Wednesday 9 November 2011

Xtro (1982)

XTRO is a British sci-fi horror film that was directed by Harry Bromley Davenport and released in August 1982.  It stars Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Danny Brainin and Maryam d'Abo.  It's about a little boy who believes his absent father has been abducted by aliens; when the father suddenly returns everything seems to be fine until he starts behaving oddly.

Very much in the wake of ALIEN (1979), XTRO is a low budget effort that takes (if not steals) a few of the most unpleasant bits from Ridley Scott's film and attempts to construct a film around them.  The budget is so low that the alien has to come to Earth and even then is offscreen for virtually the entire film while the action, such as it is, centres on a dreary flat in London.

I think what happened was that most of the budget was eaten up by the film's centrepiece scene in which a female character (who doesn't even warrant a name and is just listed as 'Woman in Cottage') who has been attacked by the alien gives birth to a full grown man.  If the film is remembered for anything it is for this scene, which at the time was deemed strong enough to briefly warrant video nasty status.  It's a revolting idea, although logical enough in its own demented way and, more importantly, is germane to the plot for this is the means by which the father returns.

"Breathe Mrs Woman in Cottage, you're nearly there."

"Congratulations Mrs Woman in Cottage: it's a boy, er, man."
The main thrust of the story is actually quite good - absent father returns but is it really him? - but is hardly original, serving as the basis for LE RETOUR DE MARTIN GUERRE (1982) and SOMMERSBY (1993), among others.  Unfortunately, having set up a potentially interesting situation, the second half is all over the place.  Tony, the little boy, suddenly develops the ability to turn his toys into animate objects and uses them to kill a couple of people in his building who have been annoying him.  There's nothing wrong with that in itself but it seems like it belongs in a different movie.  And as if that wasn't bad enough, this whole section features a malevolent dwarf clown.

I could explain what's going on here but you'd laugh at me

Tony's Action Man brought to life
Davenport directs with zero flair and his cast are all at sea because they've basically got nothing to do except react to the ludicrous goings on.  As you can probably tell, I really loathed it.  It was made at what must have been close to the lowest point of the British film industry and all I can surmise is that someone with no interest in cinema saw a chance to make a quick buck ripping off a far better film and chose someone with no talent for cinema to make it for him.  This lazy, cynical approach to film-making is something I can't abide; say what you like about Edward D. Wood Jr, Andy Milligan or Jess Franco but at least they cared about films and about the genre in which they chose to work.  Yes, producing consistently high quality work was far beyond their abilities but they gave it their all and they loved making films.  I don't detect any passion behind anything in XTRO save for making a profit.

Film anorak notes:
  • Bernice Stegers, who plays the mother, has been in one or two delirious movies in her time, notably Lamberto Bava's MACABRE (1980), but probably enjoyed her highest profile moment as the snooty shop assistant who quickly figures out how much money Hugh Grant doesn't have in FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994).
  • Philip Sayer, who plays the father, was a jobbing actor on stage and screen who sadly died of cancer at the absurdly young age of 41.
  • Maryam d'Abo, who plays the sexy nanny and whose debut this was, did quite well for a while in the late '80s, including star billing in the Timothy Dalton-era Bond movie THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987).
  • Anna Wing, who plays the crotchety old lady downstairs, was most famous for playing the crotchety old lady Lou Beale in EASTENDERS.
Anna Wing

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