By Lynn Venhaus

Bursting with style and verve, director Ti West’s “MaXXXine” features yet another outstanding Mia Goth performance, but sacrifices heart in its unwieldy embrace of the past.

Taking place in 1985, West’s film continues the story of Maxine Minx (Goth), the sole survivor of the horrific massacre detailed in the 1979-set “X,” in which octogenarian psycho-killer Pearl (also played by Goth) and her husband Howard (Stephen Ure) murdered the cast and crew of a pornagraphic film shooting on their Texas farm.

Having fled the scene before police arrived, and after squashing Pearl’s head like a pumpkin under the wheel of a pickup truck, Maxine is now trying to make a name for herself in Hollywood, an epicenter of the Satanic Panic. She’s built a robust career in the adult film industry, distancing herself as much as possible from the Texas bloodbath and her televangelist father. 

Tough, hardened, and almost scarily determined, Maxine works ‘round the clock to pay the bills and make a name for herself, rushing from strip clubs to porn shoots to downtown peep shows in her white, vanity-plated convertible. Ultimately, Maxine seeks mainstream stardom, and when we first meet her, she’s crushing an audition for a lead role in an upcoming horror film called “The Puritan II,” helmed by no-nonsense director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki).

It’s not getting the part that’s the challenge, though; it’s keeping it, as Maxine’s friends and co-workers start dying grotesque deaths, possibly at the hand of the Night Stalker, who led a very-real reign of terror over LA. The situation is further complicated by the arrival of gold-toothed private eye John Labat (Kevin Bacon), who seemingly works for the killer and threatens to unearth Maxine’s traumatic history, as well two local cops (Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale) who grow increasingly suspicious about Maxine’s involvement in the murders. 

Maxine wants to leave it all behind and pursue her dreams, but she can only outrun her past for so long. Eventually, she must confront it head on, fighting to transform into the Star she’s yearned to become, no matter the cost.

Indeed, “MaXXXine” is a vastly different film from its predecessors, eschewing the ‘70s grittiness of “X” and the technicolor nightmare of “Pearl” to pay tribute to the Video Nasty era of the 1980s, leaning into B-movie tropes. For no matter how engaging “MaXXXine” is in the moment — with immersive scene-setting and plenty of memorable kills — it becomes a disappointingly emotionless experience. 

Its numerous threads (each potentially compelling on their own) aren’t given time to breathe or leave a lasting impact. But there’s still an irresistible quality to “MaXXXine” that grows upon further reflection. West’s film is fully committed to its influences, and it takes big swings that, if only intermittently successful, are always interestingly flawed.

Goth gives a typically excellent performance, portraying Maxine as a damaged, fiercely determined anti-hero who wants to leave her trauma behind and carve a bloody new path for herself in the name of pure ambition. There’s little doubt that West and Goth want us to root for Maxine despite her actions (like a run-in with a Buster Keaton look alike that gives new meaning to the name). Goth commands her scenes brilliantly, dishing out her own type of gory empowerment.

The film rarely slows down to let Maxine, or viewers, reflect on all that’s happened, though. And perhaps that’s intentional, as Maxine fears her own memory. Her PTSD pops to the surface in the brief moments when the chaos of her daily life subsides, and she fights to push it down.

West’s approach also reflects a broader issue with “MaXXXine,” however. It’s missing the heart of “X” and, especially, “Pearl,” which were willing to take their foot off the gas to let viewers sit with the characters and help flesh them out beyond their familiar archetypes.

Scenes like Brittany Snow’s rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” in “X” – with a split-screen contrasting the group’s youthful exuberance with the tragedy of Pearl’s missed opportunities —  or Goth’s long-take, confessional monologue in “Pearl,” help humanize these characters, breaking conventions to give unexpected emotional weight to outcomes we know will happen anyway. 

