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Overall Rating

Awesome: 16.67%
Worth A Look50%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 22.22%

1 review, 12 user ratings

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by Jack Sommersby

"A Creative and Grotesque Sci-Fi/Horror Must-See!"
4 stars

Not for the easily offended but definitely for those yearning for an enjoyably sicko time at the movies.

In a day and age when Hollywood seems to be coddling the American public by refusing to offer up as much graphic violence and sex some of us absolutely crave from the film medium, it's so good to know that the luxury of home video allows us to go back to a time (the '80s, more or less) when such present-day taboos were presented without a lot of disdainful huffing and puffing, when you could leave grandma out of it, shuffle along the young-uns and feeble-minded to the back bedrooms, ingest a stimulant of your choice, and pop in a film such as 1983's pleasurably sick and twisted sci-fi/horror entry Xtro, sit back, and have a hell of a great time of it. A couple of reviews ago, I noted that the stabbing of a particular character in the mesmerizing but ultimately unsuccessful thriller The Glass House was vile and revolting because it served no valid purpose whatsoever except to justify itself as a thriller by serving up a perfunctory body count. From the onset, though, writer/director Harry Bromley Davenport makes absolutely no qualms in justifying the irrefutable element of the grotesque running rampant throughout Xtro. It were as if he adopted the philosophy of Clint Eastwood's thinly-veiled John Huston-ian director John Wilson in White Hunter, Black Heart: "To make a successful picture, you must forget that anyone's ever going to see it." Judging by what's one display here, Davenport was more than willing to forget us; and for that, he saw fit to trot out a series of repulsive set pieces that (for the right crowd, anyway) fascinates rather than alienates.

The British-made Xtro was obviously inspired by Ridley Scott's groundbreaking 1979 classic Alien, which involved a rather hostile space creature wrecking unfathomable havoc upon seven humans. Instead of taking place on a spaceship, most of the action here centers in a London resident building. All right, let me back up. The film opens with loving husband Sam Phillips (played by Phillip Sayer) being abducted from his country home backyard by a UFO, as his young son Tony (Simon Natch) looks on in horror. Of course, Tony's account of the disappearance isn't believed; instead, Sam is believed to have run off, abandoning his family. Three years later, a bright light from the night sky appears, and a mild explosion occurs in a nearby area close to where Sam was abducted. A curious passerby investigates and is slain by a four-legged monstrosity that looks as if it'd happily chomp down Spielberg's genial E.T. for a hearty snack. At a nearby house, a woman is attacked by the creature as well: a suction cup-like appendage attaches to her mouth, stifling her screams. She awakens a while later, apparently unharmed -- that is, until she attempts to rise from the floor, only to discover that her belly is hugely swollen. She then (gulp!) starts to give birth. Well, sort of. For a full-size adult male -- Sam, having returned to Earth in a most unorthodox manner -- violently erupts from the woman's uterus and bites through his own umbilical cord. Have I gotten your attention yet?

Sam shows up at his old flat, only to find things have changed a bit since his ill-timed departure: his wife, Rachel (Bernice Stegers), has taken up with a younger man, Joe (Danny Brainin), and a gorgeous French au pair, Analyse (Maryam D'Abo), has been hired on to look after Tony. Understandably, Sam isn't welcomed back with too warm a reception. He claims to have suffered amnesia, and can't remember anything since the disappearance. Joe scoffs at the story, asserting that he tried an affair that didn't work out and has pitifully returned to be taken back, while Rachel fools herself into believing it, allowing Sam to temporarily stay with them. We, of course, know that Sam is no longer human, which is re-confirmed with his further actions, such as: his first spoken breaths burning clean through a telephone mouthpiece; his woofing down Tony's pet snake's eggs; and his greedily inhaling butane gas from the fireplace outlet. Why has he come back, though? To take his son back with him, of course. But with only a couple of days until the scheduled pick-up by her husband's newfound extraterrestrial friends, will Rachel discover the truth in time to save her child?

In case you haven't surmised as much thus far, Xtro is a grindingly unpleasant and most disturbing experience to sit through. It spares you nothing, is completely devoid of anything even remotely indicative of a redeeming moral nature, and is totally unrelenting in thrusting its innate gruesomeness right in your face. Not so much as a single iota of violence is insinuated; rather, it's merrily flaunted and paraded to the audience, in much the same unsparing manner as those sadistic tortures in Joel M. Reed's underground cult classic Bloodsucking Freaks were. And you know what? I loved every minute of it. Some will no doubt charge Xtro with being nihilistic and borderline amoral (charges I, myself, have levied on only two films in my lifetime: Larry Clark's Kids and Michael Haneke's Funny Games). But so be it, for Xtro wasn't designed for everybody -- just those who don't mind getting a little "dirty" in their filmgoing. What separates Xtro from other bottom-basement feeders is imagination and the colorful panache that gives the film a consistency to its texture. There's not a "light" moment to be had here, which is entirely appropriate being that any kind of trumped-up artifice would break the spellbinding pull to Harry Bromley Davenport's unique vision. You may not be too hot on what Xtro serves up, but what you can't deny is that it takes the easy way out by using the violence to pull you in, just to pull back out in revealing something of a hypocritical genial core in a ploy to let the audience know "We didn't really mean anything by the gore -- it was just a necessary lead-in to the real thing."

