ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Xtro (1982) Blu Ray: Limited Edition Box Set (Second Sight)
An absent father returns… from space
This sci-fi horror film begins with young Tony Phillips (Simon Nash) watching helplessly as his father Sam (Philip Sayer) is taken from him by a glowing UFO. Fast-forward three years later, and he wakes up from a bad dream where he recollects the event. He is now living with his mother Rachel (Bernice Stegers), her fashion photographer boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin) and their beautiful French au pair Analise Mercier (Maryam d’Abo) in a flat in London.
The UFO makes a return to Earth near the cottage where they used to live. A quadrupedal alien emerges, kills a couple who happen to be driving past, and then heads back to the old house. The creature then attacks and orally impregnates the woman who now resides there. This causes her to gorily give birth to a new incarnation of Sam. Around the same time that this occurs, Rachel finds that her son has, once again, suffered from a nightmare. This time, however, she discovers that his pyjamas are drenched in blood. The doctor is called for a quick examination but concludes that the blood isn’t his own and that he displays no evidence of any physical injury.
Meanwhile, back at the cottage, the reincarnated Sam proceeds to wash away the blood covering his own body from the birth, steals the clothes from one of the creature’s victims and heads to London to reintroduce himself into their life. However, while Tony is overjoyed to see his father again, Rachel has rather mixed feelings and Joe, needless to say, isn’t at all comfortable with the idea. It turns out that he has a point, considering that this new version decides to bestow his son with a series of incredible and deadly powers….
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A true cult oddity
Xtro clearly drew some inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) as well as being a horror cash-in on 1982’s colossal wave of hype surrounding Stephen Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. At the same time, however, it’s a true one-of-a-kind oddity. It has often been cited as one of the notorious “Video Nasties” to have got into legal hot water during the early 1980s in Britain. In actual fact, it never really made it onto the main Department of Public Prosecutions list, instead ending up on a less well-known list of videos which were earmarked for conviction on the lesser Section 3 of the country’s Obscene Publications Act, meaning that it could be confiscated and destroyed by order of a magistrate. While critics of the time lambasted the film, it has gone on to garner something of a cult following over the years.
Objectively-speaking, Xtro has a lot wrong with it. The storyline and its sequence of events don’t make much sense. The acting ranges from OK to outright bad and is marred by some rather off-sounding post-production dialogue dubbing. Most of the synth score, by writer-director Harry Bromley Davenport himself, frankly sounds like he just struck a bunch of keys at random. The film’s tone veers wildly from hardcore horror à la David Cronenberg’s The Brood or the aforementioned Alien to a colourfully campy approach which comes closer to the Doctor Who TV series.
On the other hand, you would be hard-pressed to accuse it of being boring. Most of the practical effects are impressively done and there’s a genuinely creepy atmosphere to many of the scenes. Moreover, the whole thing is so certifiably bonkers - in part, precisely because of its stilted aspects - that you’ll be on tenterhooks waiting for each baffling moment to unfold. The gore effects are quite queasy and it’s easy to see how they may have tipped the film to borderline Video Nasty status. While they’re pure fantasy stuff, they do have a strong sexual aspect which makes them uncomfortable to watch. The most notable sequence involves Sam’s rebirth. Firstly, the mother is raped orally by an alien creature’s somewhat phallic protrusion. We then see Sam graphically emerging from her vagina (which stretches wide thanks to the magic of prosthetics) in a welter of blood and internal organs, before finally biting through her umbilical cord. Not a moment you’ll want to be watching while eating your dinner.
A later scene where Sam mutates Tony, thus giving him special powers and allowing him to live on his new planet, is another icky moment as it involves him baring his son’s shoulder and “kissing” it, causing a mound of flesh to swell up. This whole sequence has an unmistakable insinuation of paedophilia about it, although, in context, there doesn’t seem to be any wider discussion of such controversial subject matter running through the film. It’s just gratuitously salacious, as are the nudity-heavy sex scenes involving Maryam d’Abo and an onscreen boyfriend (David Cardy) who only pops up (if you’ll excuse the metaphor) a couple of times before being done away with.
There are other moments that are just comedic - but again, more in a manner that’s head-scratchingly bereft of a wider overall context than actually funny. Anna Wing gives an overdone performance as a snooty old busybody of a neighbour named Mrs. Goodman. After being granted his special powers, Tony causes his toys to come to life and attack various people whom he perceives as a threat. The most memorable of these are a clown (played by Peter Mandel) armed with a wobbling rubber hammer and a flashing razor-tipped yo-yo, and an Action Man figure which expands to full human size and uses its gun bayonet to impale a hapless victim. The latter creation is played by Tok, a robotic mime artist who was briefly popular around this time. Tok had a partner named Tik who, incidentally, played the quadrupedal alien creature seen early on.
The whole film is, more or less, a disjointed collection of weird and gruesome scenes which leaves you with the impression that the filmmakers just stroked their collective chins and thought “hmm, it would be really cool if this happened, and that, and that” and cobbled them together without giving any thought as to whether they fit into an overarching storyline framework. There’s never any explanation as to why Sam got abducted in the first place other than “yeah, aliens, cool!”. There’s never any reason given as to why he needs to be reborn fully-grown from a hapless female victim other than “hey, that sounds a really choice bit of gruesomeness!”. Tony is only given special powers to bring toys to life because “wow, a bit where a living Action Man kills someone, that sounds like a fantastically out-there idea!”. Maryam d’Abo (who later became better-known as a Bond Girl in 1987’s The Living Daylights) is only really there because the filmmakers fancied throwing in a sexy young female actress who is willing do nude scenes. The list goes on and on.
