Ti West’s inspiration for Xhis meta slasher starring Mia Goth, was 1970s indie cinema. Not only the aesthetic style of 70s horror and soft-core porn – the plot of X follows a crew trying to shoot a low-budget movie in rural Texas to enrage the Chainsaw Massacre– adjacent adjacent farmers – but also an independent business model invented by low budget movies in rural Texas only to enrage the chainsaw massacre – adjacent adjacent farmers – but also an independent business model invented by people like the original Chain saw director Tobe Hopper, independent film pioneer Roger Corman and the like.
“It was a time when you could make movies independently outside of Hollywood and still have a market and a path to financial success,” West says. Ironically, he says, X and its prequel pearlalso featuring Goth, shot back-to-back on the same set – a cost-saving move Corman would have admired – became “a weird reverse proof-of-concept that it’s still possible”.
Forced to move production from the United States to New Zealand due to COVID, which added the expense of having to “build a little corner of Texas” for the set, West came up with the idea of turning the project into two Movies: A 70s-era soft porn-meets-slasher movie and pearla 1919 horror-melodrama musical. X then later tried to do a prequel, it would have cost triple that,” he notes.
Goth, which has a dual role in X while Maxine, the film’s “last girl” and Pearl, an old farmer’s wife turned on and then enraged by the children shooting their porn movie in her barn, have agreed to spend another three months shooting the prequel, which explores the story of frightening origin of Pearl. She and West co-wrote the pearl scenario after landing below, during their two weeks of enforced COVID quarantine. While doing the films back to back, West and Goth decided the project should be a trilogy. MaXXXinean 80s sequel to Xis currently in production.
In a year that saw the death of independent hits, X and pearl come out. Released by A24 in March, X earned $11.8 million at the US box office, making it the second most successful independently produced and released film of the year, behind only the megahit A24 Everything everywhere all at once. pearl, which A24 lost in September, grossed $9.4 million, good enough for No. 6 on the independent charts. Not bad for a combined budget of under $10 million for both films.
In and of themselves, indie horror hits are nothing new. Jason Blum built his Blumhouse empire on low-budget horror films, from paranormal activity at The purge. Terrifying 2, a micro-budget killer clown movie, was the surprise hit of the year, grossing Cinedigm Entertainment Group $7.7 million, several times its production cost. One of the mainstays of the American Film Market, taking place this week in Santa Monica, has always been low-cost horror.
What sets West and his gothic-fronted films apart is their rich cinematic flair. X is a loving homage to 70s grindhouse cinema, pearldraws inspiration from Hollywood’s Golden Age, with West managing to combine references to The Wizard of Oz and Douglas Sirk melodramas with a few bloody ax attacks. The plot of MaXXXine is being kept under wraps but West confirms that his aesthetic style will draw inspiration from ’80s video villains. These are movies for cinephiles, not just blood and gore fanatics.
With movies like Ari Aster’ Heredity and Midsommar and Robert Eggers Lighthouse, A24 has mastered the art of marketing this type of high-level cinephile horror to both die-hard horror movie fans and the more urban arthouse crowd.
For the X trilogy, West and A24 created a guerrilla marketing campaign, another staple of the ’70s indie industry, involving a series of surprise reveals. The existence of pearl was kept secret until the March 13 premiere X at South By Southwest, when A24, taking advantage of the media attention surrounding the festival, released the first teaser. They repeated the trick pearlThe Toronto Festival premiere on September 12, announcing plans for MaXXXine.
“Keeping the movies a secret for so long was part of the journey and part of the fun, for us and the audience,” West says. “If we had told the people of Toronto that there would be a MaXXXine teaser, that would have been a lot less exciting than what happened, which was to have the whole audience go, ‘Holy shit!, there’s a third movie!’ »
Just six months later X debuted, anticipation was so high for the prequel, Pearl memes were all over TikTok, with young women dressed in blood red impersonating the Goth ax murderer protagonist.
“Anything that could help the chatter and the marketing to get people excited to go to the movies, well, that was part of the vibe,” West says. “It was a way of keeping the mystique of the movies alive.”
West’s instant candor demonstrates, to all the filmmakers gathered at the AFM struggling to find new models for making and releasing theatrical films on a limited budget, that the way forward might involve turning to old independent pioneers to find inspiration.
“You have to find a way to event these movies,” West says, “[that’s] which brings people back to the movies. They don’t have to be $100 million movies to do that.
This story first appeared in the November 2 daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter at the American Film Market.