Sep 6, 2010

Written for Varied Celluloid by Neil Mitchell and he can be contacted: Here

The Plot: In the garden of a country cottage young Tony is playing with his father and their pet dog when day suddenly turns to night and bright lights fill the sky. In the confusion Tony’s father Sam disappears, apparently abducted by aliens. Three years later Tony is still plagued by bad dreams about his father’s disappearance and is living with his mother, her new lover and their French nanny in London. His mother believes Tony imagined the incident and that Sam simply deserted the family. The spacecraft returns and an alien creature rapes and impregnates a hapless victim who then immediately gives birth to a fully grown Sam.
Sam returns to the family home claiming to have no memory of the past three years. He soon starts to exhibit strange behaviour and abnormal powers, which he passes on to Tony. When father and son unleash their deadly forces a far greater threat emerges from the chaos that could destroy all of their lives.

The Review
Harry Bromley Davenport’s cheap and sleazy shocker from the early 80’s is one of the strangest cult oddities in the history of British cinema. With it’s tag-line ‘not all extra-terrestrial’s are friendlyXtro cashed in on the wave of sci-fi hits of the era such as Alien, E.T. And The Thing, but occupied the lower end of the budgetary market and audience demographic that included the likes of Inseminoid and Lifeforce. The film did pretty robust business at the UK box office despite being ridiculed and despised by film critics on it’s release. Xtro? was subjected to much disdain largely due to the now infamous alien rape and adult birth scene (which is pretty graphic and provocative) but also due to it’s kamikaze approach to narrative cohesion and an overall sleazy exploitative feel rarely seen in British horror movies outside of the films of Pete Walker and Norman J Warren.
There is no escaping the fact that the movie’s ‘special’ effects are anything but, the acting veers from over the top to amateurishly wooden and the plot is a mish mash of sci-fi and horror that barely hangs together, but it’s the combination of truly bizarre scenes and outlandish ideas that make Xtro such a head trip of an experience.

In her first screen role Maryam d’Abo, latterly a Bond girl in The Living Daylights, seems to be cast purely in order to shed her clothes, have sex and eventually end up as the host mother to a wave of alien creatures. Future soap star Anna Wing, who went on to play uber battleaxe Lou Beale in the BBC’s Eastenders, turns up as a busybody German neighbour who meets her demise at the hands of a life size action man that along with a murderous clown and a tank that shoots real missiles form Tony’s army of killer toys. The rest of the cast, (pretty much unknowns or bit part players) perform adequately enough, as acting standards are never integral to exploitation movies there’s no real surprise in the moments of woodenness on display . There are some uncomfortable allusions in the plot to child abuse in the relationship between the post abduction Sam and Tony, as father passes on his new found strange powers to his son via a very hands on approach, and intentional or not it adds another layer of weirdness and sleaze to the movie.

If you fancy seeing extra terrestrial impregnation, life size killer toys, full frontal nudity, outlandish and gruesome deaths and a black Panther prowling around inside a flat for no apparent reason then this is the place you’ll find it. If that all sounds completely barking, that’s because it is, Davenport throws as many curve-balls into proceedings as he can and embraces a ‘to hell with logic’ mantra. Whether or not such instances as the black panther appearing seemingly out of nowhere are due to lapses in continuity and editing or just another random slice of strangeness from the mind of Davenport it’s certainly in keeping with everything else around it. Xtro‘s ‘shock’ ending is predictable in it’s inclusion but unexpectedly surreal in it’s presentation. I won’t spoil it for those yet to see Xtro but it tops off the film like the icing on a very twisted cake.

Davenport comes across as a low rent British John Carpenter, taking on as he does not only part of the writing duties but also directing and penning the film’s electronic score. The problem being that Davenport’s attempt at an eerie disconcerting soundtrack in the Carpenter mould sounds like it was recorded on a Bontempi, weedy and shrill instead of ominous and edgy. The production values as a whole scream cheap and nasty, not that that’s a problem, but Xtro could have been and wants to be so much more. Spawning two Davenport helmed sequels with part four on the cards Xtro is a lovably baffling watch rather than getting near to being a genre classic or a must see movie, but for those who like to delve into the past for some cult viewing, a few gross out moments and some unintentional laughs then this fits the bill on all levels.

The Trivia
  • Xtro was caught up in the video nasties debate in the 80’s but passed and released uncut onto VHS by the BBFC
  • The creature and the action man were played by Tik & Tok, a briefly famous robotic dance duo
  • The VHS release has a different ending to the version shown in cinema’s, by all accounts the cinema ending was far stranger!
  • Maryam d’Abo went on to marry Hugh Hudson, director of Chariots of Fire and Greystoke – The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

  • The Conclusion
    Xtro may be schlocky and have the production values of a 70’s television show but it still warrants a mention when talking about both exploitation and British horror cinema. I was drawn back to Xtro after realizing that two fine books I had recently been using for research – Andy Boot’s Fragments of Fear: An Illustrated History of British Horror Cinema and Daniel O’Brien’s SF:UK – How British Science Fiction Changed The World both failed to include the film in any way. As it’s both science fiction and horror and has a cult following this omission from either sci-fi or horror history seems churlish and unwarranted.
    Sure it’s trash but it’s trash made on a shoestring budget by an independent director and I’ve seen plenty of other movies by ‘respectable’ genre directors that contain far less ideas and genuinely sleazy atmosphere than Davenport’s movie.