DVD: Xtro (1982)

June 25, 2016 | By

XtroFilm: Good

Transfer: Good

Extras: Good

Label:  Image

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released: September 20, 2005

Genre:  Horror / Science-Fiction

Synopsis: After being abducted by aliens, a father returns to Earth and attempts to take control of his family, albeit in a slimy, alien incarnation.

Special Features: Alternate Ending #1 (1:38) and #2 (2:15) / Xtra Scene without audio (:38) / Interview: “Xtro Exposed” with director Harry Bromley Davenport (17:21) / Trailer / Stills Gallery (3:03).




Although never branded an official Video Nasty by Britains BBFC, Xtro achieved a more special infamy for being in the right place at the right time – or rather, the perfect central spot on the bookshelf of an arrested mass murderer who happened to have a floor-to-ceiling collection of assorted horror films. According to director Harry Bromley Davenport, when the TV news crew wanted B-roll footage for their killer report, the cameraman set up a slow and patient zoom-in to Xtro, and when Davenport saw his movie associated with the tastes of a freshly apprehended killer, he knew his little film would strike home video gold. (Well, the film’s producers certainly did.)

How much joy horror connoisseurs received after searching for, taking risks in acquiring, and patiently watching Xtro on video is as unknown as the mathematical variable X, but this is a special kind of cult movie weirdness with which some will bond, expressly because it makes no bloody sense; others may find the decades of hype and some tantalizing stills part of an elaborate cheat.

In the DVD’s delightful Q&A featurette with co-writer, director, and composer Davenport, the story goes that New Line’s Bob Shaye came on board as a producer, and Davenport spent a few weeks writing the script in the U.S. under the influence of the mighty green bud, which may explain the already strange tone of a father who comes back to earth as an alien, reformulates himself back to missing daddykins Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer), and interrupts the lives of wife Rachel (Bernice Stegers), son Tony (Simon Nash), and new beau Joe Daniels (Danny Brainin).

Sam wants his family back, and soon ‘gifts’ his son with an alien ability to conjure whatever he wants – in this case, a personal clown or harlequin who makes noisy party tricks and spinning yo-yos that cut throats. Tony also turns toys into killing machines (a plot point oddly reminiscent of L.Q. Jones’ equally weird, low budget and narratively wonky 1971 shocker The Brotherhood of Satan), and there’s Tony’s au pair Analise Mercier (future Bond girl Maryam d’Abo in her very naked film debut) who’s bludgeoned and turned into an egg machine, laying gelatinous orbs into the hands of said clown while spider-webbed to the bathroom wall in permanent stasis.

When father and son reunite prior to their interstellar departure, it’s as human-alien hybrids, leaving Rachel all alone. Shaye didn’t like the original ending of mom coming home to a brood of little Tonys, so he lopped it off, tacking on “The End” after the final shot. This apparently didn’t work well with test audiences, so a new finale was crafted in which mom returns home, holds up an egg like a proud mummay, and like a scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), tumbles to the floor as a parasitic proboscis erupts from the egg and glues itself to Rachel’s mouth, where it presumably implants a seed that she’ll birth within hours.

Davenport recalls the film shoot as being fun and supportive – young kids trying to make ‘the most offensive film’ they could muster – and his goodwill towards cast and crew embraced spontaneous script revisions like the clown, and Shaye’s suggestion of a wandering black panther that has no other logical reason to exist within the already loopy narrative.

All these impromptu, pot-basted ideas give the film a spastic, bizarre ambiance that starts right from the first scene in which Sam tosses a stick in the air, and a la 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the bone-like object slows down and freezes. Instead of a space wheel, though, Davenport adds light flashes, aliens who grab Tony, and his son and dog standing all alone by the country house. Smash cut to a few years later, when daddy returns as an ambidextrous alien with a raw and vicious libido.

Davenport’s original (and better) ending is archived with the final theatrical in a separate gallery, whereas the Alien face-hugger shock remains the final release edit, and one can argue Rachel’s alien smothering harkens back to the film’s most infamous scene in which a daft blonde (Susie Silvey) at a country cottage is knocked out and knocked up by Sam in his alien form.

In a moment presaging Peter Medak’s gorier birthing montage in Species II (1998), out comes the new kid. In Xtro’s case, it’s a full grown Sam, pushing himself out from between the woman’s legs and freeing himself by biting his umbilical cord. It’s a disgusting sequence that’s pure sexploitation gold, but it in another peculiar portentous coincidence, it also recalls the deliberately surreal ‘birthing’ of Jim Carrey from a rhino’s arse in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995).

Most of the performances are weak, save for Sayer and Stegers, whose stage and classical training give their underwritten characters and small scenes solid gravitas. D’Abo is just the pretty au pere who boffs a caller when Tony’s parents aren’t home in their apartment that’s almost (if not wholly) identical to locations used in two Hammer TV series: her bedroom appears to be the same one used in the episode “Rude Awakening” of Hammer House of Horror (1982); and the grim and gothic apartment block seems identical to the episode “In Possession” of Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense / Fox Mystery Theater (1984).

Davenport, a former classical pianist, scored the film using effective, threadbare synths, but in several scenes he shows his inexperience in composing film music that’s little more that hastily performed filler material. (His music did, however, enjoy an LP release, courtesy of Varese Sarabande.) The director would revisit his roots in classical music via the documentary American Grand (2013) in which a rotting Steinway piano is restored to its former grandeur.

With its infamy and unique flaws, Xtro managed to live on in two further incarnations: the in-name-only, Canada-shot, sequel Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1990), whose production Davenport details plus a sharp critique of star Jan-Michael Vincent; and Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1995).

Image’s DVD is fine, but Xtro is rather jumpy due to poor registration in the original film-to-video transfer. The extras provide both some needed contextual background to this infamous film, its director, and the franchise. The interview is funny and sincere, the stills gallery also includes publicity materials (including the outrageous alternate poster, where an alien Sam is driving his unseen proboscis into the rear of a shocked heroine), and the lone deleted scene is just a bit more material of the annoying child playing with toys at the breakfast table.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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