Halsey and Mia Goth in MaXXXine, which River Page wasted his Friday night on. (Photo by A24)

Make Horror Films Scary Again

Why did ‘MaXXXine’ feel the need to have a political hot take?

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Friday night, I wasted the evening on MaXXXine, the final installment of Ti West’s slasher horror trilogy. It was bad enough that I whispered, “Oh brother, not this,” to my husband. Bad enough that nobody in the movie theater even shushed me, even after the fourth time I did it. 

Set in Hollywood in the 1980s, at the height of the Satanic Panic, MaXXXine’s elevator pitch is this: What if the Satanists were real, and led by a televangelist? Its point: the scariest thing about the 1980s was the rise of the Moral Majority. The film demonizes the Christian right in the most extreme and ham-fisted way.

Given the story is about a coked-up porn star trying to break into the mainstream movie industry after murdering a serial killer in self-defense, it’s strange this movie needs to make a political statement at all. A horror film like this should not attempt to say anything profound about society, but alas, this is the world its distributor, A24, has given us.

I blame this on the success of another A24 film, The Witch (2015), Robert Eggers’ folk horror film about a young Puritan woman who rejects the rigid patriarchal society she was raised in to join a coven so she can “live deliciously.” It was a good movie, and whatever point Eggers was trying to make about society was subtle. Unfortunately, since then, the film industry has bombarded us with artsy horror films trying to do the same thing. That is, comment deftly on the world—and failing.

Horror movies are not supposed to be a vehicle for hot takes. There was Midsommar (2019), a deranged post-MeToo flick, which ends with the protagonist ritually sacrificing her shitty boyfriend in a neo-pagan Swedish commune. The worst was The Menu (2022), a horror-comedy that’s ostensibly about a murderous chef but actually a class film about snobby elites and the subjugation of the working class. If the viewer is afraid, it is of being beaten over—and over and over—the head with that point, for the entire 107-minute runtime.

However, we shouldn’t forget Barbarian (2022), about an Airbnb occupied by a serial killer and his inbred monster daughter. Of course, the real monster is America, for abandoning Detroit, but also maybe gentrification, and landlords.

When I got to the movie theater on Friday, I just wanted to be frightened. Please, Hollywood. Make horror movies scary again—or don’t make them at all.

River Page is a reporter at The Free Press. Follow him on X @river_is_nice, and read his piece “Barron Trump, American Caesar.”

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