Tagline: When Tony grows up, he’s going to be just like daddy!
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Writers: Harry Bromley Davenport (story) Ian Cassie (writer) Michel Parry (story) Robert Smith (writer)
Starring: Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers, Danny Brainin, Maryam D’Abo, Simon Nash, Peter Mandell, David Cardy
18 | 1hr 21min | Horror, Sci-fi
Xtro is a grim little number that proves more intriguing than it ever had the right to be. Most of this can be attributed to a sense of morbid curiosity on my part because the film is ugly through and through. Produced by New Line Cinema and a pre-A Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Shaye, it is a severely low-budget affair featuring the kind of wretched special effects that may leave you feeling rather queasy — not because they’re particularly realistic or visually innovative, but because there’s something acutely graceless, the cinematic equivalent of those waves of sickness that never materialise but oppress you for the entire morning after. The movie is a distinctly British production with the grainy filter and gauche editing of a terrestrial episodic horror show, and it is devastatingly bleak, without a hint of the tongue-in-cheek humour usually found in films of this ilk.
Even stranger are the movie’s fantastical elements. When it isn’t drenched in the wintry grey of rural England it is morbidly colourful, springing into life with the dubious curiosity of a malevolent circus master. Everything is dangerous or promises danger, and you sometimes feel like you’re trapped inside a Public Information Film, breezing through a seemingly innocuous setting as an unidentified menace lurks. This is a movie that will likely compel the more nihilistic of you, but most will feel like they’ve broken down on a boggy English moor in the dead of winter with no means of escape.
The story is a rather familiar one, a sort of nihilistic Close Encounters of the Third Kind with a little Alien thrown in for good measure. At a stretch you could even make comparisons with ET: The Extraterrestrial, but comparisons have never been so superficial. Basically, someone arrives from another planet and intends to return to that planet, but if you’re looking for a reunion of the heartwarming kind look elsewhere. This is cold and emotionally barren filmmaking.
Xtro is the tale of Tony, a young boy who continues to have nightmares about his missing father after he vanished in a flash of extraterrestrial light one typically grim evening. Tony’s dreams grow rather extreme when a spacecraft crash-lands in a nearby wood and a couple out driving experience the fatal sting of a backwards-crawling creature who seems to materialise as if crawling out of the primordial ooze. Tony is convinced that his father is trying to reach him in ways that can’t be explained, a fact that his elders put down to his overactive imagination, and when he awakens in a mysterious pool of blood, it somehow fails to impress his jaw-droppingly dismissive GP, who disregards the young boy’s sheath of crimson as standard growing pains and presumably heads back to the surgery to snort some more ether. Wasting no time in fulfilling its convoluted mission, the alien creature soon impregnates a neighbour lady with a life-sized clone of the kid’s father, Sam (Sayer), leading to the quickest, most uncomfortable pregnancy you are ever likely to witness — providing you can stay the distance.
Unfortunately for the newborn Sam, his wife Rachel (Stegers) has shacked up with city photographer Joe, but that doesn’t stop the suspected runaway from moving in on his former family, nor does it deter him from honing in on their improbably beautiful tenant Analise (D’Abo), who you will no doubt recognise as future Bond girl Kara Milovy from 1987‘s The Living Daylights. A long way from the glamour of Hollywood, Analise soon becomes an integral part of the returning Sam’s monstrous plan, one of intergalactic crossbreeding, hibernation, parasitic transmutation, malevolent circus midgets and murderous toy soldiers. I suppose we all have to start somewhere.
It struck me as rather strange that the rest of the movie plays out like a depressing soap opera. Aesthetically, it isn’t much different, but suburban-based domestic affairs seem somewhat at odds with the movie’s graphic, sci-fi leanings. Imagine a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing on a shoestring budget playing out to a prime time audience of passive TV addicts and you’ll come somewhere close to what I’m trying to convey to you. Take all the elements combined and it almost resembles an episode of the Roald Dahl inspired Tales of the Unexpected, if that show was infinitely more dejecting and robbed of its playful wit.
There were times in this movie when I felt so depleted I felt like weeping into a pillow, not because of any narrative poignancy or emotional resonance, but because its oppressive aura soaks you like a light yet persistent rain. Events become so increasingly bizarre that you have no choice but to stay the distance, but for a movie that barely breaks the 80-minute mark, this was tough going.
Inevitably, Sam claims he can’t remember a thing about where he’s been or where he came from, but after Tony catches him gorging on his precious snake eggs, the kid grows understandably suspicious that all is not well with daddy as a rather bizarre recruitment plan gets underway, one that would no doubt please a young David Cronenberg, though those of you who prefer a little psychological meat on the bones will inevitably go hungry.
After mashing Tony’s pet snake into pulp with a wooden mallet, an elderly neighbour has her apartment broken into by a life-sized toy solider, which after achieving some kind of plastic reality blows her door off with his rifle and hacks her to death with a bayonet.
Most Absurd Moment
Chosen as an alien breeding machine, the divine Analise is wrapped in a web of hibernation, her mutated body laying several alien eggs, which are then placed in a fridge full of gook by a midget circus master formerly of Tony’s toy collection.
Events grow considerably stranger from there.
Most Gruesome Special Effect
Impregnated by some kind of gross, sucking appendage, a neighbour lady falls unconscious. A little while later she collapses in the kitchen, and after a disgusting pile of viscera spills from between her legs, so does the presumed-missing Sam, his fully grown form tearing its way out in a manner both incredulous and disturbingly convincing.
I get the feeling Xtro is one of those movies you will either love or hate. Sure, it is badly acted with low-grade production values and shoddy editing, but that’s not the reason why I believe it will divide opinion. For those of you who actively watch this kind of fare, its deficiencies probably won’t offend you, nor will its relentlessly bleak aura. In fact, those people will probably find it relatively creative, and even quite charming. Others may view the movie as a joyless experience absolutely bereft of pleasure, and in many ways they would be right to.