“MaXXXine” has a couple of those instances, but they’re positioned within a film that’s content to dazzle rather than provoke deeper thought, rushing along to the next kill or reveal without letting these scenes breathe. West surrounds our anti-hero with disposable characters of varying morality and sends us down a predictable rabbit hole of carnage that’s strangely empty, but never boring. 

Much of the film’s fun is due to its maximalist style, which echoes the work of Brian de Palma and the giallo genre, with Eliot Rockett’s cinematography drenching scenes in neon hues and creating a tactile grunginess that practically emanates from the screen, supported by a punchy soundtrack, authentic production design, and tongue-in-cheek dialogue that (mostly) fits the lurid, cartoonish rhythms.

The film’s cinematic references are usually amusing, but sometimes little more than novelty, such as multiple visits to the set of “Psycho” that may or may not allude to some sort of meta-commentary.

Supporting players like Bacon and Debicki bring lively energy to their characters, with Bacon appropriately sleazing it up and Debicki depicting her director as someone who’s had to sacrifice much to get to where she is.

Debicki delivers some of the film’s most heavy-handed dialogue – making a “B-movie with A material,” as Elizabeth puts it – but her character maintains a compelling dynamic with Maxine, whose present-day goals keep getting hijacked by figures and memories from her past. 

Giancarlo Esposito steals scenes as Maxine’s sketchy “entertainment lawyer” willing to go to extreme lengths to help his clients. Moses Sumney, as Maxine’s friend who runs a video store beneath her apartment, does what he can with a rather thankless role, while Monaghan and Cannavale are only fitfully effective with their good cop/bad cop schtick.

Lily Collins is sadly underutilized as a darkly funny star of the first “Puritan” film, while Halsey, as one of Maxine’s co-stars, with a bizarre accent to boot, is thankfully only around for a scene or two.

Maxine herself is the real star of the show, which she would be happy with. But by oversimplifying the world around her, West makes the moral gray area that made “X” and “Pearl” so exciting practically non-existent here, following through on its predecessors’ themes in unsurprising ways.

The mystery of who’s behind the killings in “MaXXXine” is also eye-rollingly predictable. West hits us over the head with messages regarding societal attitudes towards sex and violence that come across as more in-your-face than involving, complete with a conclusion that goes wildly off the rails and doesn’t feel entirely earned. 

Despite all this, “MaXXXine” is still highly entertaining thanks to its direction and Goth’s performance. It’s just an uncharacteristic letdown from West, who presents us with a B movie with B ideas, and an enjoyable albeit undercooked conclusion to his otherwise fantastic trilogy.

“MaXXXine” is a 2024 horror film directed by Ti West and starring Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Kevin Bacon, Giancarlo Esposito, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Monaghan, Moses Sumney, Halsey, Lily Collins, and Simon Prast. It is rated R for strong violence, gore, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use, and has a 1 hour, 44-minute runtime. It opened in theatres July 5. Alex’s Grade: B.

By Lynn Venhaus

Slashy and trashy, “MaXXXine” falls short of the thrills that made Ti West’s “X” and “Pearl” superior horror films in 2022.

The time is 1985 and the place is TinselTown. Adult film star Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), flush with success from the porn video biz, finally gets her big break in a horror movie. But the fame she craves can be snuffed out quickly because a mysterious killer stalks Hollywood starlets, and she wants to find out who is trying to thwart her crossover career by revealing her sinister past.

Despite West’s flair for retro genre pieces, this third installment starring Mia Goth lacks a compelling and cohesive story. For someone who pushes horror movies forward with an unmistakable style, this doesn’t offer anything fresh and feels forced.

Sure, there’s more money, more star power, excessive blood and gore, and heaps of chutzpah – but homages to schlocky 1980s horror movies can only sustain West’s sprawling plot so far.

It’s too large of a canvas to get invested in any of the ‘decent’ characters, although the elegant and statuesque Elizabeth Debicki adds class as a ruthless female director trying to make her mark in a misogynous industry.

