Based on a story by director Harvey Bromley Davenport and the late Michel Parry it has an absent father Sam returning to Rachel his wife and his son Tony claiming that he was abducted by aliens for three years. It’s an excuse our Editor has tried using when he’s gone on a marathon drinking session but with little success mainly due to him stinking like a brewery. Keen to rekindle his relationship with his wife, who now has a boyfriend, Sam also tries to bond with his young son. Trouble is that Sam is not all that he appears and wants them to come with him and the aliens and from thereon all manner of bizarre horror follows.
Davenport had trained as a classical pianist and provides the score for the film but speaks quite candidly about Xtro in a fantastically self deprecating manner. Produced by Mark Forstater who had produced ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ and funded by New Line films they were keen for it to be a hit as by the end of filming they were about to enter financial difficulties themselves. Originally titled ‘Monstro’ with a budget of 450K the cast would include a decent array of actors that included the late Philip Sayer as the Sam and Bernice Stegers as Rachel who had previously worked with Fellini. It would also be the screen debut of Maryam D’Abo who, a few years later would be a Bond girl in ‘The Living Daylights’ but here would end up with her kit off showing far more than Davenport intended who was acutely embarrassed at shooting a love scene where she appeared wholly naked.
The cast got more eclectic though with their son played by Simon Nash who you can see get visibly fatter in the face as the film goes on. Though Davenport in the 2018 director’s cut of the film has managed to thin him out somewhat. It wasn’t the only continuity error with a snake that died half way through filming and was replaced by bigger snake with entirely different markings.
Xtro was pre CGI so all the effects were practical which included some notably gory and censor baiting scenes notably an outrageous birth scene that actress Susie Silvey, credited only as ‘Woman in Cottage’, had to endure. But Xtro, when it wasn’t gross, would be surreal having employed a pair of robotic dancers called Tik & Toc ,who were all the rage in the early 80’s, dressed up in monsters suits where one of them almost drowned in a pool of mud and the other dressed as a giant action man stomping around the house firing a rifle. If that’s wasn’t surreal enough a midget clown appears and at the behest of Robert Shaye, the producer at New Line, a black panther appears for no obvious reason in the film.
It all sounds a bit of a mish mash but aliens were all the rage at the time with ET having smashed box office records the previous year and John Carpenter’s The Thing not finding its audience until it hit VHS. But whilst Xtro didn’t perform too well in the UK it did barn storming business in the US saving New Line studios in the proess. It did so well in fact that its profits meant that they could fund, Wes Craven’s, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’.
Xtro is nowhere near the atrocity that it might sound because though Davenport is self deprecating about the film it’s actually a decent little shocker and the disc has just about everything a fan could want especially if that fan is Dennis Artherton a self appointed superfan who has his own featurette on the disc and in fairness the balding northerner is wholly endearing. Obsessive about every detail in the film his love of Xtro comes across in spades insisting that it is as much a family drama as it is a horror film and he is entirely persuasive in his explanation of various facets of the film.
The disc also has a good 57 minute documentary about the making of the film which is repeated slightly in a far shorter 2005 featurette ‘Xtro Xposed’ where Davenport admits to being partly stoned when writing the script in a grotty part of New York.
The film launched a sequel in 1990 and another in 1995. But the disc also includes ‘Beyond Xtro’ a brief look at the sequels but also includes the first few minutes of ‘Xtro – the Big One’ a fourth film that which was never completed. The Xtro disc has been shown a lot of love as it includes not only the original and alternate ending but also includes the original UK version as well as Davenport’s 2018 version. If there’s any weak link in the disc it’s a ‘Loving the Alien’ feature which is a montage of clips from the film of actor Phillip Sayer who tragically died in 1989 at only 45 years of age from a rare strain of cancer. Unfortunately the tribute is a bit of a cheese fest and isn’t helped by a song entitled, ‘Just one life’ playing throughout the montage like a low rent cruise ship cabaret synthesizer crooner.
Ultimately Xtro was a good old fashioned exploitation flick which is much loved by horror fans though understandably loathed by critics. Running at only 87 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome and is one those early 80’s film that was always destined to become a cult.
Here’s the Xtro trailer……
Xtro is available on dvd / blu ray on 22nd October 2018