In 'X,' horror and pleasure are deeply intertwined : Pop Culture Happy Hour In the terrific horror thriller X, a ragtag film crew sets up shop in a creepy rural farmhouse, where they plan to shoot a porno movie without attracting the attention of their elderly hosts. But it's only a matter of time before things get stabby. Starring Mia Goth and Brittany Snow, and directed by Ti West, X has an arty, stylish feel – as well as larger points to make about filmmaking, aging, exploitation, and sex. Vote for your favorite American Idol contestants at

In 'X,' horror and pleasure are deeply intertwined

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In the terrific horror/thriller "X," a ragtag film crew sets up shop in a creepy, rural farmhouse where they plan to shoot a porno movie without attracting the attention of their elderly hosts. But it's only a matter of time before things get stabby. I'm Stephen Thompson. And today we're talking about "X" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

Joining me today is Morning Edition producer Marc Rivers. Hey, Marc.

MARC RIVERS, BYLINE: Hey, Stephen. Thanks for having me.

THOMPSON: It's great to have you. Also joining us - Jordan Crucchiola, a writer and producer and the host of the podcast "Feeling Seen" on Maximum Fun. Hi, Jordan.

JORDAN CRUCCHIOLA: Hello, Stephen. It is so nice to see both you and Marc again. I'm thrilled to be here on the occasion of "X".

THOMPSON: I'm glad to have this little team back together, so...


THOMPSON: So "X" falls into a lot of traditional horror movie patterns. You've got a mixed group of free-spirited libertines. They descend on a creepy and isolated space. They're set upon by a bloodthirsty villain or villains. People die in spectacularly grisly fashion. But as directed by Ti West and shot by Eliot Rockett, "X" has an already stylish feel, as well as larger points to make about filmmaking, ageing, exploitation and sex.

Set in 1979, "X" stars Mia Goth as Maxine Minx, an ambitious actress who plans to use porn as a springboard to the stardom she feels she deserves. The crew that accompanies her includes her fellow actors Bobby-Lynne and Jackson, played by Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi - that's the rapper Kid Cudi - and Maxine's slick producer boyfriend, Wayne, played by Martin Henderson. Their director, RJ, played by Owen Campbell, wants to elevate the art of adult filmmaking, kind of the way "X" wants to elevate the art of horror filmmaking. But his girlfriend, Lorraine, played by Jenna Ortega, is skeptical.

Then there's the mysterious elderly couple at the film's center. Pearl is played by Mia Goth, in copious makeup, while Howard is played by Stephen Ure. They have a complicated relationship (laughter), to say the least. "X" came out in theaters in March, is now available to rent on demand. Marc Rivers, I'm going to start with you. What did you think of "X"?

RIVERS: I kind of loved it.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RIVERS: There have been all these, like, recent just kind of, like, dead-on-arrival efforts in the horror genre lately, like the new "Halloween," the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie, which we had talked about here before. Jordan, you liked it more than I did.


RIVERS: And, like, they're just trying to just find success off the brand alone or find success off just knowing the references. And, like, here comes this movie. I had no expectations. I had not seen any of West's previous films. And this movie not only knows the references, but, like, can harness them and channels them through his own distinct, like, sensibilities.

It's really artfully made, but it doesn't really have any, like, pretenses or aspirations to so-called elevated horror. There's a down and dirty kind of vibe to it. And it kind of has a, you know, has a strong whiff of the '70s, of course, but, like, it has a seductive aroma all its own.

I knew violence was going to happen. Like, I knew what kind of movie...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RIVERS: ...It was, but, like, I didn't know how or why or when. And that's a great feeling to have when you're going into a horror movie, it's just, like, not knowing what to expect.

I love how it's this kind of, like, love letter to just moviemaking. This movie, it harkens back to a time where, you know, you made things with your hands. Everyone just enjoyed making movies. And there was a kind of romance about just the craft and the work that it takes to make a movie.

