XTRO, XTRO, READ ALL ABOUT IT.
Once you’ve seen Xtro, you won’t forget it. And despite his initial misgivings about the film, direc-tor and creator Harry Bromley Davenport has slowly warmed to it over the years. As the classic Brit horror gets its first UK Blu-ray release, Tim Murray talks about the film’s legacy…
“It’s got this scene where a woman gives birth to a fully grown man after being raped by an alien.”
That recommendation, made in pubs, workplaces, playgrounds and elsewhere in the early 1980s was enough to turn low budget British alien flick Xtro into a bona fide VHS classic.
Not quite a nasty, at least not enough to warrant its inclusion on to the official DPP list of outré horrors and shockers, it earned its reputation for the aforementioned scene, which manages to be shocking, unpleasant, repulsive and yet hilarious all in one.
The film became an unexpected video hit in the eager-to-watch-any-film-on-the-shelves-in-their-rental-store-obsessed UK, and it still has a certain cachet. Mention the film to anyone interested in genre fare, and they’re likely to mention the birthing scene, such is its reputation.
“It lives on,” says director Harry Bromley-Davenport, speaking as the Xtro gets an all-singing, all-dancing Bu-ray featuring plenty of bells, whistles and extras, which look, among other things, at the film’s ongoing appeal. “And it’s being revived again. It’s weird to know that this film keeps on going. I really have no Idea why.”
The open, honest and very British director has slowly warmed to the film over the years, and, after many years of dismissing it, is now kinder towards the film that made his name.
“For years I couldn’t understand why,” he says, “I keep hearing about this film, so it wasn’t a tre-mendous shock that they wanted to do a Blu-ray.
For a long time I never really thought much of it. I was really embarrassed by it. I just didn’t think it was very well made. I still don’t think I did an excellent job.”
That initial feeling was somewhat at odds with the reception to the film.
Despite the likes of Roger Ebert dismissing it as a deeply unpleasant piece of schlock, the public was won over, in part by its notoriety.
“It was a great surprise. I was looking at the sales when they put these things out. In stores, in rental stores, we were only just slightly under Poltergeist. I was amazed. I didn’t think we pulled it off.”
Over the years, he’s seen the film re-watched, time and time again, analysed and pored over, as well as continuing to sell.
“It’s found, over the years, a seasoned following,” Bromley-Davenport notes. “First on VHS, then DVD and all this stuff. It still pops up on cable. People wrote these learned reviews, nothing to do with what we were thinking when we made it, which was nice, or horrid of them."
His attitude softened seeing a YouTube review of the film, the initial resentment slowly fading. "I agreed with all the people who said it was awful,” he laughs. “It wasn’t a piece of shit, we were trying quite hard, but I felt about it, or strange about it, until relatively recently.
“The YouTube thing was quite interesting, he analysed it, and while I was dreading looking at it, I felt slightly surprised afterwards that I reluctantly agreed with him. There’s some vague meaning in all of the nonsense that’s in the film. I actually felt slightly redeemed.”
The Blu-ray restoration has continued that reassessment. “I actually had to look at it again. I talked with a whole bunch of people, and maybe there was something to it. It is rather odd and a bit of a mess. But some of it does reflect my humour, my character and my sense of the absurd.
I understand its point. In fact, people do in a way sort of understand it, in a mad, chaotic way.”
So what was the problem for all those years? What were the faults? “The whole thing!” he shoots back. “There are good things; the acting is OK, we had good actors, they all did very well. But I’d only made one small film before. It was my first time with a proper union crew. It was overwhelm-ing.
“It really is a question of time and money. I just wished we I could have made it better.”
At the same time, there are many more positives. “It’s very odd; we didn't intend to make it odd and be pretentious. But it definitely has its own little world and atmosphere.”
He talks at length about the films that inspired Xtro and those that came afterwards, running through the high and low points of the Alien franchise, although he does prefer The Thing (“I very much admired the special effects in The Thing, they’re totally insane. I mean, the head turning into a spider and walking across the floor. Good God, who thought of that?”)
It’s similar to his own Xtro birthing scene in terms of its shock factor. “That first scene, it’s got an alien raping a woman who then gives birth to this fully formed man. We had people saying you can’t do that. He won’t fit in. You’ll be laughed off the screen.”
The shock he has down pat, but still wishes Xtro had a few more scares. As he notes: “I wish we were more frightening. I’m good at making things odd and weird and strange, but I don’t know if I’m capable of doing frightening. In a way it’s terribly easy – someone jumps out – it’s as easy as giv-ing a man an erection.
He’s also proud of achieving what the film did with so little in the way of budget, with his ambition paying off. “Complex optical effects are tremendously expensive to do,” he adds. “There’s some-thing noble about having the thing happening right in front of your eyes, even if 40 people are pulling strings."
Meanwhile, if you think Bromley-Davenport is dismissive of Xtro, wait until you get him on to its two sequels. “I didn't do anything about it for years. 1990 I did an awful one with Jan Michael Vin-cent, that was a mistake.”
Despite all this, and his ongoing success working with the PBS in the States, where he now lives, Bromley-Davenport is still teasing a return for a fourth. “I always thought of the title as being like the Twilight Zone, the alien’s name isn’t Xtro.
“We’re trying to get some money together; we’ve We’ve done a couple of scenes, I own a small green screen [facility], so we’re going to keep on doing that. Once I get the PBS project out of the way, we’ll go full blast on Xtro things.”
A final word on Xtro though. How, looking back on it now, would he best describe it? “A tremen-dous mess,” he concludes, succinctly.
• The Xtro Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set is out now.
Read our FrightFest Gore in the Store review of the Blu-ray release of XTRO by Chris Ward HERE
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