Not only is it the weakest in the trilogy, but do we want to continue beyond the final frame? As it turns out, the big reveal is lame, and its sanctimonious angle took a long time limping to its ridiculous conclusion even for an hour and 44-minute runtime.

Moses Sumney as Leon, Maxine’s best friend.

Of course, with horror movies, logic goes out the window. Oh sure, purposely strut down a creepy pitch-black alley and walk into a dark mansion for the first time where you know nobody, and it sure doesn’t sound like a party is going on!

We experience the all-too-familiar tropes, but we have plot threads that leave us hanging, and there should have been a more satisfying turn, especially with all of West’s bag of tricks.

The self-righteous morality police have always been squeaky wheels, and seem like an easy, predictable target. Oh, religious zealots are offended by Hollywood smut?

The buddy cop dynamic of Bobby Cannavale and Michelle Monaghan was sadly under-used, the very real Night Stalker serial killer slayings wound up to be a red herring, and Maxine’s friends and colleagues were picked off in alarming fashion without much reason to care.

With Goth, you have a fascinating leading lady – a cold-blooded narcissistic sociopath that is so focused on fame that her moves are jaw-dropping (and ultimately made me too queasy to root for her success or redemption or comeuppance). Yay to cruelly chopping off man parts and crushing skulls?

Mia Goth as Maxine Minx

The violence is gruesome – and to be fair, there were ‘eyes-closed’ moments in the first two, too, but it was horrifyingly presented. (I know it’s a horror movie, duh, but sometimes restraint is more effective.)

To see such deviant behavior from a young girl so sick and twisted in “X” and “Pearl,” you wanted to know how she got that way. Here it seems like a contest – how sleazy and disgusting can we get? And did anyone else get a “Scream 3” vibe as well as throwbacks to Brian DePalma’s “Dressed to Kill” and “Body Double”?

In this installment, preacher’s daughter Maxine is just as self-absorbed and demented as she was before, a continuation of her character’s evil nature, a la “The Bad Seed” and Damian in “The Omen.” There is nothing new to add. If you’re making her into a Scream Queen, then shouldn’t it be scarier?

Nevertheless, West has surrounded his muse with a fine cast of characters. Kevin Bacon chews the scenery as a scummy private detective from Louisiana that underestimates what a disturbing lethal weapon she is. Giancarlo Esposito, in a goofy toupee, is hilariously over-the-top as her bulldog agent-lawyer.

The use of cocaine, such a part of hedonistic Hollywood, is omnipresent, but there are no consequences? Everyone who succumbed back then finally had to pay the piper, but we don’t get anywhere near that cause-and-effect.

While being very entrenched into that ‘80s mindset, the film’s intention does resemble the current ‘I wanna be a star’ social media influencer and celebrity culture obsessions.

In the West universe, there is no such thing as “be careful what you wish for,” only rewards, which makes Maxine even more terrifying. In “X,” she survived a Texas-chainsaw type massacre in the ‘70s, and “Pearl” was a grotesque backstory of a hyper-sexed homicidal maniac.

However, West being a master at atmosphere, his setting much of the action on a Hollywood backlot, specifically the Universal Studios tour – that ‘Psycho’ house! – is fabulous eye candy, thanks to production designer Jason Kisvarday (“Everything Everywhere All At Once”).

Kevin Bacon as Louisiana private detective.

And the seedy Hollywood Boulevard scenario from that period is realistic, especially embodied by Moses Sumney’s Leon, who works at a video store.

Perhaps it’s a little too on-the-nose, as is the soundtrack’s use of “Bette Davis Eyes.” However, the soundtrack is one of the more pleasant notes here, and so is composer Tyler Blake’s eerie score.

West’s skillful use of visual styles is another strong suit, collaborating with his “X” and “Pearl” cinematographer Eliot Rockett, and he edited the film too. And his wit is undeniable – clever use of comic relief, particularly pop culture jabs of the day.

