Friday, March 26, 2010

Xtro (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1983)

You know a movie is doing something right if the sight of a woman giving birth to a fully grown man on her kitchen floor the isn't its most memorable moment. But that's exactly what the occasionally creepy, always icky, Xtro manages do. Okay, maybe I'm stretching the foreskin a tad when I say there are moments more memorable than the image of a little boys long, lost daddy struggling to crawl out of the not yet gaping maw of a person who ain't his Ma. That being said, the fact that the filmmakers decided to stage this unorthodox delivery so early in the story was a bold move on their part. Of course, the timing of birthing scene was necessary to the structure of the story (all things begin in the uterus). Nevertheless, I was deeply impressed by their audacity. Besides, this irregular parturition only managed to perk my interest in the film, as everything up until then had been pretty bland. Well, not too bland, but I can tell you this: no men erupt from women. It's blatantly obvious that I'm obsessed with this gooey sequence of events, so for the sake of my breeding sanity, I'm gonna move on to less fertile ground. An extraterrestrial visitation flick with familial twist, the sci-fi horror film is basically about a father (Philip Sayer) returning to see his wife (Bernice Stegers) and son (Simon Nash) after a mysterious three year absence. The question about where he's been exactly and the awkwardness surrounding his wife's new living conditions–she's now living in a flat with her American photographer boyfriend (Danny Brainin) and a young French woman (Maryam d'Abo)–dominate early going of the surprise reunion.

The already agitated atmosphere is intensified when the son catches his father eating his pet snake's eggs. After a long chase through the dark alleyways of London, daddy explains to his son that he had to eat the eggs– you know, because he's different. Anyway, dad latches onto his son's shoulder with the skin of his face, and proceeds to impart some kind of unknown space wisdom onto him. Peculiar birthing rituals aside, things begin to get a little weird after this point.

A deeply unhinged, yet oddly straightforward film–one that features the entire male cast of the new wave theatrical group Shock: Tik plays the alien, Tok brings a militaristic toy to life, and Robert Pereno shows up as a hapless victim–Xtro is full of strange surprises. For example, the whole section involving the boy and his new abilities was wonderfully deranged in a 'I can't believe I'm seeing this actually transpire' kinda way.

Everything from the little circus clown (Peter Mandell), who helps father and son in the incubation process (they've got a makeshift womb cocooned in the corner), to the aforementioned life-size action figure played by Tok, was exactly the kind madness I look for when I sit down to stare at images crudely projected onto screens.

The only thing I wished would have taken place in the dementia department was a brief shot inside the toy tank that chases Maryam d'Abo's gentlemen caller around her flat. I mean, to have see little army dudes loading and firing inside the toy tank would have been perfect.

Back to the birth for a second, I recall a scene in John Waters' Female Trouble where Divine bites through the umbilical cord of the character who would grow up to look like Mink Stole. But witnessing an adult male covered in embryonic fluid chewing a cord that's attached his own body is something I have never seen before.

Oh, and call me a pessimist, but I don't think the unsuspecting mother is gonna make it. If she had, think about all the money she'd saved on diapers – you know, because grown men (at least the one's I know) don't soil themselves...on a regular basis.

If listening to hours of loud, extremely obnoxious techno rave music has taught me anything, it's that English people love space aliens. In other words: it was about time I came across a halfway decent sci-fi horror film set in Britain, especially one that has a fantastic synthesizer score (sinister sounding when ominous, playful when surrealistic) and sports a trio of new romantic legends.

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6 comments:

  1. I saw the bathroom/pod scene in a movie review show when I was nine and had nightmares for months. Then in my horrorfan teenage years I rented the VHS and saw scenes in that flick that trumped that particular scene tenfold. One thing I never got over was that it was "English" and that somehow clashed with the outrageous horror on display. But I have to see this again after all these years, see if it still holds up. Love the blog by the way. One of the best around. Great taste in music, too ;-) How in the world did you find out about Pas de deux?

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  2. OH MY GOD. This movie freaked me out when I was a tween girl! I also remember that my mom rented it on laserdisc.

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  3. @Dean: The bathroom/pod scene is definitely up there in terms of being creepy and junk.

    Pas de deux? Uh, I think I found out about them via Space Museum.

    @Karim Amir: Laser disc, eh? The closest I ever came to experiencing that particular format was browsing the racks at Sam the Record Man circa 1993.

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  4. I have not seen this for years, but lately have been recommending it whenever anyone asks about a bizarre '80s horror flick. I only remembered the birthing, but now remember all the other weirdness. Must see this one again.

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  5. Yeah, the birthing sequence is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of weirdness in Xtro.

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  6. Firstly, I want to thank the anonymous author of the extremely generous review of XTRO posted here.

    About once a year I Google the titles of my films and have just come across this blog.

    I directed Xtro - what - 28 years ago?

    I'm pleased that this piece of nonsense has managed to survive on Video and DVD for nearly 30 years, but I can't really understand why. All of us who made the film were young and naturally wanted to shock everybody. So the motives behind this opus are not exactly pure.

    I wish I could say that it is a statement of existential angst, but we really didn't know what we were doing and the film somehow ended up becoming this little cult horror film. And of course that pleases me greatly.

    That's all ... just another fatuous note from a director.

    Best wishes to all - especially the man who wrote that nice review.

    Harry.

    (Harry Bromley-Davenport) Director and Co-Writer of the dreaded "Xtro".

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