And it was so much fun. I squirmed in my seat.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RIVERS: I - you know, I laughed out loud. You know, like, in a healthier culture, this would be a hit. Like, everyone...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RIVERS: ...Would have seen this movie and we'd all be talking about it.

THOMPSON: Yeah, it's going to have a long life - and sequels and prequels.

CRUCCHIOLA: We better get "Pearl".

THOMPSON: Yeah, "Pearl" is actually the prequel to "X". It has already been shot.


THOMPSON: They shot them back to back.


THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: Some of my friends stayed to the very end and the...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: ...Theater did not have the trailer button of the "Pearl" prequel. But truly, sign me up for Mia Goth anything. I love that Ti West was like, you know who's a movie star? Mia Goth. You know who's a Movie Star? - capital M, capital S? Brittany Snow. So we are going to make Bobby-Lynne a delicious Movie Star in this film. I'm a big fan of the "Pitch Perfect" movies. Sign me up...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: for "John Tucker Must Die".

RIVERS: (Laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: Brittany Snow is out here doing good work and we do not respect her enough. And this movie respects her to convey her as the magnificent presence that she truly is. I had a blast when I first saw it in a very, like, buttoned-up press screening because that's what press screenings are.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: And then I went and saw it in theaters and I had even more fun the second time, kind of when I knew what I was - what was coming at me because there was first, the delight of surprise when I saw it an initial time. But then there was the getting to look forward to it and being able to focus in on the details the next time.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Getting to look forward to the payoff of grisly murder.

CRUCCHIOLA: Grisly murder and, like, the fraternity of filmmakers that arose in the early 2010s, with the sort of VHS collective. David Bruckner, currently or probably wrapping up working on "Hellraiser" right now, he had "The Night House" come out last year; Adam Wingard obviously making big, huge movies like "Godzilla Vs. Kong". Now you have Ti West coming in with "X". He's been working, I think, mostly in TV for a while. But, like, "The Innkeepers" is a beautiful movie. It's a wonderful ghost story. "The House Of The Devil" - famously his sort of, like, breakout film around that era. And it's been really impressive to see these three guys really make good on that promise of back in the 2010s, where they really had a heyday there, and now they're surging again a decade later. It's like, wow, you guys really do have the juice, like, it's for real with you.

And my favorite thing about this movie is that it's part of the sort of neo exploitation movement. It is so fun to see that we might finally be at the threshold in horror movies of kind of being able to have it all. The origins of exploitation, like, I love exploitation movies. But you kind of like - you're shaken off a bit of the grime and the dirt when you watch something like that. And it's a bit of a poisoned pill. And...


CRUCCHIOLA: ...You know, the ways in which its retrograde are a part of its joy. They're a part of the wonder of watching old exploitation cinema.

And, you know, you watch things like erotic thrillers, and part of the joy of those is like, wow, we really don't make them like we used to. Because in a lot of ways, the ways in which those movies are transgressive, we can't make them like we used to because they're so just straight-up problematic that it's like, well, finding our way back into this kind of sleaze requires shifting our mindset for how to approach sleaze to make it a more sort of egalitarian art. And I think that a movie like "X," we are seeing, more and more, through movies like "The Perfection," we see notes of in a movie like "Promising Young Woman" - I think we're finally seeing that we can consistently do exploitation cinema in a way that utilizes the grit and tastiness and horror and trash of its origins with beautiful contemporary filmmaking, with actors that feel like collaborators instead of objects, particularly the women in it.

You know, obviously, there needs to be more intersectional diversity on screen. No kidding. But I feel like in terms of, like, the, quote, unquote, "movies for grown-ups" and sex on screen aspect and sort of dragging you through the blood and gore in the process of making you feel like you saw something you weren't supposed to, I feel like maybe we are on the cusp of finally, in these early 2020s, being able to blend the progressive conversation around human value in making film. And making - as the director of this film tells us, you can make a good dirty movie. And I think we can finally maybe make good dirty movies. And that is really, really exciting.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: That's the threshold of a new frontier.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RIVERS: And I think why "X" is a great example of that is just like, you can just tell, like, Ti West likes exploitation...


