When she was a little girl, Maxine Miller (Charley Rowan McCain) aspired to be the ‘star’ of her preacher daddy’s (Simon Prast, "X") church, but now the porn star is about to transition into ‘real’ movies.  It is 1985, the Night Stalker is terrorizing L.A. and women are turning up dead, branded with satanic marks, but our young starlet is sure she can take care of herself as she confidently declares herself a movie star in “MaXXXine.”

Laura's Review: B-

After his thrilling 1970’s horror homage “X” followed by its stunningly shot prequel “Pearl,” writer/director/editor Ti West ("X," "Pearl") caps off his trilogy with a film stuffed with movie references that screams 1985 but disappoints in comparison to the first two.  Mia Goth depicts Maxine as one tough badass, only to reverse course as a damsel in distress in a limp climax that is at once overblown and underwritten.

While “MaXXXine” features several flashbacks to “X,” any newcomers to Maxine Minx’s story may find aspects of this one a little hard to follow while those who have followed along shouldn’t be surprised by the identity of the black leather gloved killer, no matter how poorly that back story is integrated.  As Maxine gears up to make a splash in horror sequel ‘The Puritan 2’ directed by tough indie filmmaker Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), people around her begin to die horrible deaths.

Leaving her job at The Landing Strip with coworker Tabby Martin (Halsey), Maxine refuses an invite to a party in a house beneath the Hollywood sign in order to perform in a peep show booth.  Along the way, the woman who’s said she can take care of herself is stalked and cornered in a dead end, but woe to her stalker, a man with a knife dressed up as Buster Keaton (Zachary Mooren), in the first of several over-the-top gore scenes.  She’ll relax later with her best friend Leon (Moses Sumney) who works in the video store below her Hollywood Boulevard apartment.

As Maxine gears up for her crossover film, she’ll have a panic attack while waiting for a life cast (a mold created with plaster of Paris applied to the head) to set, a scene which will foreshadow another in the film’s climax (Sophie Thatcher of TV's 'Yellowjackets' is the FX artist).  She also be dogged by Detectives Williams and Torres (Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale) when her colleagues Tabby and Amber (Chloe Farnworth) are found dead, but refuses to talk to them.  There will also be the matter of a videotape of Texas police evidence footage that is left at her door, a threat to expose her hand in the massacre which ended “X” led by sleazy P.I. John Labat (Kevin Bacon), contracted by that unseen man with the black leather gloves.

Those gloves are likely an homage to Dario Argento’s “Deep Red,” along with numerous other references scattered throughout the film.  Once Maxine’s worked over Labat with a set of keys after she catches him following her, he’ll slink around in a cream-colored suit with his nose bandaged just like “Chinatown’s” Jake Gittes.  She’ll be chased through the studio lot (where indie horror filmmaker Larry Fessenden is the security guard at the gate) allowing stops at the “Psycho” house (where she sees something strange in the window) as well as a run though “Back to the Future’s” town square.  George C. Scott’s 1979 “Hardcore” is a major influence here as well.

But for all these cinematic references, West fails to give us much perspective on the movie we see makes Minx a star.  His screenplay has a lot going on, but never seems to go much below the surface.  Goth, who had extraordinary moments in “Pearl,” gets a couple of monologues here, but none of them land with anything like the same force.  And while support now features bigger name actors (Giancarlo Esposito is Maxine’s agent Teddy Night, Esq. while Lily Collins portrays the star of ‘The Puritan’), the results are mixed, Debicki and newcomer Sumney making strong impressions while Monaghan and Cannavale feel like afterthoughts.

The production features the seedy side of 80’s L.A., cinematographer Eliot Rockett using era appropriate equipment to replicate the look of movies of the time.  Costume and make-up all point to the 1980’s without overdoing things, Maxine’s various looks slightly trampy compared to Debicki’s more sharply tailored clothing.  Tyler Bates’ sighing brass and electronic score and 80’s standards like ZZ Top's 'Gimme All Your Lovin',' Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 'Welcome to the Pleasuredome' and Kim Carnes' 'Bette Davis Eyes' complete the retro feel.

“MaXXXine” is a fun slasher flick steeped in the 1980’s of Tipper Gore music censorship and satanic panic, but it doesn’t scale the heights of its predecessors.

A24 releases "MaXXXine" in theaters on 7/5/24.