I knew very little about “Xtro” before popping it on, so when I discovered it was set in England and made by an English writer/director, I was rather surprised (plus, it’s an early movie from New Line, aka the producers of the “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies). There’s something about English horror of the 80s – well, I can only think of “Lifeforce”, “An American Werewolf in London” and “Hellraiser” here, but please bear with this analogy – that seems dingy and miserable in a way American ones just didn’t seem to be able to manage. Plus, I just realise, all those movies have American actors in major roles, as if they knew to sell it over the pond would need an accent US audiences could relate to. But anyway, I’m wandering away from the point here. Xtro!
Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) is abducted by aliens while staying at a cottage with his son Tony, an event that still traumatises Tony three years later. I mean, this is on the back of the VHS box, so I’m not giving anything vital away here. Sam’s wife Rachel (the strikingly beautiful Bernice Stegers) is now living with American photographer Joe (Danny Brainin), plus French au pair Analise (future Bond girl Maryam D’Abo, in her first role). They really don’t seem wealthy enough to need an au pair, but presumably someone went “this horror movie needs nudity, and Stegers is married to a famous director so we can’t force her into doing it” so whatever.
One day, the aliens show up again and drop off one of their crew, in a scene that gets trotted out every now and again by particularly credulous believers in alien visitation before a thousand people shout at them “it’s from Xtro, you idiot”. This odd-looking fellow kills a few people on a dark country lane before…and perhaps I missed a bit here…laying an egg inside some poor unfortunate woman and then disappearing from the movie forever? Anyway, the upshot of all this is, she gives birth to a full-sized adult man, aka Sam from the beginning of the movie. After cleaning all the goo off himself and learning how to talk again, he pops off home to reclaim his family.
Obviously, he’s got ulterior motives, and one of these is sucking some of the lifeforce from his son, which also gives him alien powers. These powers are used to animate a midget clown and an Action Man figure to kill his nasty downstairs neighbour – played by Anna Wing, who shortly after this movie cemented her place in UK pop culture history by getting the part of Lou Beale on “Eastenders”. Oh, and he kills Analise because she’s insufficiently committed to a game of “Hide and Seek” – don’t worry, I couldn’t make any sense of that bit either. There’s one bit where he wakes up in the middle of the night, covered in blood, so a doctor is called, who can find nothing wrong with him. Horrible, right? Well, it’s just ignored the next morning, as if children waking up drenched in mystery blood is a terribly common occurrence.
I’ve possibly made it sound more interesting than it really is. It grinds to a halt when Sam shows up again, becoming a sort of dull kitchen-sink drama for a good twenty minutes or so, and only really kicks off again when Sam and Rachel go back to the cottage to see if they can figure out what went on. I feel worst for Joe, who gets treated as an afterthought in the conclusion of the movie.
One thing “Xtro” got right was the special effects. The alien (as seen above, if I can get a decent screenshot) is extremely effective, and the liberal use of goo and gore is refreshing for a British horror movie too (director Harry Bromley Davenport said he wanted to make it even more disgusting, but New Line stopped him). That it’s mistaken for one of the 72 “video nasties” is completely unsurprising, because it is gross!
Plus, I like how the inspiration for the plot feels English. I’d lay good money on this having something to do with the Rendlesham Forest incident – which happened two years before this movie was made. Complete nonsense, mind, but it’s got that home-grown flavour to it. Of course, it might have just been rush-released to get some of that “ET” money, but we shall never know (by which I mean I can’t be bothered to check).
SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING: Rachel, having seen her boyfriend die, and her husband and son go off to space, was (in the original ending) supposed to go back and find her home full of clones of Sam, but the special effects looked terrible. Then it was supposed to finish with her just sitting down in the field, but Davenport said that was too abrupt. The ending we’ve been left with is Rachel walking back into her house with a Mona-Lisa-esque knowing smile on her face, and picking up one of the eggs that Sam left behind. If it had cut off with her smiling at the eggs, it would have been quite creepy and interesting, but what they did was have one of the eggs pop open and attach itself to her face, killing her, which is stupid.
It’s got one major positive (the special effects) but everything else works against it. The plot is about halfway to being decent, but just throws all that out of the window towards the end; the acting from the women is excellent, but the men – including the kid, who’s just awful – leaves a lot to be desired. It’s fun to see the British have a real crack at an exploitation film, but it could and should have been much better than this. And despite their other horror franchise pumping out the sequels regularly, New Line wouldn’t produce the second “Xtro” for another eight years, with part 3 a further five years after that.
Rating: thumbs down