Monday, January 17, 2011

XTRO (1983): or, Like Father, Like Son, Like Hell

Some people are just natural-born Givers. If you go to them looking to borrow a cup of sugar, they give you the whole bag. You ask for the repayable loan of an egg, and they respond by handing you a chicken and a year's worth of feed. You send them a thank-you note for their generosity, and they reply with a thank-you for the thank-you together with a year's paid membership in the Scrumptious Chocolates of the Month club. These people give and give and give, often expecting nothing in return but the acceptance of the offered gifts. All they want is the opportunity to be the vehicle on which you ride to the sunny climes of Happiness.

Of course, these people often also have serious psychological issues.

If it were a human being, the British sci-fi WTF-stravaganza Xtro (1982, dir. Harry Bromley Davenport) would be one of these people.

We open at a country cottage not far removed from the bustling heart of London, where nurturing nice-guy dad Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) is playing fetch with his adorable son Tony (Simon Nash) and their even-more adorable border collie Katie. Perhaps hoping to recreate his favorite scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sam hauls back and launches the stick high over the roof of the house. He succeeds better than he could have hoped, as the stick explodes in a shower of sparks and the sky is immediately filled with blinding lights and sci-fi noises of the most sinister variety. As the sky darkens and an unnatural wind sweeps him toward the light, Sam urges his son to run for it, which (being the obedient sort) he does. Long moments later Sam is gone, leaving his son an orphan and his wife Rachel (Bernice Stegers, previously of Lamberto Bava's Macabre [1980]) back on the market.

This dog refused screen credit for this picture.

Three years pass in a jump-cut. Rachel believes Sam's disappearance to be a classic case of Spousal Abandonment, but still has filed neither a missing person's report nor divorce papers. She has not let the sheets of the marriage bed get cold, however, as she now shares her London apartment with her boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin), a successful commercial photographer and former friend of her disappeared hubby. The lovebirds largely leave the care of young Tony to their French au pair Analise (future Bond Girl Maryam d'Abo, in her debut movie role), whose main job qualifications seem to be a terrible accent and her undeniably smokin' hawtness.* For his part, Tony has never accepted that his father just up and run-oft, and constantly looks forward to the day they will be reunited.

*Nota bene: Maryam D'Abo is the cousin once-removed of Olivia D'Abo, who made her debut as the spoiled princess in Conan the Destroyer (1984), and whom I had previously erroneously assumed to be Maryam's twin sister.

Unluckily for everyone involved, the little moppet's wishes are soon to be granted. Back in rural England, a familiar blinding light falls from the sky, depositing a pool of goop in the woods which soon coagulates into one of the freakiest extraterrestrials it's ever been my pleasure to see on the screen. You want a little practical FX post-Giger nightmare fuel? Check out THIS bad boy:

 As you might imagine, that anatomical configuration is not a particularly agile one; as a result, the space beast is quickly smacked by a Citroën doing about thirty-five down the country road. Of course the drivers--one of them sporting one of the most magnificent New-Wave Brit Mullets ever--get out to see what got all up in their grille, with predictably messy results. None the worse for wear, the creature crab-walks to a nearby cottage owned by a thirtysomething spinster. There it gains entry (apparently by teleporting into the kitchen cupboard) and rams its ovipositor in her face before collapsing in a heap of denatured ickiness, which the lady's dog helpfully starts to clean up. (Eww.)

The ickiness is just beginning, however: upon awakening an hour or so later, the woman finds herself the subject of a time-lapse short on the wonders of childbirth, as her belly swells to full 40-week distension in a matter of moments. The strain on her system is too much: she collapses on the floor, dead. Just as well, for this spares her the pain and horror of seeing a full grown man climb out of her vagina, dragging most of her meaty innards with him before gnawing through his umbilical cord with his own teeth! The filmmakers do not skimp on the caro syrup nor the sloppy sound effects, making for a gloriously gross moment of WTF.

Worst party favor ever.

Of course the newborn manchild is Sam, who has been a resident alien on the alien planet since his abduction. ("I had to I could live there!" he later explains.) Now back in roughly human form, he quickly finds his way back to London and insinuates himself into his estranged family's life, claiming no memory of the intervening three years. Tony is the only one happy to see him. Rachel is understandably torn, and Joe struts around taunting his rival with public displays of affection toward his wife, like an alpha dog marking out territory. Still, Rachel thinks, no sense involving medical professionals (or the POLICE) in all this; instead, she invites Sam to stay at the apartment with them until they can sort things out.