I never thought of West as someone who played it safe. He offers this Bette Davis quote at the start: “Until you’re known in my profession as a monster, you’re not a star.”

OK, point taken. Let’s move on. I think this story has run its course.

“MaXXXine” is a 2024 horror film directed by Ti West and starring Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Kevin Bacon, Giancarlo Esposito, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Monaghan, Moses Sumney, Halsey, Lily Collins, and Simon Prast. It is rated R for strong violence, gore, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and drug use, and has a 1 hour, 44-minute runtime. It opened in theatres July 5. Lynn’s Grade: C-.

By Lynn Venhaus

Here’s some things going on now, this week and news in pop culture land.

Movie: Family-friendly Halloween fare?

Here you go. “The Curse of Bridge Hallow” on Netflix.

Starring Marlon Wayans, Kelly Rowland and Priah Ferguson. Supporting roles feature reliable John Michael Higgins as the school principal and Rob Riggle as the neighbor/police officer.

OK, this is average at best but when you need something to pass the time with the kids – particularly something holiday-themed, you can do worse than this amiable comedy-adventure featuring some decent thrills, good production design and well-done visual effects. It’s rated TV-14 and is 1 hour, 29 minutes.

The Plot: A teenage girl accidentally releases an ancient and mischievous spirit on Halloween. It causes decorations to come alive and wreak havoc, so she must team up with the last person she’d want to, to save their town – her father.

Fun Fact: I had the pleasure to interview Marlon Wayans when he was promoting “A Haunted House 2” in 2014, and he was one of the most delightful experiences with a ‘celeb’ that I have had during my writing career. The Belleville News-Democrat article is no longer accessible online.

X cast from A24.

Scary Movie: X

Now available on Showtime or for rental on multiple platforms, Ti West’s “X” is one of the best new horror movies of 2022, according to reviewer Alex McPherson and my colleague Max Foizey of “Max on Movies” on KTRS Radio.

The film is about the production of an amateur porn movie on a remote farm, where the members of the cast and crew meet a grisly fate. It’s set in 1979 and recalls the slasher films from that era.

Here is Alex’s review:

Shopping: Sold Out!

Mattel reports that the Tina Turner Barbie Doll that was released Thursday, is now sold out.

“Barbie celebrates the unprecedented music career and journey of Tina Turner. She is a Grammy-winning, chart-topping singer, and one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. This doll commemorates her smash hit “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and the design is inspired by the iconic outfit Tina wore in the music video.”

Our Tina Turner doll wears a black mini dress paired with a denim jacket, sheer black tights, and black heels. Her signature hairstyle, drop earrings, and a microphone accessory complete her look.

She is the fifth artist to be inducted into the Barbie Signature Music Series, with this sixth overall doll in the collection. Designer is Bill Greening.

The doll normally retails for $55, but indirect websites are selling it for much more.

Read more:

TV: Second Chances on “Jeopardy!”

Starting today and for the next two weeks, 18 contestants return to the long-running game show in a “Second Chance” Tournament. Three semi-final games will lead to a two-day final each week. Both winners of the mini-tournaments will earn a spot in the Tournament of Champions that starts Oct. 31.

Food: Soccer & STL Made

Pork steaks, kebab wraps, burgers, hot dogs and more – including vegan and vegetarian options! City SC today announced five of the 25 restaurants that will serve signature food items at the soccer stadium: Balkan Treat Box in Webster Groves; Beast Craft BBQ Co. of Belleville (also operates Beast Butcher & Block in the Grove), Steve’s Hot Dogs, Brasserie by Niche and Pastaria Deli & Wine, two restaurants from Gerard Craft’s Niche Food Group.

Craft is the Chief Flavor Officer for City. The other restaurants to make up “City Flavor” will be announced later. Centene Stadium has 22,500 seats and will be the home of the Major League Soccer expansion franchise St Louis City SC, which starts play in 2023.

