Funny how times change innit? If just 20 yrs ago, folks had seen you walking down the street chatting away to yourself at the top of your voice, they'd have thought you completely fuckin' mad. Nowadays, it just means that you happen to own a mobile phone. In a similar vein, Xtro once seemed like a great horror.rental or a decent buy...over twenty years ago. This has not aged well. You've seriously gotta love any dvd firm who has the sheer audacity to add an outrageous back cover description like this: "In the sci-fi tradition of Alien and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind comes Xtro." Um, yeah...
Remember what it was like when the video store phenomenon suddenly kicked off big time? I can recall those tiny little beta max rooms at the back of the UK outlets (usually containing one solitary and very disappointed looking customer, wondering why the fuck he hadn't decided to acquire a vhs player!). But as a young kid, I can also recall staring with fascination at all of the visceral looking horror movie covers - An American Werewolf In London, Creepshow and Xtro were the ones that really stuck out. I've never forgotten them.
I saw the Zombie Flesh Eaters video in one place (just before it was banned as a *cough* video nasty) and at the time, I thought long and hard about the British title of that infamous Fulci film. Being a mere kid, I took it so goddamn literally, like it would merely be monsters eating flesh for 90 mins solid, and I couldn't understand why anyone would ever want to watch that. Of course, now I know why - since it's a stonkingly good, and very gory horror movie. And hey, if anyone out there actually knows of a QUALITY zombie film where they just eat flesh for 90 mins straight, please drop me a line, I'd love to see it!
So what is an Xtro?
Well, it's a really fucking cool and rather alien sounding title, a funky abbreviation of the extra-terrestrial term. Xtro, I just love the way that it sounds. And whoever thought that one up, deserves a more than hearty pat on the back. I've seen an interview with Wes Craven where he said that producer Robert Shaye once asked him if he'd actually be able to create a proper film out of his Nightmare 1 footage. That was a bit cheeky since: a) A Nightmare On Elm Street was a huge success and the franchise helped put New Line Cinema on the map; and b) Robert Shaye was the executive producer on Xtro, a New Line Cinema film. And Xtro really was a bit of a mess!!
The film deals with the story of an alien abducted father, who returns to Earth after a 3 year hiatus. Only he's been drastically altered and when meeting up with his family, he now seems to have his own hidden agenda. Great plotline for a horror but it never really lives up to the potential, mostly because of it's extremely low budget nature and a seemingly underworked or plain ol' substandard script. But Xtro does still have a few impressive scenes and some truly bizarre ideas.
Aside from the sight of somebody eating snake eggs and breathing in gas from household appliances, the standout sequence is clearly the moment when a woman gives painful birth to a fully grown man, who promptly bites off his own umbilical cord upon emergence. And hey, we get to see an especially annoying Eastenders soap opera actress being murdered (sadly off screen) by a giant action man figure - how cool is that?? The ultra-cheap keyboard soundtrack is provided by the director himself, and whilst it's rather subpar Doctor Who-ish, it's fairly pleasurable and just about sufficient enough to carry you through the movie.
The dialogue often seems rather asinine and time-filling between the set-pieces but that almost adds to the bizarre charm. As does the often incomprehensible chain of events watched by the viewer - this film seriously manages to make the dreamlike Phantasm 1 look like an extremely linear episode of Murder She Wrote. But then again, why should alien encounters seem comprehensible anyway?! The performances of the two leads certainly can't be faulted - Bernice Stegers in particular, gives a well above par spin. And folks who get excited by such things, will probably be very intrigued to note that a leading Bond girl is also here in full frontal nudity.
This is one of those films that probably won't be earning followings amongst the previously uninitiated. I suspect that it's a nostalgia purchase for many, namely those folks who recall renting it as a gross-out experience from the 80's video horror era. Almost all of the effects have aged rather badly, although as a forum member pointed out, the action man (who was played by a mime artist) actually looks far, far better than it has any right to! Being set and filmed in the UK certainly adds to the strange appeal, especially if you happen to be a patriotic Brit. It's quite refreshing to watch this sort of entertaining hokum taking place in my very own country.
The DVD is only recommended as a purchase for those who already know the movie, most others would certainly be advised to rent only. To be fair, Image Entertainment have released the DVD at a cheapish-price range and it does contain both extras and a relatively strong anamorphic print. The sound is mono only. But we get alternate endings, deleted footage, an enjoyable interview, a trailer and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. Not bad at all. There's definitley an audience for this sort of thing and since Xtro has become rather an recognised genre feature over the years, I expect healthy DVD sales.
The film's director is incredibly self-defacing and because of this, he comes across as a hugely likable character. He's probably the biggest critic of his own film and franchise (3 of these films were made!) and it's certainly not unusual to read his responses or thoughts on sites such as imdb.com. "Be good and don't watch disgusting stupid old movies like this anymore" is probably my favourite Bromley Davenport internet remark so far! Because of that, it's not too surprising that the disc's 17 min interview contains some very heavy criticism from the chap. Davenport spends most of the time explaining why this film is a bit of a stinker.
Ditto with the dire (and I really do mean dire!!) Xtro II, where he shares some fascinating attacks on the lead, Jan-Michael Vincent of Airwolf fame. Explaining that the Xtro II actor was completely hopeless on set due to his unprofessionalism and seemingly hinting at problems with drug addiction. Despite his dismal assessment of Xtro 1, you still get the impression that Davenport does enjoy the infamy of being associated with such a blatantly drive-in type fodder, genre movie and is even pleasantly surprised (or thoroughly baffled!!) by the heartfelt love that some horror viewers still feel for the film.
Ironically, whilst he might have made or will make better films elsewhere, this is the film that Davenport will probably always either be recognised or admired for. Rather like Catriona MacColl always being remembered for her appearances in three of Fulci's films. Us genre fans never forget! Whilst I can't say that Xtro is a good film, it definitley has a strange charm - I'm almost tempted to keep it. One last thought, I never understood how this one film somehow managed to escape the ridiculous Mary Whitehouse and tabloid led UK video nasty purge of the mid-eighties (and it certainly did, whilst no doubt discussed, it was never actually placed on the banned list).