This gives Sam the opportunity to start working on his real objective: apparently he's more than happy being a Double-Jointed Killbeast from Planet Yog, but can't go another space year without his dearly beloved son at his side. Left alone with the boy, Sam gives Tony a love bite on the neck--a visual that would be icky even if it weren't for the body-horror effects--which imparts to the boy some of Dad's alien abilities. What kind of abilities, you may well ask? Well, how about the ability, through simple concentration, to make anything he can imagine become real?** Talk about your fringe benefits!

Submitted without comment.

**This explains, one assumes, how Sam was able to teleport into his doomed baby-momma's house earlier--though it sheds no light on why, this being the case, Sam didn't just concentrate on coming to Earth already in human form, or better yet simply imagine Tony on the alien ship with him and have done with it.

The Xtro train has never had a firm grip on the narrative rails since the stick exploded in scene one, but here it really jumps them for good--or rather, points the engine upward and rockets straight into the outer BatShittosphere. Little Tony quickly crosses over into "It's a Good Life" territory, bringing his toy soldier to life to wreak vengeance on a meddlesome neighbor, materializing a live panther in his room, and animating a wooden clown to be his accomplice in evil! (The "real" clown is played by Peter Mandell, a Little Person in exactly the type of role Peter Dinklage hilariously vented on in Tom DeCillo's Living in Oblivion [1995].)

Even though this is far afield from the story's beginnings in Alien Abduction territory, it actually fits in to film better than you'd think. The whole movie has had an odd, otherworldly quality. Scenes shift from day to night and back with abandon. Night scenes are lit brightly from impossible sources. Chunks of context are missing or never existed. Murders happen, and no one seems to notice or care, much less phone the police. Characters speak their lines in a somnolent daze, and motivation is the merest afterthought, when it's thought of at all. In a way, the entire movie has played like an extended dream sequence--like Twilight Zone without restraint, or Tim Burton without horizontal stripes.

"If only Olaf could see me now!"
Tired of her waffling, Joe moves out in a huff, leaving Sam and Rachel to salvage their interspecies marriage. Those two head out to the cottage where it all began, leaving Tony with Analise. Using his alien mind powers and dwarf-clown henchman, Tony kills his keeper's boyfriend and knocks the French girl unconscious before infecting her with his alien cooties in another uncomfortably sexual, age-inappropriate scene. Becoming more and more alien, Tony cocoons Analise up in the bathroom and makes her a Cronenbergian egg-laying machine, then tricks Joe into taking him to the cottage.

Meanwhile (and with absolutely no buildup other than a jump-cut), Sam and Rachel are rekindling their physical relationship (like rabid minx). Unfortunately Sam's alien physiology  causes him to have an allergic reaction to Rachel's sex stank, the symptoms of which include ruptured back lesions and acute horrifying ugliness. Joe shows up and is dealt with via sonic scream, and the reunited father and son walk into the woods, sloughing skin as they go, to be taken back into the mother ship. Either in shock or not too bothered (it's hard to tell), Rachel goes back to the London apartment, where a dwarf, a live panther and one last icky surprise await her. And Fin.

"You've got to be fuckin' kidding me."

Parishioners, Xtro is a movie that delivers the goods, and throws in a bunch of extra snack crackers you didn't even know you  were hungry for. The effects are all practical and wonderfully disgusting, and the creature design is pretty great too. The acting is nothing to write home about, though the actors themselves are probably less to blame than the writer and director on that count. Still, even though the script is all over the place, there's just so much happening at all times it's hard to get too upset about. All the actors seem admirably committed, though, with special props to Maryam D'Abo, who provides some high-quality nekkidity more than once. The sythesizer score (also by director Davenport) made me want to puncture my own eardrums with Q-Tips, but given the unrelenting weirdness of the piece, I wondered if perhaps this was by design.

In closing, if you can just shut off your logic centers and let the MADness wash over you, you'll have a great time with this one. Gory, crazy, entertaining and never dull, Xtro deserves a place at the table with 80s scifi insanities like Inseminoid and Galaxy of Terror. 3 Thumbs. Seek it out, and let Xtro make you happy. That's all it wants!

More photos from XTRO (1982):

Xtro Alpo

Didn't figure on this much action


"You know the rules, Sam. You lost at Connect Four. Get suckin'!"

"What the fuck am I doing here?"

"Mommy! Give us a kiss!"

Indecent Xposure


Emily said...