For more info, here is St Louis Magazine article:

There are episodes 1 & 2 about the City Flavor efforts.

Today in St. Louis History:

The syndicated daytime tabloid talk show “The Sally Jessy Raphael Show,” with radio host Sally Jessy Raphael, debuts on KSDK on Oct. 17, 1983.

It would be filmed in St. Louis until summer of 1987, when it moved to New Haven, Conn., and later Manhattan, where it lasted until 2022.

Three years before Oprah, the show, later just called “Sally,” was one of the first audience-participation, issue-driven talk shows hosted by a female.

Playlist: Supergroup

The Traveling Wilburys release debut album “Volume 1”– featuring the single “Handle with Care”; and the band members include Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty.

Word: Arthur Miller, who was born on this date in 1915

“We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”

John Proctor in “The Crucible”

Looking ahead:

On TUESDAY: Baseball Playoffs!

MLB postponed the fifth game of the ALDS because of rain Monday in the Bronx. The Cleveland Guardians will now face the New York Yankees on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 3 p.m. CST on TBS.

This is the last piece of the puzzle, as the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros have moved on to the league championship series.

‘Tis the Season:

Not-so-scary Halloween celebration “Boo at the Zoo” tickets on sale

Fun for the whole family, including fabulous decorations throughout the St. Louis Zoo –  Skeleton Soiree, Monster Mash, Pirate Pointe, Haunted Harvest, Coachman’s Junction and a giant cauldron photo opportunity in Fragile Forest.

You can view the crawling and slithering animals at the Herpetarium and Insectarium. Enjoy some fall-themed treats at Zoo restaurants, including Halloween-dipped pretzel sticks, apple cider floats and adult ice cream cocktails for those 21 and older. For an additional fee, enjoy a ride on the Zooline Railroad.

Entertainment, including jugglers, magicians, stilt walkers and more will roam Zoo grounds each event night. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 5:30 p.m., catch live stage shows from local entertainers.

Tickets for Boo at the Zoo are now on sale for Oct. 21-23, 24-27 and 28-30

Free for children under age 2.

Your ticket includes admission into Emerson Dinoroarus, Mary Ann Lee Conservation Carousel, Stingrays at Caribbean Cove presented by SSM Health and “Chaos in Wonderland” at the 4D Theater.

For tickets and more information, visit

Thank you to our sponsors: SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Wells Fargo, Mid America Chevy Dealers, Caleres, Prairie Farms Dairy.

Halloween Costume Policy

– Family-friendly Halloween costumes are encouraged.

– No scary costumes are permitted.

– Costume appropriateness is up to the discretion of the Zoo.

By Alex McPherson

Bolstered by a towering performance from Mia Goth, director Ti West’s “Pearl” is a captivating, upsetting, and idiosyncratic horror drama that rivals the brilliance of “X” while standing on its own as a discomforting character study.

Described as a prequel to West’s “X,” released this spring, “Pearl” takes place in rural Texas during the height of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. A young woman named Pearl (Goth) lives on a homestead with her domineering mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright), and her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland), who cannot move or speak and requires constant attention. Pearl’s husband, Howard, is overseas fighting in the first World War, leaving Pearl confined to the farm with only cows, geese, and one very hungry reptile to keep her company. She dreams of becoming a movie star and leaving her former life behind to chase fame and glory, to Ruth’s disdain. 

But all’s not well in paradise. During the film’s hyper-stylized introduction — complete with a sweeping orchestral score, title cards, and camerawork showcasing an idyllic environment bursting with vivid colors with the sun beaming above (the same farm from “X,” in fact, immediately prompting uneasiness) — Pearl dances before an audience of farm animals… only to be interrupted by a goose who waddles into the barn. She calmly stabs it with a pitchfork and feeds it to her “pet” crocodile in the nearby swamp, as one does.