Considering that Xtro is limited mostly to interior settings, it's to Davenport's credit that (along with the invaluable help of cinematographer John Metcalfe) he's able to keep the proceedings visually interesting and dexterous in the scene transitions. Refreshingly, instead of dwindling the central conflict down to the heroes hunting down the alien just to kill it off, Bromley has opted to go in another direction, to explore the alien's life cycle and its powers. Sam manages to infect Tony without Rachel's knowing, and teaches him the ability to mentally move objects at will and to use his rage to transform his harmless-looking toys -- like a G.I. Joe-like figure and tank -- into life-sized killing machines, which can then be used to dispatch any unwanteds, like the nosy elderly woman downstairs, who unwisely kills Tony's pet snake when it slithers through the flooring and gets into her dinner salad. Sam has also created a terrifying midget clown who, with Rachel and Sam gone, prepares the flat as some kind of breeding center for more of Sam's out-of-this-world species, which the poor Analyse, ever the promiscuous figure, ends up on the receiving end of. Davenport never appears to have been short on ideas, and, more admirably, demonstrates the creative control and discipline to harness them in creating a specific organic world that unnerves.

Throats are slit. Bodies are punctured with bayonets and disembowled. A man's brain bleeds out his ears due to the alien's ultra-high frequency shrieks. And so on. And just to prove that Davenport isn't a total killjoy by settling solely on violence, there's a fabulously photographed oral sex scene involving a full-frontal Maryam D'Abo that's all but guaranteed to melt your Bon-Bons. Also, in applying that 'ol slasher flick staple that the ones who have pre-marital sex suffer the most violent demises, in addition to Analyse, her doofus boyfriend meets a pretty nifty end when encountering a black panther around the hall corner. Just when you think the film can't top itself, something outlandishly off comes out of nowhere and joyfully upends your limited expectations. Is this an admirable quality in light of the fact that Davenport was interested in nothing more than repulsing you? Yes and no. Yes, in that to achieve the high level of watchability -- a real feat, mind you, considering how often you want to avert your eyes -- the film needs to exist on a higher artistic plane than as a mere compilation of stand-out moments, and Bromely's ability to make the material play out as a unified whole is quite remarkable in that you're accepting of no matter what he dishes out. No, because in the last quarter or so Bromley tries to streamline things into one of those race-to-the-finish finales by relying on tired last-minute plot revelations that have been wisely avoided throughout. Luckily, Xtro picks back up for a shattering final scene that's sure to send shivers up your back. The film's bleakness does a bravura job of dissipating your seemingly iron-clad sensibilities, which, considering just how hardened a filmgoer I've become, is an accomplishment that Bromley should proudly take to the grave with him. Xtro is a nasty delight -- and a model of its subgenre!

"Xtro 2" isn't anything much, but "Xtro 3: Watch the Skies" is surprisingly decent.

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originally posted: 03/07/03 07:51:42
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User Comments

2/03/18 Mark Louis Baumgart Unrelenting weird, strange, and bizarre. Too many 'shrooms went into making this. 5 stars
9/12/17 morris campbell dull & disgusting avoid at all costs 1 stars
2/16/10 art THE 2006 FILM"SLITHER" IS A RIP-OFF OF XTRO! 3 stars
5/13/09 art A PSYCHOTIC VERISON OF ET! 3 stars
11/06/07 art best thing about this film was the clip's they showed on t.v.commercial for it 1 stars
8/15/05 Gregorew The best surreal nihilistic comedy 5 stars
10/25/04 LUCAS NOT FOR THE SQUAMISH! 4 stars
10/25/04 Michael McGarrigle Fab Gory Fun 4 stars
6/27/03 Harry Bromley-Davenport I'm the director of this film, mad. I'm amazed and delighted by Jack'scrazy review. 1 stars
12/31/02 Jack Sommersby Scary & sick! Dig that Maryam D'Abo oral-sex scene! 4 stars
11/25/02 Charles Tatum Weird stuff, avoid sequels 5 stars
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  02-Apr-1983 (R)



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