It even makes the notorious 1979 all-star Italian sci-fi horror The Visitor (1979) look like a model of sense and sobriety by comparison. However, if you just relax and go with the constant barrage of mental, then Xtro is a lively and colourful 87 minutes of quintessentially quirky British-style chills.
Runtime: 87 mins
Dir: Harry Bromley Davenport
Script: Harry Bromley Davenport, Iain Cassie, Robert Smith, Michel Parry, Jo Ann Kaplan
Starring: Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers, Danny Brainin, Maryam d’Abo, Simon Nash, Peter Mandel, David Cardy, Anna Wing, Tik and Tok
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Visually-speaking, it’s fairly good but the colours are somewhat over-saturated and tend to bleed into one another in the darker shots. There’s only so much you can do with the tinny post-production dubbed sound which was clearly a fault of the original film. Even so, however, there is some noticeable bass rumble and the dialogue is overwhelmed by the background noise on occasion.
There are 4 versions of the film present on the disc. The first two have two different endings, one of which is a relatively upbeat (if still rather strange) ending which was present in the UK cinema release. The second features a more downbeat ending. The third features the UK video version, which has the downbeat ending but apparently is shorn of a few bits of dialogue (although, since the dialogue is hardly the most memorable aspect of the film, I struggled to notice what was missing). The last features a 2018 Director’s Version, introduced by Harry Bromley Davenport, which messes around with the colours and adds a few CGI optical effects and enhancements. Unfortunately, these embellishments only serve to ruin a perfectly decent-looking film and leave you wondering why he bothered.
This highly entertaining 57-minute making-of features Harry Bromley Davenport and a number of other people reminiscing about the production. The script was originally titled “Monstro” but was changed to Xtro in order to cash in on E.T. The director reveals that he was somewhat embarrassed about Maryam d’Abo’s nude scenes but was forced to because New Line Cinema head Robert Shaye insisted that he wanted to “see some ass”. Shaye also forced the inclusion of a black panther into certain scenes in the film. Davenport recalls that the crew had to be confined to a metal cage while the handler dangled a chicken above its head to make it jump. A man with a shotgun was also offstage in case something untoward happened. Another animal - Tony’s onscreen pet grass snake - died and had to be replaced after the scene where it fell from the chandelier. The director also notes that Simon Nash, who played Tony, got increasingly fat during filming - something which he optically corrected in the 2018 Director’s Version.
Perhaps the most interesting parts of the documentary, however, come when Tik and Tok discuss the discomforts they endured in their respective costumes. Tik, in particular, recollects one scene where he had to submerge himself in muddy water and slowly emerge when the cameras started rolling.
Towards the end of the documentary, they discuss both the film’s popularity and its notoriety. In the US its theatrical run was a major success and helped to tide New Line Cinema over its financial woes. In the UK, meanwhile, it was something of a box office disappointment due to competition from Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. However, it received something of a boost due to its association with the Video Nasties scare. Although it was never prosecuted, it found its way into a television news broadcast where a camera focussed on a serial murderer’s video collection - revealing an Xtro video nestling proudly on one of the shelves. Video rentals and sales apparently rocketed after that particular piece of accidental publicity!
Davenport, a classically-trained pianist who also composed the film’s score, ends the proceedings in a fitting manner by tinkling the ivories.
The World of Xtro
This shorter (26-minute) but equally enjoyable doc features an interview with Dennis “Xtro” Atherton - a fan so huge that he has bought copies of the film just to send them to friends to get them to watch it. He loves its unpredictability and disagrees with Harry Bromley Davenport’s rather self-deprecating view of his work on the film. He makes a good case, pointing out a few subtle details which show that the director did apply a level of care when filming. He ends by saying that the film is like life itself - it leaves you coming away with more questions than answers.
This featurette takes a quick look at the film’s existing sequels: Xtro II: The Second Encounter and Xtro III: Watch the Skies, as well as another one in development entitled Xtro: The Big One. While all are directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, their plots are entirely unrelated to each other. The reason behind this is that, while Davenport has retained the rights to the Xtro name, contractual issues prevented him from revisiting the storyline and characters from the original film.
We also get to see some test footage from Xtro: The Big One and, to be honest, it looks terrible. The acting is terribly wooden and the CGI is on the level of a production by The Asylum.
Loving the Alien
Harry Bromley Davenport, Bernice Stegers and fan Dennis Atherton pay a short but sweet tribute to actor Philip Sayer, who died at the age of just 42 from a cancer which affected the lining of his lungs. We also get to hear a Brian May song called Just One Life which was inspired by the actor’s untimely passing.
This archive featurette from 2005 features a rather younger Davenport than the one seen in the others on this disc. While there’s some inevitable overlap in his comments with the other documentaries, he seems a bit more frank here in his views of the film, calling it “a bit of a mess” and “rubbish”. He mentions that the film was basically an exercise in coming up with “the most disgusting things they could possibly get away with”. He also refutes some accusations of misogyny which were levelled at the filmmakers at that time.
An enclosed booklet, a trailer and TV spot round out the extras.
Xtro is one of those movies which is best watched late at night, preferably after some form of intoxication. The extras (Xtras?) here, with the notable exception of that pointless new Director’s Version, are a lot of fun and make it a fine disc to return to.