Not allowed to leave the farm, except to pick up medicine for her father, Pearl nevertheless stops by the cinema in town and becomes enraptured by the dancers on screen. She bumps into the charismatic yet manipulative projectionist (David Corenswet), who insists that she’s got what it takes to be up there one day. Pearl’s sister-in-law, Misty (Emma Jenkins-Purro), stops by with her mother to drop off a roast suckling pig — which Ruth refuses to accept, leaving the gnats to consume it on the front porch — and informs Pearl of tryouts for a local dancing troupe, potentially giving her the chance to finally prove her talent. With her heart racing and Ruth growing increasingly hostile, tensions continue to escalate, reaching a fever pitch that results in copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears, as Pearl most certainly will not take no for an answer. 

Eschewing the throwback ‘70s thrills of “X,” “Pearl” works as a poignant, legitimately disturbing drama, where viewers are encouraged to understand what drives its troubled heroine to murder, all while encountering three-dimensional characters that live and die in shades of gray (and red).

From the very beginning, West establishes an off-kilter world of juxtaposition and the harmless-turned-sinister. “Pearl” resembles a technicolor dreamscape popping with color and warm hues, belying a dark heart — grafting grotesque displays of violence, mental illness, and the absolute darkest humor onto bucolic surroundings. The glossy haze of Old Hollywood combines with sparkles of Pearl’s demented edges — lurid fever-dream hallucinations, victims’ faces reappearing unexpectedly — to chilling effect.

The true star of “Pearl,” though, is Goth (also a producer and co-writer), who imbues a devastating sense of humanity into the character — everything always seems genuine, from heartbreak to fearsome outbursts. Pearl, despite her exaggerated actions, still feels like a grounded human being, held back by her parents and destructive proclivities, attempting to seize a moment to break free from her restrictive world and essentially be reborn. Goth is astonishing, conjuring feelings of sorrow and disquietude in equal measure. One six-minute-plus monologue near the finale, for example, is one of the best acting showcases of 2022 thus far. Viewers witness Pearl experience an unpredictable storm of emotions, emerging as broken and as frightening as ever. Indeed, West isn’t afraid to plant the camera for extended dialogue-driven scenes, where viewers observe her transformation from jovial and upbeat to hurt and volatile first-hand. It’s both dreadfully suspenseful and darkly funny. 

The side characters are also given unexpected depth. Ruth, a German immigrant who’s had to sacrifice to provide for the family (caring for her sick husband, who she can never abandon, and guarding against the virus raging everywhere), is weathered by trauma — projecting her insecurities onto Pearl, while also being unsure how to ultimately keep her under control. One fraught dinner sequence in particular, largely lit by flashes of lightning, positions her as a villain — yet, here, again, “Pearl” eerily subverts expectations by putting us in Pearl’s headspace and breaking with a thornier reality. 

Sunderland does so much with his eyes alone as Pearl’s father — a man imprisoned by illness, unwillingly trapping others to be guardians, and existing at the whims of their crumbling psyches. Jenkins-Purro is similarly strong as Misty, a poor soul too naive and clueless for her own good. Corenswet brings both a charm and sly malevolence to the unnamed projectionist with questionable intentions.

Like with “X,” West interrogates ideas of how ambition, youth, and delusion can warp and fragment, as well as the connection between sex and violence. Sex becomes another facet of Pearl’s extreme rebellion against her “world” and everyone within it, paired with vicious carnage.

Although the last moments leave a few too many unanswered questions, “Pearl” is brilliant for its empathy, scares, stylization, and top-notch acting all around. It’s a different beast than “X,” but even more memorable, and I can’t wait to see how this trilogy concludes.

Mia Goth as “Pearl”

“Pearl” is a 2022 horror movie directed by Ti West and starring Mia Goth, Matthew Sunderland, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, and Emma Jenkins-Purro. It is rated R for some strong violence, gore, strong sexual content and graphic nudity and runtime is ` hour, 43 minutes. It opened in theaters on Sept. 16. Alex’s Grade: A+