Xtro (1983)
By: Liam Ronan on November 4, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. Image Entertainment (USA). 83 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director:Harry Bromley Davenport
Starring: Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers, Danny Brainin, Maryam d'Abo
Screenplay: Iain Cassie, Robert Smith
Country: UK
Created back in 1983 as a two-fingered response to the cute 'n' cuddly shenanigans of ET The Extra Terrestrial, the British-made Xtro (see what they did there?) is a mess of a movie that somehow works brilliantly. Delirious, ridiculous and outrageous, at times it really does feel like it's from another planet.

On an idyllic autumn afternoon, Tony is playing with his father, Sam, and their dog in the garden of their country house. Sam throws a stick up in the air - and the sky shatters, its crisp sunlight replaced with utter darkness and howling winds. Sam is absorbed by a blinding white light, and when everything returns to normal, no one will believe Tony's wild tales about where his father has gone.

Three years later and living in a London flat with his mother, Rachel, her new boyfriend and French au pair Analise, Tony is suffering from recurring nightmares about what happened. But he keeps telling his concerned mother not to worry, because Sam is coming back. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, he's right…

Deep in the countryside, a blinding light crashes in the woods and emits a bizarre reptilian creature. It awkwardly makes its way on unnaturally-shaped limbs to a nearby farmhouse where it attacks, and orally rapes, a lone woman. Yup, you read that right. What follows is the stuff of exploitation movie legend: the woman awakes to find the creature dead, then her stomach swells up and she (messily) gives birth to a fully grown man! Sam has returned, and after biting through his own umbilical cord, he makes his way to London to reclaim his son. God help anyone who stands in his way…

The plot of Xtro wouldn't go amiss on a daytime TV soap opera - errant father returns to family, has awkward reunion, doesn't get on with new boyfriend, wife is torn between the two men, etc. But then it goes and whacks you around the head with some truly inspired acts of disgusting shock-value.

Feigning amnesia, Sam moves back in with the 'family' and sets about rebuilding his shattered relationships with Tony and Rachel. It's all a front to let him get closer to his son, and if you were ever in doubt about his newly acquired alien characteristics, he proves it by secretly inhaling the gas supply, melting a telephone receiver with excessive body heat and eating eggs laid by Tony's pet snake. When Tony catches him in the act, Sam explains his behaviour by telling the boy that the aliens who abducted him changed his body to allow him to live 'up there'.

In a very unsettling scene, Sam bites Tony's neck and starts pumping alien secretions into the child, preparing him for a similar change of his own. This gives Tony amazing abilities which he uses to bring a creepy toy clown to life and also an Action Man doll. The latter set piece is truly weird - Tony sends the life-size doll to slaughter his next door neighbour after she chops up his escaped snake (the fact that the neighbour is played by the same actress who spent years as Lou Beale on Eastenders backs up the soap connection).

For the most part, the acting is top notch stuff, especially from the now-deceased Philip Sayers as Sam and Bernice 'Macabre' Stegers as Rachel. Special mention must be made of Maryam D'Abo as Analise, the sex-crazed au pair. This was her first film, and it features some brief but sexy bedroom gymnastics from the Bond-girl-in-the-making before she meets a suitably nasty demise.

Tik and Tok, two dancers who specialised in Robotics, that most dreaded of all early 80s dance crazes, were employed to portray the Action Man doll and the four-legged creature - the latter was achieved by having Tik stand on his hands and feet and 'walk' backwards like a crab. It only partly works in execution, but kudos to the filmmakers for using their imagination to avoid the dreaded man-in-a-suit syndrome.

It occurred to me while watching this disc that Xtro could be read as a child abuse allegory - Sam interferes with Tony at night, then swears him to secrecy - but this was probably not intentional. The story simply sets out to disgust and amaze, which it does in spades.

Yes, it's a cheap and cheerful monster mash concocted from the plots of other movies, but there's something genuinely alien about the whole film that fascinates and revolts in equal measure. Much of this strange atmosphere is down to the eerie synth score, which was composed by the director himself, a trained classical pianist. A lot like the music heard in Inseminoid, it lends itself entirely to the not-of-this-earth feel of the film, and was once available on LP - anyone know where I can bag a copy?

By his own admission, director Harry Bromley-Davenport has admitted that Xtro is a bit of a mess. But it stands alone as a highly disturbing piece of sci-fi horror, and I honestly can't see why it hasn't been recognised more widely for its achievements.

Useless trivia: The working title for Xtro was The Judas Goat. It's been suggested that this was how the creators came to refer to the bizarre four-legged creature, but in real life a Judas Goat was an animal that symbolised and took on the sins of the people before being cast out into the wilderness to die. Given the notorious birth scene, The Trojan Horse would have been a more literal choice.

More useless trivia: Director Harry Bromley Davenport has commented on the IMDB that "I am delighted to hear that this film made you sick and gave you nightmares, because that's what we had in mind at the time. We were young people making a movie and we wanted to be as disgusting as possible. There is a new DVD that's just come out and they forced me to do an interview in which I reveal all the dirt about everything in the universe, including the Xtro films. I always thought the film was dreadful, but an awful lot of people come up to me at film festivals when I'm showing my more "respectable" work and hit me with Xtro and ask me to sign videos. What's wrong with you people?"

Even more useless trivia: I remember reading a promotion for this film in the pages of the mighty comic, 2000AD, home to the likes of Judge Dredd. Somehow, I don't think the editors viewed the atrocities of Xtro before urging their pre-and-early teen readership to rush out and see it!
Video
Not bad at all. Colours are well defined and it's a definite improvement on the already-decent VHS print I've had in my collection since the days when it was a banned video nasty. I noticed the odd speckle here and there, and there appears to be a brief line running through the frame in the last ten minutes, but these are minor quibbles for an otherwise good-looking budget disc. The transfer is apparently a vast improvement on the fuzzy full-screen versions offered in the German three-disc release from Dragon.
Audio
Xtro is presented here in a strong Dolby Digital mono mix. One or two mumbled lines may have been difficult to hear, but then again I did have the sound down low because the kids were in bed! The Dragon release apparently features English 2.0, German 2.0 and German 5.1 options.
Extra Features
This release comes with some decent extras, the best of which must be the alternative ending which features a room full of Tony-clones rubbing Rachel's pregnant stomach and murmuring 'Mummy, mummy,' over and over. Shudder!

We get a hilarious new interview with Harry Bromley Davenport - he calls the film shit, explains why he made the even worse sequel and bitches about that film's leading man, Jan Michael Vincent. Oddly enough, he doesn't mention the other well-received non-genre films he has made - maybe he thinks that the sort of deviant who digs Xtro isn't going to watch 'normal' films.

There's also a pointless extra scene showing domestic arrangements at the flat which comes without audio, and a great still gallery featuring behind-the-scenes shots, concept art and marketing materials from around the world.
The Verdict
This is already a great package for a budget release, but I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that Xtro is a much-maligned near classic of the genre. It's disturbing, disgusting and uncomfortable - just like a good horror film should be.
Movie Score
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