Bleeding Sleaze

 Bleeding Sleaze

by Nathan Tyree



There was a time when brave men and women toiled, struggled, fought to make movies that absolutely bled sleaze. Herschell Gordon Lewis drenched us in gore. Ruggero Deodato shocked us (and even faced murder charges in the process). Wes Craven gave us unimaginable violence as a form of justice. All of this was happening in the beautiful, messed up, filthy 1970s. At the same time pornography was becoming an art. Debbie Does Dallas was exploding at the box office.  The Johnny Wadd movies were mixing tough guy noir-slash-secret-agent tropes with hard core porn. And the pinnacle of it all was Tobe Hooper’s ultra-low budget The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.


                By the 1990s the era of sleaze was over. Porn had lost the plots and production values, horror movies were PG13 spectacles starring well-scrubbed, smooth skinned teems who never get naked, and the blood was mostly gone.

                Things are starting to change, though.  Ti West seems intent and ensuring that they do.

                West has been part of the craze for “Elevated Horror” and is best known for two films, The Innkeepers and House of the Devil.  Both have a very specific aesthetic, and both use slow building dread to accomplish what might otherwise be done with shock.

                His latest, X, is a thing unto itself. It is a simple set up: 1979, Texas. Some young people rent a house in the country to film a porno, hoping to cash in on the latest trend. The elderly couple the rent from (their ages are not mentioned exactly but the man served in “both the wars”. Assuming that he was 18 when World War One ended in 1918, he would be 79 at the time that the film takes place, but based on his appearance he is closer 790) seems odd right off the bat.

                Then things go badly and people die. 


                X structures itself in a way that is similar to TCM. Horror films often use the trick of giving us a kill right up front. This gets the audience invested and provides some breathing room for introducing characters and setting up the plot. TCM skipped the early kill, and so does X. Instead we meet the characters and learn what is going on. We follow with them as they shoot their movie. This gives the actors plenty of chances to get naked, and those chances are taken advantage of.

                West uses the first hour of the film to build tension. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, about Alfred Hitchcock explaining how to create tension. Show people at a table talking then have a bomb go off. That creates shock. Show the bomb with the timer first, then let the people at the table talk. That creates tension.  West uses camera angles, sounds, obvious Giallo references, and what I want to call Chekhov’s alligator, and keep the audience unsettled until the horror begins. 


                When it does begin, it happens fast. The incredibly gory kills will bring a smile to the faces of gore fans. Some of the kill scenes linger so long that they become almost too uncomfortable. There is a sexual aspect to the horror, and I am sure that that a certain kind of mind will find something moralistic or even reactionary about it. I personally think that the consensual sex between the main characters bears no relationship to the non-consensual sex of the villains. This isn’t a Friday the 13th kind of situation.

                West has a deft hand for this sort of thing. He peppers the film with horror in jokes, allusions to Giallo (as mentioned before), Texas Chainsaw (as mentioned before), Tourist Trap and others. He walks a fine line between homage and parody, and it works quite well.

X is playing in a theater near you.