Lovely stuff, just lovely. I too was convinced Maryam and Olivia were the same person. Also, it's a tossup between which death scene is one of the worst in cinema history: being impregnated and then having your uterus torn apart by an alien birth, or being impregnated and hung upside down to lay eggs in a bathroom. Hm.

Inspector Winship said...

This film sounds D'Lovely. Pray tell, where did you find a copy?Surely Ms. D'Abo's performance can't be any more card board than it was in "Living Daylights?"

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Emily--it's really surprising that they're only cousins, as much as they look alike! As to the worst death, I think I'd have to go with the impregnation/asplosion. At least Maryam was unconscious for most of her horribleness. :S

@Inspector Winship: Wrt LIVING DAYLIGHTS, I'm sure D'Abo and Timothy Dalton made sparks fly from the screen with their emotive awesomeness! ;) As to where I got my copy, all I remember is a Little Person in clown makeup handing me a pulsating water balloon...when I woke up, the DVD was lodged in a very...uncomfortable place. ;) But Amazon marketplace is lousy with DVDs, of XTRO and its two (!) sequels. Happy shopping!

Darius Whiteplume said...

I only seem to remember the birthing and the giant GI Joe figure. I really need to see this again. I was a wee tot the first time, and may not remember much as my Dad likely said "fuck this shit" and turned it off.

David said...

Hell yes!!!! I LOVE this film!!!

jmcozzoli said...

Whew. I'm speechless. My mind's gone blank after reading this. Maybe a perfect time, then, to watch this weirdfest.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Darius--the GI Joe figure is one of the quietest effects, but it does stick with you. Just something so...*off* about it. Of course the same could be said of the whole freakin' movie!

@David--Me too!!!!

@John--Thanks for stopping by! Yes, you definitely don't want any important thoughts in your brain when you sit down to XTRO--you'll never see them again! ;)

Yum-Yum said...

Kudos for managing to squeeze the phrase "outer BatShittosphere" and the word "Cronenbergian" into your Xtro review.

Did you change the caption for the back scratch Xtro photo? It seems different than it did yesterday. Either way, "Indecent Xposure" is a solid replacement. :)

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Yum-Yum--Thanks! I do my best. :) As to the captions, yes, sometimes I come up with one I like better after the fact, and do a little on-the-fly editing. My reviews are not set in stone--they're fluid, just like the goop from which Xtro springs.

I also regularly go back and correct typos, even on reviews I published months or years ago. Grammar OCD--catch the fever!

Fred said...

I remember seeing this on cable back in the day. I actually almost took a date to see this (as I recall, it was double-billed with "Alone in the Dark"), but ended up seeing Rock and Roll High School. I'm glad I made that change b/c XTRO might be one of the worst choices for date night, with all that rapey, extraterrestrial, backwards walking hijinx. I almost saw it once, but you captured it in all its glorious, goofy glory. Great review!

Billy Vidrine said...

Thanks for writing this one up Vicar! I bought a copy from Amazon marketplace last year and it rapidly found a place in my heart (as well as other less appropriate places). The super deluxe DVD presentation includes a HIGH larious interview with the director and a bonus presentation of Xtro 2! I have yet to delve into its mysterious waters. Do you dare go seplunking in that fresh Hell, Vicar? Will you reveal to us the joys and terrors of Xtro 2? I wait with baited breath!

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Fred--I think you DEFINITELY made the right decision as far as date-movie time goes...but on the other hand, if you'd taken her to see XTRO and she dug it, you'd have known for sure she was a keeper! ;)

@Billy--The DVD I have also has the interview with the director, who seems like a really funny, charming guy and pulls no punches about his own films' shortcomings. Plus, he has a lot to say about XTRO 2 star Jan Michael Vincent, *none* of it good. Unfortunately my dvd doesn't also include the sequel, but I may indeed have to seek it out in the future...after an appropriate period of recovery, of course. ;)

bruce holecheck said...

Glad you guys enjoyed the interview featurette! It was one of the earlier ones we put together, and still probably my favorite. Harry was a blast to deal with; we actually toned down his bit about Jan Michael Vincent, if you can imagine that!

The Vicar of VHS said...

@bruce--Wow, that is hard to imagine! What kinds of things did you have to cut? Or are you sworn not to divulge? :) Anyway, Harry Davenport really seemed like he'd be a lot of fun to talk to, and possibly share a pint (or three) with. And still working, according to his imdb page--he had a couple of movies out in 2009. Good on him!

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