❉ It is truly a time to celebrate! Xtro re-emerges from its cocoon to impregnate your face on a gloriously shiny new Blu-ray!
“The great thing about Xtro is just how unpredictable it is. It’s one of the few films that really delivers on just how fucking weird aliens really would be and how unfathomable their motives would seem, and its power derives from the fact that its invasion scenario is not global but domestic.”
Undeservedly relegated to cult movie semi-obscurity after causing a bit of a stir in Thatcherite Britain on its initial release thanks to some pretty shocking imagery, Writer-Director Harry Bromley-Davenport’s Xtro is a touching family drama about Sam Philips (Philip Sayer), who seeks to reconnect with his wife Rachel (Bernice Stegers) and his son Tony (Simon Nash) after suddenly turning up following a mysterious three year absence. Unfortunately he’s into some pretty bizarre shit these days, what with him being sucked through a rift in space-time only to come back as a superpower humanoid abomination (well, humanoid some of the time) who’s partial to munching on young Tony’s pet snake’s eggs and bestowing powers upon his son no child should possess. Among those caught up in these domestic machinations are Rachel’s new partner Joe (Danny Branin) and the luscious au pair Analise (Maryam d’Abo, she of The Living Daylights fame), whose main job seems to be to get her kit off a lot. Alien eggs, slime, weird webby cocoons, toys coming to life, a surprise in the salad, and more slime, are also involved.
Despite being lumped in with all the other Alien (1979) rip-offs of the period, it’s actually closer to Andrzej Żuławsky’s Possession (1981) in that it’s one part relationship drama, one part Lovecraftian cosmic horror. And while Żuławsky’s film benefits from the sensibilities of Polish surrealism, Xtro is seasoned with spicy chunks of British nonsense verse. Both films feature a woman giving birth to something questionable.
Picture-and-sound-wise, the new release is a vast improvement on anything we’ve had before. Previous versions looked like they were mastered from the original 1-inch video telecine used to make the VHS release. Sure, it’s a cheap 1980s British horror film, so it’s never going to look like a Bond movie, but we’ve finally got a version of Xtro that doesn’t look like those cut scenes from The Wicker Man (1973) that Roger Corman found down the back of his sofa. In fact, comparing it to my own DVD copy, it’s actually amazing how much detail was previously missing, and how much care seemingly went into making the film. Unfortunately, Bromley-Davenport’s own whiny synth score is pretty intrusive (he’s no John Carpenter, and even he expresses his disdain for it) but it’s actually not as distracting as it should be given how naff it is. Occasionally, it even enhances the surreal atmosphere, and there’s a moment (the return of the alien spaceship bearing whatever Sam has become back to Earth), when it’s positively majestic.
In glorious HD, the much touted “Alien Birth Sequence” looks somewhat rubbery in few shots, but hell, it beats CGI any day and is overall much more spectacular/horrifying. Those of you familiar with the film will know what it entails. For those of you who aren’t, it’s one of those great “WHAAAAAAAA!” moments of horror cinema. In fact, re-watching it in HD for this review made me think, “What an utterly horrific thing to happen to a person!” Unfortunately, much like the exploding head in Scanners (1981), or the chest burster scene in Alien, it’s the first thing everyone associates with the film, even if they haven’t seen it, but personally, I think the film as a whole is more powerful when going in cold. A lot of its effects work not just because of their realisation but also because of their psychological impact. Oddly enough, the one that always creeps me out the most is probably the simplest; it’s when young Tony wakes up from a nightmare all… sticky. It’s not what you think. It’s far, far worse, and the new transfer really brings out the colour. The whole movie is packed with uncomfortable metaphors. Proceedings are made all the more weird by the fact that all the characters act like they’re in some sort of deranged kitchen sink drama, and the fact that the setting is not outer space but familiar locales like central London apartments and quiet rural cottages.
The great thing about Xtro is just how unpredictable it is. You don’t expect killer clowns, giant G.I. Joe figures and random black leopards in your alien invasion movie. It’s one of the few films, like, say, Under the Skin (2013), that really delivers on just how fucking weird aliens really would be and how unfathomable their motives would seem, and its power derives from the fact that its invasion scenario is not global but domestic. The creature effects, achieved by sticking an upturned contortionist into a genuinely creepy monster getup are superb; backward knees are always a sure sign someone or something is a wrong’un.
A quarter of a century after its initial release, Xtro‘s reputation is growing, mainly because it does exactly what cinema should do; it induces a sense that one is watching a dream, or in this case, a feverish, cheese-and-port-induced nightmare, while its contemporaries, like those hoity-toity, David Puttnam produced “worthy” British cultural dramas, or Merchant-Ivory’s upper-class-poncing-about films (usually involving an appearance by someone like Julian Sands in a white linen suit) have become little more than Sunday afternoon snooze fuel. I mean, Bromley-Davenport’s subsequent career may have been less than stellar, moving between interesting indie flicks and two name-only Xtro sequels (an Alien rip-off starring Jan-Michael Vincent and a Predator(1987) rip-off starring no one in particular), but at least he didn’t graduate to run Columbia into the ground by bankrolling a string of flops whilst being a dick to everyone in Hollywood because they didn’t make high art; Puttnam did, and one of the films he green lit was literally about a talking penis.
The extensive and very welcome special features on the limited edition, aside from the snazzy reversible cover, also include a couple of things worth examining more closely here; aside from in-depth cast and crew interviews, there’s a tribute to star Philip Sayer whose life and career was tragically cut short by cancer. There’s also a few snippets of test footage for a proposed fourth instalment in the franchise entitled Xtro: The Big One which will be set during the Los Angeles earthquake. The reason I mention it is because it looks like one of those lazy manufactured “cult” movies with titles like Megasharkfucktapuss or whatever the hell they’re called. God, I hope I’m wrong, but it only reinforces the impression that Bromley-Davenport might not realise how good his own original film is. Perhaps if he had continued down the exploitation route (which he was reluctant to do) we may have had a British David Cronenberg on our hands. He’s certainly hilariously self-deprecating, but the thing is, the original Xtro is a genuinely good movie. A weird, bonkers, deranged, frightening, disturbing, genuinely good movie.
SPECIAL LIMITED EDITION FEATURES
• Limited Edition box set featuring both original UK theatrical and video artwork flipped on either side so you choose the front
• New Second Sight restoration with option of original and alternate endings plus the original UK video version
• New 2018 Director’s Version
• ‘Xploring Xtro’ – a new 57 minute documentary featuring interviews with Harry Bromley-Davenport, Mark Forstater, Bernice Stegers, Susie Silvey, ‘Tik’ – Tim Dry, ‘Tok’ – Sean Crawford, Robert Pereno, Alan Jones and Craig Lapper
• ‘The World of Xtro’ – a new featurette with Dennis Atherton, Harry Bromley-Davenport and Mark Forstater
• ‘Beyond Xtro’ – a new featurette with Harry Bromley-Davenport and Mark Forstater looking ahead to new reboot ‘Xtro – The Big One’, including exclusive test footage
• ‘Xtro Xposed’
• ‘Loving The Alien: A Tribute to Philip Sayer’ featuring exclusive Brian May music tribute
• Soft cover book with new writing by Kevin Lyons plus publicity and production stills
• Original soundtrack CD
• English subtitles for the hearing impaired
❉ ‘Xtro: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set’ (2NDBR4084) is out now on Blu-Ray from Second Sight. Cert: 15 Running Time: 87 mins approx. RRP: £29.99.