I first heard about Xtro in slightly odd circumstances as my dad had shares in a company that had some involvement in its production. I saw some photos in a trade publication he was sent and boy do I wish I had snapped it up and kept it. Of course I had to see it and when it arrived on home video around 1982 I was determined to do just that. I was lucky as a friend’s parents were big horror fans and let us watch films on their VCR even though the father was a copper and we shouldn’t have been able to. This was where I first caught the likes of Dawn Of The Dead, The Thing and The Evil Dead, other titles have faded like my memory but some you will never forget a 1st viewing of. After they hired out Xtro and watched it themselves we were not for once allowed to see it due to some of the scenes it contained; this really was a first and we were bitterly disappointed. Of course films then were hired out for a period of 3 days and the parents couldn’t stay in all that time. Objective achieved I never looked back and Xtro has been a favourite movie ever since.
The big hit of 82 was E.T. it caused a sensation with the annoying little rubber bastard phoning home and merchandise for it everywhere but Xtro went to prove a point that not all extra-terrestrials are friendly and this it did in no uncertain terms. The sci-fi horror flick was not new and indeed after Ridley Scott’s famed Alien (1979) the floodgates opened allowing cheap knock offs such as Norman J Warren’s Inseminoid (1981) and Italian (ahem) homages like Contamination (Luigi Cozzi 1980) to follow. Nothing was quite like Xtro though with its English eccentricities and a confounding sense of “what the hell did I just watch” surrealism.
The story seems quite simple at first glance. Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) and his son Tony (Simon Nash) are at their countryside cottage when Sam throws a stick up in the air for their dog. There’s a flash of light and before you can say beam me up Scotty, Sam has vanished. Fast forward 3 years and Tony is living with his mum Rachel (Bernice Staggers) her live in lover Joe (Danny Brainin) and sexy as hell French au pair Analise played by Bond girl Maryam d’Abo who spends far too much time laying down and being naked for Tony and the viewer (who am I trying to kid). Strange things are happening, in the countryside a weird creature kills a couple and then attacks a woman at home. It does some very unsavoury things to her and sheds skin and corpse which is eaten up by her dog in the corner as she goes into immediate contractions and gives birth to a fully grown Sam. You can imagine the mess and this was the main scene that caused problems for me being allowed to watch the film and it being caught up in the video nasty controversy and removed from a number of video shop shelves by owners who frankly didn’t know what was up and what was down. It ended up on the Section 3 list meaning it “could not be prosecuted for obscenity but was liable to seizure and confiscation under a ‘less obscene’ charge. Tapes seized under Section 3 could be destroyed after distributors or merchants forfeited them.”
Tony wakes up covered in blood freaking everyone out, he claims it has been sent by his dad and it is not long before Sam reappears with no memory of where he has been for the last 3 years. Naturally the family unit is somewhat strained by this especially as even odder things start to happen. Tony forms a bond like no other with his dad and gains extra sensory powers in the process allowing him to bring toys to life. We have a clown (Peter Mandell) an action man (Sean Crawford aka Tok) and a tank (Mattel). Nosy neighbours who have escaped from Eastenders get their comeuppance and everything gets really rather delirious and gory with it. The film will confuse, repel and delight in equal measure as it runs to a climax and it truly was quite an original experience.
Xtro was one of those films that had two different endings, one was considered a bit too bleak and jaded although was my preferred. Second Sight not only provides both versions here but also the slightly shorter UK Video version and the directors 2018 cut. This was introduced by Davenport and my reviewing choice, he mentions that he was allowed to dabble around with the colours here and boy it is noticeable. There is plenty of light in Xtro and the film looks dazzling here, there isn’t a hint of grain anywhere and the sound is brash and loud. This makes one hell of a difference to any version I have seen before and was well worth the wait. It should also be mentioned that Davenport did a lot apart from the direction here including the excellent synthesized score which works perfectly with the grotesque and carnivalesque atmospheres of the movie. I actually have this on vinyl myself but fear not, the soundtrack is included here as a bonus CD. Xtro 2 and 3 eventually followed but please do yourself a favour and under no circumstances seek them out, you will be bitterly disappointed. HBD can only have directed them for the money as they are rubbish Americanised actioners with the likes of Jean Michael Vincent in them. I remember Davenport engaging on message boards in places like the IMDB ages ago and hinting about making a true sequel to the original Xtro. Philip Sayer sadly died in 1989 but what of the others and what about further news on this? Well the Blu-Ray is packed with extras so perhaps we might get the low down as we go through them all?
