Year of Release: 1983
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Length: 81 mins
Starring: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Maryam d’Abo, Danny Brainin
If you watch a thousand sci-fi horror movies, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else as bizarre and downright weird as this one. Tony (played with unsettling aplomb by a 10-year old Simon Nash who later wound up in Birds of a Feather) is a disturbed little boy badly affected by the sudden disappearance of his father three years earlier who he claims was taken by a bright light, the implication being that he was abducted by aliens. His mother (Stegers) and her new lover (Brainin), unwilling to accept the alien abduction theory, assume that he simply ran off. As you can probably imagine, everything is sent onto a tailspin when he reappears announcing ominously “I’m back.”
Truth be told, daddy (Sam Philips, played by Philip Sayer, who also appeared in The Hunger with David Bowie before tragically died of cancer just a few years later at the age of just 42) makes one heck of an entrance, bursting out of a woman’s horrifically distended belly fully-formed and chewing through an umbilical cord. All things considered, he makes a decent go of fitting back into the family, seemingly oblivious to the friction he causes, but his plans go somewhat awry when Tony finds him chowing down on his pet snake’s eggs. This isn’t long after the poor kid walks in on his mum bumping uglies with someone who wasn’t his dad, but he seems far more traumatised by this most recent event. And things only get weirder from there. When he makes amends with poor, traumatized Tony, Sam also sucks his blood, vampire-like, in the process passing on some rather impressive special powers which Tony uses to bring his toys to life. He then sends these toys, which are now magically life-size, to brutally murder an elderly neighbour who, upon finding Harry the pet snake in her salad, crushes it with a hammer and delivers it back in a plastic bag. He also sets them on Analise, the French au pair (d’Abo, who would go on to be a Bond girl in 1987’s The Living Daylights) and her boyfriend. In fact, Tony becomes increasingly belligerent as the movie progresses and is a right little twat by the end, when all the main characters converge at the holiday cottage where the initial disappearance occurred.
Upon its home video release in 1983, the film was subject of a prosecution case in relation to obscenity laws, and consequently got caught up in the whole ‘video nasty’ furore. Surprisingly, it had actually been passed uncut by the BBFC with a well-deserved ’18’ certificate. Several different endings were made, and which one you get depends on which version you see. A pair of sequels followed, Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1991) and Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1995), neither of which bore any relation to the characters in the original. According to Wikipedia, in 2011, director Bromley-Davenport confirmed that a fourth instalment was in the works but 11 years on it is yet to be delivered, which maybe isn’t such a bad thing.
Writing for Starburst magazine, Alan Jones suggested that stegers had been ‘horribly mis-cast’ but went on to state that the special effects were “minor miracles of ingenuity” for their low budget and admired the movie for “trying so earnestly to resuscitate low budget exploitation sf/horror films in this country.” Variety found the film “too silly and underdeveloped in story values to expand beyond diehard fans” and that “Harry B Davenport builds little suspense and no thrills in a film devoid of stuntwork or action scenes. It’s just another “check out that makeup” exercise, consisting of brief scenes and poor continuity.”
Critic Roger Ebert absolutely panned the film, awarding it 1 of 4 stars, saying, “Most exploitation movies are bad, but not necessarily painful to watch. They may be incompetent, they may be predictable, they may be badly acted or awkwardly directed, but at some level the filmmakers are enjoying themselves and at least trying to entertain an audience. ‘Xtro’ is an exception, a completely depressing, nihilistic film, an exercise in sadness. It’s movies like this that give movies a bad name.”
Retrospectively, TV Guide went one better (or worse) in ‘awarding’ the film 0 of 4 stars, calling it, “A vile exercise in grotesque special effects” and “An excuse to parade all manner of perversities across the screen,” further stating that, “Not only is this disgusting, it lacks anything that remotely resembles suspense.”
Easy to see, then, how it warranted three sequels.
Despite never having met him, Queen guitarist Brian May was so affected by Swansea-born actor Philip Sayer’s premature death that he wrote the song Just One Life, which appeared on his 1992 solo album Back to the Light, in his honour.
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