August 18, 2011
During the early eighties science fiction boon, there were two ways for filmmakers to approach the alien movie - they could make the visitors peaceful, like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or they could make them murderous, like in The Thing. In 1983, British director Harry Bromley Davenport tried to take the best elements of both schools, and he unwittingly made a movie that would be placed on the United Kingdom’s Video Nasty list of films that censors deemed unfit for public presentation. The film he made was the gory slime fest known as Xtro, and it asked the question; “what if E.T. was more like Alien?”
Xtro is the story of a boy named Tony (Simon Nash) and his father Sam (Philip Sayer from Slayground). Tony watches as Sam is abducted by aliens, causing the boy to have nightmares. Tony’s mother Rachel (Bernice Stegers from Macabre), now living with her new boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin) and Tony’s nanny Analise (future The Living Daylights Bond girl Maryam d’Abo), doesn’t believe the abduction story, and instead tries to convince Tony that his father has left them. Meanwhile, out in the woods, an alien being lands and crawls its way to a lonely cabin. The alien impregnates a woman by sticking an appendage down her throat, and she gives birth to a fully grown adult – Tony’s father Sam. Sam heads for the city and finds his way back into Tony and Rachel’s life. By the time Tony figures out that something is wrong with his father, Sam already has some psychic control over him. By biting him on the shoulder, Sam gives Tony some of his extraterrestrial powers. Tony uses his new skills to bring his toys to life, thus creating a group of servants to carry out his murderous plans. First Tony sends a living G.I. Joe doll after a pesky neighbor, then a panther after Analise’s boyfriend, and finally a midget clown after Analise. Rachel and Joe fight to save Tony from the alien being that has taken over his father’s form before he is lost for good.
Xtro is an interesting film. It is, at times, both horrifyingly gory and fantastically surreal. Bromley Davenport came up with the story, took an unknown cast and put most of his resources into the special effects and makeup. Parts of the story are literally ripped straight out of Alien and Close Encounters, and almost everything in the film feels familiar. While not an exceptional example of an alien movie, Xtro found an audience as a cult classic midnight movie, and in fact has spawned two sequels (with a third rumored to be in the works). On the surface, it’s a movie about a father and son reunion. It’s just got a lot more blood and guts.
The special effects team, headed up by Tom Harris (who worked on the effects team for Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones), designed the especially gory effects. The scene where the woman gives birth to Sam in the cabin is legendary. A slimy, bloody, fully grown man crawling out from between the legs of a screaming woman is the type of image that burns itself into an audience’s memory.
Another memorable sequence is the scene with the life-size toy soldier. It’s almost comical at first, with the soldier’s plastic face showing no emotion at all as it comes after the neighbor. After a while, the scene gets downright creepy as the living doll ruthlessly pursues and kills the woman. A campy scene like that is cult film gold.
Xtro seems to leave a lot of unanswered questions, leading the viewer to believe that it was hastily written and produced. These questions are one of the reasons that Xtro is such a great cult film. Repeated viewings shed light on some of the loose ends. For example, upon initial viewing, the audience may find itself wondering where the panther that kills Analise’s boyfriend comes from. A second watch will reveal that the panther is one of the toys sitting on a shelf in Tony’s room, waiting to be brought to life. Every time a viewer watches the film, more details are taken in, and more little things about the movie make sense. For a “regular” movie, that fact would be a flaw; for a cult film like Xtro, it adds to the experience.
Xtro is not an average science fiction/horror film. It’s gory, it’s violent, and it’s just plain fun.