First up we have a 56 minute ‘Xploring Xtro’ documentary with director, cast and crew members as well as experts such as Alan Jones and Craig Lapper from The BBFC. Some ties are interesting especially one that saw producer of Monty Python and The Holy Grail Mark Forstater getting on board with Davenport and Xtro, developing the story with several scriptwriters and taking it to Robert Shaye at New Line Cinema. Apparently he wanted an off the wall film similar to Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm (1979). He certainly got one. Davenport describes it as a cheesy horror film but one with a loftier air to it due to the professionalism of the highly regarded cast. I reckon there are certainly similarities between it and other weird alien video nasty / family melodrama Possession (Andrzej Żuławski 1981) and wonder if that had been seen by director and producer. Bernice Staggers had for one come from films with Fellini a million miles away but she seems more than happy to chat about Xtro and treasures having had the chance to work with Philip Sayer. Miryam D’Abo is discussed in her first film role, it would have been nice if she had been available to take part but we could say we saw quite enough of her in the film as it was. Suzie Silvey who had one of the quickest births in movie history is featured here too at least it didn’t kill her film career off and she even got a shot in the opening of a Bond film too Octopussy (1983). That particular scene was certainly pussy galore! No CGI here and I think the sfx in Xtro is fabulous; part of the realism in the film was crafted by robotics duo Tik and Tok (Tim Dry and Sean Crawford). Around this time they had released smash (non) hit Summer In The City a cover of the Lovin Spoonful classic. They had also toured with Gary Numan and were poised to release their debut album along with a load of singles, all of which I still have on picture disc. To say I was excited when I realised they were in Xtro is an understatement and a half. It’s great to see them now and get their anecdotes on the film. I had no idea they had been in Return Of The Jedi too but had already grown out of rubbish fantasy sci-fi like that by then. Yes one of the creature designs did end up on YouTube as a real alien in the USA and fooled a few people. There’s some other peculiarities discussed which I will not mention here in case you have not seen the film; fans will find them very interesting. The music is talked about and its composer Davenport describes it as not very good. I completely disagree; it’s absolutely perfect for the film. Apparently the film did really well in America, we know about its fate here although it did quickly become a cult classic. Lapper is on hand here to fill in these gaps. Covering pretty much every aspect of the film this is just the sort of feature myself and devotees of the film have been waiting for. Well done to Nucleus Films and Jake West.
The World Of Xtro is next and runs just shy of half an hour. This is an interesting and different feature than I expected and looks at the fandom of the film. Following on from launching social media platforms for Xtro by Harry Bromley-Davenport, and Mark Forstater they discovered a super-fan of the film Dennis Atherton who had written about the movie and spread word about it. Man after my own heart here and he was equally enthused about the special qualities of Xtro and talks about his ideas here. He certainly knows the film inside out and from one mega fan to another I found my head nodding along in agreement with most of what he had to say. Beyond Xtro quickly mentions the sequels and then we get a bit of the low down on the highly anticipated Xtro – The Big One, including some test footage. I’m definitely intrigued although the L.A. setting means losing the original quirkiness of the original. I definitely hope it does get completed though and nothing short of being abducted will stop me seeing it. ‘Loving The Alien’ is a very short tribute to Philip Sayer who died of cancer far too young at 42. Finally Xtro Xposed is an archive piece with Davenport talking about the dreadful film as he saw it at the time and still does to a certain extent. Of course he is talking rubbish and despite him thinking it is “a bit of a mess” it all ties together somehow, the only reason perhaps it does is due to some sort of outside alien intelligence?
Second Sight have done a great job here and really delivered the ultimate presentation of one of mine and many others favourite films. Watch it, watch the skies and remember, we are not alone!