RIVERS: ...Movies, and he likes these characters. A lot of horror movies, I think - they depend on the viewer wanting to see the cast, like, punished, just wanting to see the characters punished or mutilated. But...


RIVERS: I actually enjoyed these people.

CRUCCHIOLA: I was so attached to them, Marc. I was getting emotional about them.


THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RIVERS: They're so sympathetic. And, like, you can - the actors are having such a good time. And the movie is just so smart about these two kind of, like, historically disreputable genres - you know, the porn flick and the horror flick and the way he kind of conflates the pleasures of both, right? The pleasures of a horror film, the pleasures of a...

THOMPSON: Uses one to comment on the other.

RIVERS: Exactly - what we want out of both things. And, you know, like any filmmaker in those genres, he understands good foreplay. The foreplay has to be great. And there's a lot of good foreplay in this movie.


THOMPSON: Yeah. And that's one thing I definitely wanted to talk about with this because I think it's really useful that the three of us have seen the most recent "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie. Now, I know, Jordan...

CRUCCHIOLA: I completely agree.

THOMPSON: You had kind things to say about that film. Marc and I were not big fans. But I do think it was really useful for us to have recently spoken about a very, by the numbers, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick of killings, where they just don't care about any of the characters. We're just going to set up the engine into which we feed bodies.

CRUCCHIOLA: (Laughter) Yeah.

THOMPSON: And this film - as you guys have said, it's more meditative, but it's still, I think, beautifully paced.


THOMPSON: It felt shorter than an hour and 47 minutes or whatever the length was. It felt paced really well, even though it is taking a lot of long beats. And as - Marc, as you said, it takes a while to get to the bloodbath.

CRUCCHIOLA: We have a whole Stevie Nicks cover before...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: ...The bloodbath begins. And it's a beautiful moment.

RIVERS: It's such a tender moment.

CRUCCHIOLA: It's so tender.

RIVERS: But you just don't expect it. It's so sweet and earnest.


STEVIE NICKS: (Singing) But time makes you bolder. Even children get older. And I'm getting older, too.

RIVERS: I don't know the last time I've been moved by a scene in a horror movie, but I was moved.

CRUCCHIOLA: Well, and I think Ti West is really good at seeing his resources in this movie and using them to their absolute maximum. I mean, one of the most beautiful shots in this movie isn't done extravagantly. It's a murderous person dancing, bathed in the blood-covered lights of a van.


CRUCCHIOLA: You learn so much about the killer in that moment and what they love and what they care about. And while it is just this sort of like, you know, one perfect shot moment and then the whole sequence of Mia Goth in the pond being trailed by the crocodile.

THOMPSON: Oh, my God.

RIVERS: Great image. Great shot.

CRUCCHIOLA: It is such a stunning looking movie. And the sex scenes look great. Like, I am famously on the asexual spectrum of a person. But, like, I appreciate the art of sex in cinema. And I think this movie, like - it allowed its actors to come in prepared. Like, when you know you're going to play a pornographer in a horror movie that becomes a bloodbath, I would imagine you don't show up on set going, what do you mean I'm taking my clothes off? Like, it feels like there has to be a buy-in from the outset so the talent knows exactly what they're coming in for, so they can work with the filmmaking team to maximize those scenes within the realm of their comfort and safety. And then with that, you can actually make something better when you don't have to treat performers as object, when they are a part of the process of creation together because look at that - you can get the best out of everybody.


CRUCCHIOLA: That's when horror is singing at its best pitch.

