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, Anna Wing
18 | 1hr 21min | Horror, Sci-fi
Xtro is a grim little number that proves infinitely more interesting than it ever had the right to be.
Produced by New Line Cinema and a pre-A Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Shaye, it is a distinctly low-budget affair featuring the kind of wretched special effects that may leave you feeling rather queasy. The movie is a British production which has 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 normal setting as an unidentified menace awaits. For a lot of people, Xtro will likely work as a morbid curiosity, although I’m pretty sure that some of you will hate it.
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. There is even a little ET: The Extra-Terrestrial thrown in to complete the derivative, grue charred barbecue, but I use that comparison in the loosest and most superficial sense. 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 looking for a place in the annals of post-Scott sci-fi, and it festers in a particularly barren corner.
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 from 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 painfully morbid 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, and 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.
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 as it seems. From there, father and son grow very much alike, and a rather bizarre recruitment plan gets underway in a manner 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 that 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 in its bleak surrealism. Others might view the movie as a joyless experience absolutely bereft of pleasure, and in many ways they would be right to.