Saturday, 26 October 2019
Directed by Harry Bromley Davenport
Second Sight Blu Ray Zone 2
Warning: Some spoilers on this one, if you’re that bothered about such things.
Well, you’ve got to give a big round of applause to Second Sight for resurrecting such a memorable and somewhat trashy but not uncharming ‘classic’... in a brand new Blu Ray transfer with a fair few versions of the movie you can watch (in different cuts), a whole slew of good extras (which I haven’t had the time to look at fully yet, although the long featurette that starts it off is certainly worth the watch and that particular documentary is directed by Jake West who helmed one of my favourite vampire films, Razor Blade Smile), an accompanying booklet, slipcase and, the one thing which completely sold it for me, a CD of the soundtrack that the director composed for the movie.
Now, Xtro is a movie I saw only once before in the mid-1980s, in that I rented it out from my local off licence over the road. The off licence is still there but, alas, they no longer rent out large box VHS tapes these days. Thinking about it now and how it was caught up in the whole, shameful, Video Nasty affair (I reviewed two DVDs dealing with this awful part of recent British history here and here), albeit as a discretional Category 3 video, I’m amazed I was even allowed to rent this one when I was about 15... I think it was an X rated movie and some of the shops carrying it might have known it was a risk having it around, even though this title never actually got prosecuted (it was liable for seizure, though).
Anyway, this was around 36 years ago and, to be honest, as excited as I was by the exploitative tag line “Not all Extra Terrestrials are friendly!” (I’d not liked E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial all that much), I forgot the film soon after I saw it. There were, however, always two bits that stuck out in my mind and my 50 year old brain was hoping I was even remembering the right film when I pre-ordered this thing. So one of these was because of a specific actress. The film has a pretty good cast for the low budget style horror movie it is but all the actors take this thing seriously and there’s no sense of them ever dumbing down on some of the more ridiculous dialogue or unusual concepts which somehow worked their way into the film. These actors include Philip Sayer and Bernice Stegers playing Sam and Rachel, father to the little boy who is a central protagonist/antagonist (depending on your point of view) and Tony, played by Simon Nash. Rachel also has a new lover in the absence of the father, played by Danny Brainin but the person who really stuck in my mind is Maryam d'Abo.
This was Maryam d'Abo’s first movie but, just five years later, she found herself catapulted to fame as the main Bond girl in the excellent Timothy Dalton Bond film The Living Daylights. However, the memory of her wandering around naked and having sex in this film is one of those two main memories I have of Xtro and it’s always something I wanted to come back to one day.
The other thing was one of the two roles played by Tik and Tok in the film... who oldies might remember as the fresh, leading British proponents of ‘robotic dancing’ in the early 1980s. The role in question being a scene where Tony’s Palitoy Action Man (the British equivalent toy to the US template GI Joe) grows to full scale, comes alive and proceeds to terrorise a downstairs neighbour in the Victorian building that the main family call their home here... eventually bayoneting her to death. It’s quite a surreal sequence and one wonders why the heck Palitoy even allowed it (or have continued to allow it on various releases over the years). I did note at the time that this was not the ‘eagle eye’ variant of the Action Man that was the dominant version from 1976 onwards but, thinking about it now and noting on the documentary when the guy inside the suit said there were holes in the eyes for him to see out of, that does kind of make sense.
So what else has this on offer? Well the soundtrack is a little bit anemic in places... it’s all done by the director on some synthesizer kit he had at the time and, while quite effective in some places (in a late 70s to mid 80s Doctor Who kind of way), at other times it leaves a lot to be desired and could do with a little more impact, I felt. That being said, it’s not the composer/director’s fault... although the budget was quite large compared to what he was used to playing with, I suspect any musical augmentation was not going to be the order of the day when the money ran out.
After a terribly long set of opening credits, we have a scene with Tony and his dad Sam playing with their dog at a country cottage. Sam throws a stick up in the air and it turns into a shaft of light as the whole area is engulfed by blackness and Sam is abducted by something which may or not be a spacecraft. We then join Tony who wakes up from dreaming about this three years later but he is the only one who correctly remembers what happened... everyone else thinks his dad just went missing. Then, as if by magic, the Xtro lands on Earth and starts killing a few people.
Then, in what is a very memorable scene (so how come I didn’t remember it after all these years?), it impregnates a young woman in a farmhouse played by Susie Silvey, who also appeared in such movies as Come Play With Me (reviewed here) and The Playbirds (reviewed here). When she wakes up after the shock, the quite effective looking alien creature is now just a shedded mess of skin and internal organs but suddenly the poor woman finds her belly is growing at a massive rate. She rolls around on her back on the floor as it grows to maybe ten times larger than any other pregnancy would be and then she, somehow, gives birth to Tony’s long missing father.
And if you think that sounds strange you’d be spot on but it’s just one thing in a movie which gets stranger and stranger, featuring toy tanks shooting at Rachel’s lover, a clown toy come to life and doing nasty things to people (including collecting eggs from an ‘alien cocooned’ Maryam d'Abo) and an out of the blue appearance by a Black Panther in the flats. Not to mention a scene that I will simply describe as... burning, liquorice telephone.
The film is awkward, off kilter and looks quite cheap and tacky in some places but, like
I said, it’s not without its charm and it does have some good things in it too, not to mention some striking moments which I’ve already described for you above. The acting is, as I said, pretty good (by many of the cast, but not all) and covers up for some of the dialogue. The director also tries to do some interesting things with the camera on occasion such as shooting parallel set ups through some iron railings or shooting people through sections of foreground shapes made by architecture or foliage, at certain points.
Ultimately, though, if you are looking for a horror film which has a lot of polish and flair, you may be less enamoured with Xtro than you might suspect, given its ‘much loved’ status grown over the years. I was personally very glad I saw it again and I think it has a certain something special about it which makes it worth looking at. I would also suggest, if you’ve never seen it before, to go with he menu option of ‘alternative ending’ to see the ending which most people will remember this film having (it’s also the better, if somewhat less low concept and bleaker ending of the options available on this disc). If you are a die hard horror fan, though, then this is a movie you should probably have an opinion on and if you’re ever going to pick it up, this new Blu Ray edition is definitely the version to have. Give it a look sometime, maybe.