RIVERS: And I think Ti West understands it. Like, something is like - and I think "Deep Water" gets at this, too. Something has been lost in the mainstream movie culture that, like, the movies don't seem to care as much about the pleasures of the body as they used to, you know, in the '70s and '80s. And this movie is about that. It's about the pleasures of the body. It's about the body. It's like body horror in the truest sense, you know, 'cause it conflates the pleasures of both the body and horror, you know? And, like, Ti West gives so much texture situating it in this place and time. So the movie takes place in 1979, so it's kind of, like, on this tail end of these, you know, auteur-driven, personally driven...


RIVERS: ...Movies in Hollywood. It's also on the cusp of an era of conservatism, both in the movies and in politics, that would come in, too.

CRUCCHIOLA: And at the dawn of the grisly age of horror, coming with...

RIVERS: Exactly.

CRUCCHIOLA: ...Craven and Hooper and...

RIVERS: Exactly.

CRUCCHIOLA: ...Carpenter.

RIVERS: There's all that texture that you just have in the movie without really calling too much attention to itself. To me, these horror movies just have an ahistorical sense to them. And this movie understands not only the genre but the time that these movies were being made, you know?

THOMPSON: Now, Marc, you mentioned body horror. I did want to talk a little bit about the plot in this movie that revolves around these elderly owners of the house and how much of this film does revolve around a lot of body horror around like, ew, old people wanting to have sex is gross. And I did kind of wish that the movie had found a way to, I don't know, just, like, find those thrills elsewhere a little bit.


THOMPSON: Especially in a movie that has, in many ways - I don't want to say healthy attitudes, but...

CRUCCHIOLA: No, I'm really, really glad you brought this up. I think this is a really important thing about this movie, and I think it's a really fascinating example of the power of the audience. I went saw this, again, press screening first time I saw it. You go to a press screening. It is a reserved crowd.


CRUCCHIOLA: I was only experiencing my internal reactions without the influence of anybody else playing into it, and I loved it. And then a dear friend of mine went and saw it, who's a filmmaker, who really loves exploitation cinema. This is not a person with delicate sensibilities. But when he came out of it, he really grated up against the sense of hagsploitation in a way that he felt was regressive. And he talked about, like, yeah, like, sitting around a bunch of people who are, like, laughing at these old people having sex who, like, clearly there's a lot of, like, agony there and a lot of longing. And he's like, you know, and they're not necessarily the most noble people, but the fact of them being old and their bodies being old wasn't the bad thing about them.

THOMPSON: Right...

CRUCCHIOLA: I found that those scenes were filmed so tenderly in the longing between the two of them because they're super old and this guy is so old that he basically, like, medically can't have sex anymore. Like, she tries to seduce him a couple of times - his wife, Pearl - and he's like, you know, I can't, my heart. Like, he lives in fear of touching his wife, that it will stimulate too much of a reaction in him and he's going to die of a heart attack. And so, like, we see that effort happen from her a couple times, and she expresses this sense of, like, make me feel special, make me feel loved, make me feel wanted. I want you to desire me. And seeing that in the quiet of the theater, being alone, I felt predominantly the sense of agony, of not being able to share intimacy between each other. And then Mia Goth is trying to scoot away from them in the same room trapped under a bed. My fear in that moment was it like, is Mia Goth going to get out of this alive?

And what I was reading from what Ti West was bringing in, was a sense of empathy that sort of careens into the horror of also these people are doing bad things and she's trying to get away from them for a reason. And I think this is such a fascinating example of where the art leaves the creator and becomes whatever it is to the people who consume it. And what audiences tell us about where we are in our ability to receive exploitation cinema and our ability to move the needle in progress versus being anchored and just being habituated into what is bad or regressive, either about the movies of the past or about what has been ingrained into us as far as the judgments we make and project onto the screen - I think it's super interesting what this movie points out for us.

RIVERS: Yeah, I think it is kind of playing off old people having sex, yuck, right?


RIVERS: But that's more so the audience's discomfort, right? And I think West kind of like, tips his hat as far as, like, his sympathies by having Mia Goth play both Maxine and the old woman.

CRUCCHIOLA: That's a good point.

