oh, I don't like horror movies, or I'm - they have kind of a judgy aspect of horror movies, and I say, well, what about "The Exorcist"? And they're - well, no, no, that's different.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

WEST: Well, what about "Rosemary's Baby"? No, no, no, that's different.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

WEST: What about "The Shining"? No, no, no, no, that's different. And it's like, no, these are all great...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

WEST: ...Horror movies. You're just - you're imagining that one bad movie you saw once, and then lumping them all together.

MARTÍNEZ: Thanks to the "X" trilogy, Mia Goth has gained something of a cult following.

WEST: She's a very fearless performer and a very dedicated artist, and so we started with one movie, and then we made a second movie, and she kind of upped her game there, and then in making the third movie, you know, the challenge for both of us was to try to keep upping the game and stick the landing, and she's been, like, the perfect partner in crime throughout all that.

MARTÍNEZ: Though she has embraced her role as Scream Queen, Goth calls the end of the trilogy bittersweet.

GOTH: You know, I've been working with Ti now for close to five years, and it's been the most creatively fulfilling experience of my life that I've had so far. It's given me so much. The person that I was when I stepped into this project was a totally different person to who I am now, and I've learned so much from it. And to see the response that these movies have had from the world has been really empowering and has just given me the confidence to know that I can listen to my voice and that it does mean something, and, you know, sometimes it's right, and I should honor that - and moving forward, it's definitely something that I'm going to continue, to take more agency over the creative process.

MARTÍNEZ: Goth is currently shooting yet another horror film, Guillermo del Toro's "Frankenstein" - though as much as she loves the genre, she says she is eager to try some new things.

GOTH: You know, I'd like to go to the complete other end of the spectrum and maybe do, like, a love story - not necessarily a romantic comedy - I don't think I would do one of those - but just something - you know, I've been so focused on and in this world of blood and gore and violence and death that it would be nice to just explore, you know, tenderness and love and butterflies - and I love love, too, and I've never really explored that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIMOTION'S "OBSESSION")

MARTÍNEZ: That's actor Mia Goth and director Ti West. Their new film "MaXXXine" is out in theaters today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIMOTION'S "OBSESSION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.