Director Ti West Reveals The Secrets Of X Sequel MaXXXine

Picture the scene: you’re an indie horror director whose films have barely made a dent at the box office, who has managed to stretch a tiny budget to shoot two movies in a new, shared cinematic universe back-to-back whilst quarantined in New Zealand. You have no idea if anybody will ever see them.

That was the case with writer/director Ti West’s 2022’s double whammy of X – a sleazy exploitation throwback charting a “Texas Porn House Massacre” – and its psychodrama prequel Pearl. It was that second film that made people sit up and take notice, with praise for Mia Goth’s towering lead performance (so acclaimed, in fact, that she kept getting asked on press tours if she was disappointed not to get an Oscar nomination), and a glowing review from the President of Cinema himself, Martin Scorsese.

West wrote the screenplay for that latter effort in just two weeks whilst stuck in a Kiwi hotel, with no expectation for how the world would receive it. Now, there’s genuine anticipation for MaXXXine, his return to the adult film world which follows Maxine Minx (Goth) as she tries to cross over to Hollywood whilst a serial killer of porn stars is on the loose in L.A.

“It was a little bit intimidating, but also very gratifying to know people are fans of these movies”, he told Zavvi. “When I was writing I was aware of this because the movies had come out, but I tried to keep my head down and focus on the work, I couldn’t let that distract me.

“It’s a strange thing to experience from my side of the street as an indie filmmaker, to have made something where fans are going to screenings dressed up as the characters, and are very vocally eager about the newest instalment.”

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The idea for a direct sequel to X came together in the same quarantine brainstorm where Pearl originated, jumping from the seventies to the eighties to pick up with Goth’s final girl several years after the Texas bloodbath.

“The starting point for a sequel was easy; I knew she was going to make it in Hollywood, and I knew it was going to be the 1980s. And for a story about an adult entertainer, 1985 is the really interesting year that decade – that’s when there’s the most censorship and moral outrage about sex and violence in movies, and the Satanic Panic about hidden lyrics in heavy metal songs. Plus, there’s a real serial killer on the loose!”

Each of the films is also written with the intent of letting Goth showcase more of her range, with the character’s “evolution” in the interim years transforming her into a more hardened figure.

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West explained: “When we first meet her in X, she wants to change her life and become famous, but in a way that gives her the control over it in the way she wouldn’t have in Hollywood. Here, I wanted to see what happens now she’s reached the ceiling of that fame and the goalposts have been moved to a more challenging stage.

“Not only did I want to show that Maxine was capable of that, I wanted to show that she’s become a threat herself after everything she’s faced – it’s a great way to showcase Mia’s ability, to give her a greater depth than the final girl cliché people expect her to be.”

The movie has a stacked supporting cast, with everybody from Kevin Bacon – as a shady southern P.I. on her tail – to a joyously against-type Giancarlo Esposito (as Maxine’s agent) having fun chewing the scenery. Most of the cast members had seen and loved the previous two movies before filming, which the director was unaware of when he started reaching out to his dream ensemble.

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“I didn’t want to make a self-contained story this time, I wanted the size and scope of a Hollywood movie, with a big ensemble cast. I reached out to a lot of actors I’m a big fan of, not knowing if they were familiar with these movies, and was surprised that most of them had – I wrote the movie whilst in post-production on Pearl, so I never thought it would be possible to get my dream cast.

“I always try and avoid writing parts specifically for actors I like, because if they don’t do it, you will get in your own head that it’s a bad script, when really, they could already be busy, or might have done 10 jobs in a row and need to take a vacation! It means the project starts life as a failure before you even shooting, so I stopped doing that a long time ago.”

West came of age in the nineties, but this isn’t the first time he’s used this cultural moment as a backdrop for an old-fashioned scare fest, with the Satanic Panic previously appearing in the background of his 2009 breakthrough The House Of The Devil. He insists that this is just a coincidence, and not a major source of obsession, however.

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“As a kid, I remember the Satanic Panic as a threat you were supposed to be afraid of – the idea that there may have been cults out there. In terms of House Of The Devil, the movie has no direct reference to the media landscape which fed into the hysteria, it’s just the kind of horror story that at that time I hadn’t seen made in a while.

“Part of the through-line of this trilogy is the cinema of each era, and how it’s shaping the characters. To revisit the 1980s in this story, it felt appropriate to explore the Satanic Panic again from a different perspective.”

And the movies are integral to this story, with Maxine getting cast in The Puritan II, the sequel to a controversial video nasty by the stern British director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki). With an unseen killer on the loose – who we only ever glimpse the black leather gloves of, giallo-style – and stationed largely on the Universal lot, Maxine’s life begins to resemble some of the most famous horror flicks in history.

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No homage is more on the nose than the scenes at the Bates Motel set on the studio lot, which West wrote into the screenplay before the studio had even granted him permission to film there.

Psycho has been in the fabric of this trilogy since X, where the character RJ (Owen Nichols) has an argument with Jenna Ortega’s character Lorraine about the merits of it – it looms large over that movie, and pretty much any horror movie ever made to some degree. I always knew that I wanted the studio backlots to play themselves in a story about Hollywood, but it was especially important to have Maxine visit a big horror landmark when she’s making her movie, and I always thought it was weird that the Psycho house is still sitting next to all of these sets.

“I wrote it into the script and didn’t ask anyone for permission. Universal had to approve it, so I always thought that maybe we could shoot there, but it had to get the thumbs up from the Hitchcock Estate too, and we were very fortunate to receive that, as I didn’t have a backup movie landmark if they said no – I’m grateful I never had to deal with that issue!”

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West’s affection for horror classics can also be felt in the few glimpses we see of The Puritan 2; it’s a heartfelt homage to that era of slashers, but in a lesser movie, you can imagine a director trying to get easy laughs by making something deliberately campy and over-the-top.

“There are plenty of people who would look at my movies and say they’re the worst of all time, and I think it would be the same with The Puritan 2 – I’d be the guy defending it and recommending it, even if people would call it stupid! In my opinion, Liz Bender would be a genuinely great director…”

MaXXXine is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 5th July.

Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.