GORE IN THE STORE
INTERVIEWS FILM BLU-RAY DVD & BOOK REVIEWS
Directed by Harry Bromley-Davenport. Starring Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers, Danny Brainin, Maryam d’Abo, Anna Wing, Simon Nash, Susie Silvey. Horror/Sci-Fi, UK/USA, 86 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Second Sight Films on 18th June 2018.
1982 was certainly the year of the extraterrestrial movie, what with Steven Spielberg's E.T. cleaning up at the box office and John Carpenter's THE THING proving less commercially successful but quickly picking up a cult following. However, there was another sci-fi horror that year that also picked up a healthy reputation, especially on the burgeoning VHS rental market, and that movie was XTRO, the second feature film from director Harry Bromley-Davenport.
Ostensibly one of a number of ALIEN rip-offs from the early 1980s, XTRO differs from most by being set on Earth in (then) modern day England rather than a plastic-looking space station sometime in a dystopian future. It also has a lot of things happen in it for no apparent reason other than a) it looked good or b) executive producer Bob Shaye suggested it - why else would you have a black panther in a sci-fi movie magically appear in the main family’s apartment other than it was different and there was a panther available? Anyway, before he film goes totally bonkers with random POLTERGEIST-esque incidents happening every few minutes the main plot deals with regular family man Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer – SHANGHAI SURPRISE) who is outside one day playing with his young son Tony (Simon Nash – BRAZIL) when a strange light flashes and he disappears. Three years later the same light returns and an alien creature emerges, making its way to a nearby house where it impregnates a woman who not long after gives birth to a fully grown Sam in quite a simple but astonishing practical effect. Sam then finds his way to where Tony (who doesn’t seem to have grown much in three years, although he does speak in a very odd Bob Hoskins-esque dialect), his wife Rachel (Bernice Stegers – MACABRE) and her new boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin – WATER) live, along with their au-pair Analise (Maryam d’Abo – THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS), and wishes to bond with his son, although he does exhibit some strange behaviour such as claiming to suffer from amnesia, eating snake eggs and sucking Tony’s blood, therefore giving him special powers such as commanding his toy soldier to grow to human adult size and go downstairs to kill their nosy neighbour Mrs. Goodman (Anna Wing – EASTENDERS) shortly before Tony’s toy clown becomes human and puts on a colourful light show in his bedroom. And then there’s the panther…
Yes, XTRO is a very weird film – something that Harry Bromley-Davenport alludes to in one of the interviews on the disc – but weird in a good way. The look of the alien creature is fantastic, achieved by a mime crawling backwards on all fours wearing an upside down mask, and the rest of the special effects are suitably icky and grim, the limitations of the budget giving the crew some imaginative ways to overcome what would be achieved simply by the click of a button nowadays. The centrepiece of any alien creature possession movie is always the birth scene and although Ridley Scott still holds the title of most shocking and iconic birth for the chestburster scene in ALIEN, the sight of Susie Silvey giving birth to Philip Sayer comes pretty close, although the curse of a crisp HD image reveals a bit more of how it was done than a grimy old VHS copy of the film does. The only real downside to all of this madness is that some of the acting is a little stiff and, in true horror movie style, the child actor is the main cause, his dodgy cockney accent at odds with his screen parents’ more plummy tones, and although it never quite reaches HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY levels of annoying it does rather make you root for the alien at times.
Lovingly housed in a rigid slipcase featuring both UK theatrical and video artworks, a booklet featuring an essay on the film by Kevin Lyons and soundtrack CD featuring Harry Bromley-Davenport's John Carpenter-ish synth score, the disc contains four versions of the movie - the Original Ending Version, the Alternate Ending Version, the UK Video Version and the 2018 Director's Version, so that's pretty much all the angles covered. Obviously the new restoration is of most interest and, if truth be told, it's strange beast (stranger than it already was) in that Harry Bromley-Davenport has given the film a colour and contrast makeover that works in some scenes and not in others. The overall look is a lot darker than the other versions and there is an odd waxy sheen to the image in certain lights, especially to the actors' skin tones, but the blacks are very black and occasionally bleed into the reds and blues of the more psychedelic scenes. Nevertheless, if the Director's Version does not suit there are still three others to try, the Original Ending Version being the most satisfying as it is a bit gorier. There are also plenty of special features to keep you busy, the best of them being a 56-minute documentary about the making of the film featuring entertaining interviews with Harry Bromley-Davenport, producer Mark Forstater, actress Bernice Stegers, FRIGHTFEST's Alan Jones and the BBFC's Craig Lapper amongst others. You also get a tribute to late actor Philip Sayer, further interviews with Harry Bromley-Davenport and Mark Forstater about the proposed reboot XTRO - THE BIG ONE (featuring exclusive test footage – don’t get too excited) and an interview with XTRO superfan Dennis Atherton plus an archive featurette from 2005 so as a package it is very comprehensive and a joy to finally be able to own on a UK Blu-ray.
XTRO is a bizarre movie that is easy to write off as a low-rent ALIEN knock-off but actually has a lot more going on beneath the surface than the likes of INSEMINOID, CREEPOZOIDS and the other B-movie creature features that came out in the wake of Ridley Scott's movie. It does veer towards family drama in places, which gives it a very British feel, but when those gore scenes kick in the film goes into overdrive and offers up some gruesome delights you won't have seen anywhere else. XTRO did get two unrelated sequels, both directed by Harry Bromley-Davenport, that failed to recapture the sheer craziness that this first film has in spades, and although it is ultimately a relatively schlocky piece made by inexperienced filmmakers it does have a unique charm about it and it is never boring, something that couldn’t be said for some of the previously mentioned ALIEN clones. So overall, this rather splendid set has been lovingly put together for die-hard fans and will hopefully attract some new ones, and despite some visual oddities in the Director’s Version that don’t really do the film any favours, it is well worth shelling out some hard-earned pennies for as XTRO is still probably the best ALIEN tribute act going and certainly a lot more enjoyable than any movie featuring the Xenomorph since 1986.
Read Tim Murray In Conversation article XTRO XTRO READ ALL ABOUT IT with the film's creator and director Harry Bromley Davenport who has slowly warmed to his film over the years. HERE
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