RIVERS: In the same way the movie's about the pleasures of the body, it's about getting old. It's about the time we have left in a lot of ways. One thing I have to say about Kid Cudi, I mean, he has this, like, sonorous, just, like, Southern drawl that's just so wonderful.


RIVERS: And like, I just didn't expect him to be this good in this movie.


RIVERS: But there are so many wonderful things to infer with his character. Like, he's this Vietnam vet, so, like, you could just imagine he has seen the body mutilated in the worst possible ways, right?

CRUCCHIOLA: And been treated in the worst possible ways by his government and country.

RIVERS: I come back and I don't have a lot of options. What's one thing I can do? I'm going to go the total reverse. I'm going to use my body for pleasure, for good. And just that on its own is just such - there's just such an insightful characterization of this guy that we don't get to know his backstory, but like, we know just enough just through just how he carries himself and the way he interacts with Brittany Snow's character. And yeah, there's just so much tenderness in this movie, even though there's a lot of, you know, it's not just that. There's a lot of, like, gruesome deaths.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) This is a very violent movie.

CRUCCHIOLA: This is some of my favorite treatment of murders in a movie in ages.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RIVERS: Oh, yeah. Jordan, I'm not much of a talker in the movies, really, but I was just reacting to this just every moment, just, like, this movie had me.

CRUCCHIOLA: And the physical performances, particularly of both. I mean, the timidity and the quiet performance of Jenna Ortega and what she's doing in this as little church mouse is really fantastic. And it really undergirds, like, what you feel like the interiority radiating off of her character. But then with Brittany Snow, a person that we've known for so long in so much media to come bursting forth from the screen and just radiate the way she does as Bobby-Lynne - I think there's so much of that is the physical performance in what we see in her romper and her blonde wig. She is just looking like peak fabulosity and it's because of the swagger she brings to the screen. And we know Brittany Snow, but it feels like in this movie we are seeing her and learning something new about Brittany Snow just by virtue of her physical existence. And "X" really accomplishes the feeling of Texas horror. And that is a very specific feeling and vibe and mentality. There's a sensuality...

RIVERS: You feel the heat, the sweat...

CRUCCHIOLA: ...And a grittiness and a sweatiness to it. And it's something tactile that this movie really nails. And I'm grateful to A24 for putting its dollars toward this because I think it only means great things for horror films.

RIVERS: And just one more thing about Mia Goth. Like, in this age where we have, like seven different Chris's, that're kind of, like, interchangeable...


RIVERS: ...Goth just has such an unmistakable presence and physicality on screen. And you need actors who it's just compelling to see them react and just exist in a space. We had more of those actors in the '70s, you know, with Sissy Spacek, or like are Shelley Duvall. Goth I think is just a wonderful kind of avatar for those kind of performances and those kinds of, like, characterizations, and that's appreciated.

THOMPSON: They have already made a prequel. Marc, you mentioned how they cast Mia Goth as both Maxine and as Pearl. One reason they did that is because that prequel is happening imminently and that lets you cast Mia Goth all over again.


RIVERS: It's coming back.

THOMPSON: Well, I think it is safe to say we enjoyed this movie a lot (laughter). As much as I enjoyed "X," watching "X" now, I'm especially just happy for Jordan.


CRUCCHIOLA: Thank you. I appreciate your support.

THOMPSON: Well, we want to know what you think about "X." Find us at and on Twitter @pchh. One last thing before we go - for an upcoming episode, we want to know, who are your favorite "American Idol" contestants of all time? You can vote now at Again, you can vote for your favorite "American Idol" contestants at That brings us to the end of our show. Marc Rivers, Jordan Crucchiola, thanks so much to both of you for being here.

RIVERS: Thank you. This is great.

CRUCCHIOLA: Thank you very much, always a thrill.

THOMPSON: This episode was produced by Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Stephen Thompson. We will see you all tomorrow with a guide to promising movies, TV shows and music you can check out this summer.

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