Xtro (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1982)

by Douglas Buck June 11, 2019 5 minutes (1130 words) 35mm Nitehawk Cinema, part of the monthly Deuce series

Sam Phillips (Phillip Sayer) returns after having abruptly vanished, claiming no memory of where he’s been for the last three years, with the only clue being the stubborn persistence from his young son (Simon Nash) that he saw daddy get abducted by aliens (well, to be fair, it’s the very first scene so we saw it too). Confused and angry, Sam’s wife Rachel (Bernice Stegers), finds herself caught between re-ignited feelings for her former love, who actively is trying to inculcate himself back into her sexual graces, and her comfortable life with the man she has since moved in with (Danny Brainin), who is understandably a bit unhappy about the current situation, as well as wary of Sam’s motives… all as Sam does his best to keep hidden the twisted (and yucky) transformations the aliens have enacted on him as he carries out his true nefarious plans centered around his loving, vulnerable son…

Continuing down the slippery slope of “Alien” rip-offs (reminds me, I have to stop avoiding and once and for all spend the time to jot down my thoughts on that last interminably frustrating and dull Alien: Covenant film… then again, perhaps those two adverbs can cover the review) has now led myself (and my small coterie of fellow film travelers) to re-watching the bonkers, wildly creative, scifi/horror hodge podge of grotesque and colorfully perverse imagery that is Xtro.

This film has a place in my heart.

It was the early days of cable boob tube where I first caught its gory glories, and I distinctly remember the pure wide-eyed teenage wonder and excitement I felt at witnessing that simply eye-popping scene of that poor woman, after having been raped by a wild backwards crab-walking alien (well, a kind of a rape, anyway, in which the creature elongated its gooey fleshy proboscis, stuck it on to her mouth and deposited an egg down her throat – it is an “Alien” rip-off, after all), giving bloody birth to a full grown alien man (namely, hubby Sam) a mere few hours later.

An important part of that indelible memory was watching my mother, who happened to wander in (unfortunately for her) at that exact sublime moment (‘Hi, dear, what’s on? Anything good?’), react in pure utter outrage; in fact, in many ways, along with the Bergman and Tarkovsky influences that I’ve prattled on about ad nauseum, this single freakish moment of cinematic experience – the taking in of my own pleasure while witnessing the abject horror experienced by others – might have been the most formative in my eventual approach to my own movies (I’m gonna leave aside the uncomfortable Freudian implications of it having been my mom, if you don’t mind).

I finally caught up to Xtro again a few years back on 35mm as part of the Williamsburg Nitehawk’s monthly Deuce series, the all-celluloid (no matter how ratty and pink the print) look back at movies that played on Manhattan’s 42nd Street ‘Deuce’ grindhouse back in the day (‘Where people say films went to die, but we say they lived the only life they could’, as the gregarious Deuce hosts intone) and happily discovered it aged even better than I thought.

Matching the startlingly rapid alien incubation period of that rape/birth sequence, the movie moves along at a satisfyingly fast pace, from one wild set piece to the next, with images transgressive and crazed, often in the best (early) Cronenbergian fashion (such as the overtly incestual scene of dad locking his mouth to his adoring pre-teen son’s naked shoulder to bury… well… something in the boy’s body that begins to transform the youngster, to the grand alien creature effects, to the sex scene where Sam’s skin begins to melt away revealing the horror underneath, and on to Sam’s son coming upon daddy sucking down the thick goo inside his pet snake’s eggs) and some just plain odd (such as the GI Joe suddenly coming to stiff plastic full-size life, moving awkwardly and using its weapons to kill the nosey old lady neighbor downstairs, and that black panther that keeps showing up for no reason other than apparently financier New Line head honcho Robert Shaye demanded the director include it in his film).

The mostly British actors give their all in their roles, with nary a hint of condescension. While director Bromley-Davenport’s electronic score gets a bit wonky at times and the alien spacecraft opticals are definitely lo-fi, none of that takes away from the unapologetically transgressive overall approach to the film (and such a wonderful notion to consider that it was a big hit of the day for New Line, one that apparently made Bromely-Davenport a fairly wealthy sum).

Speaking of actors, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that perfect physical glory of the pale-skinned, full-lipped, French-accented Maryame d’Abo, playing the family au pair, who spends most of the movie sneaking off to have (deliciously naked) sex with her very lucky boyfriend before meeting her grotesque fate (think, poor Captain Dallas in the state a frantic Ripley finds him in in the extended director’s cut of Alien).

Maryame d’Abo

There’s a few different final codas to the film, and while I couldn’t fully make sense of which had a life where off the extras on the bluray with which our little group re-watched it again the other night (one ending was on the original American theatrical, another on the UK video, another on a new director’s cut, and on like that), I would say that, while one may be more Village of the Damned creepy and another more violently Alien like, they all work fairly effectively… but I also wonder if perhaps Bob Shaye’s original preference of having no coda at all, just leaving the traumatized Rachel alone and bereft in the forest night, wasn’t the most effective way to go…

Either way, good show, Mr Bromley Davenport. While you were a nice enough bloke — if entirely drunk and in a lot of pain from gout… as was I, to be fair (entirely drunk, that is, not in pain from gout) – it was surprising to hear you reveal little but contempt for the film when I gushed about my love for it a number of years back as we sat in your home up in the Hollywood Hills (look at me, going all name-dropping). Your feelings about it aside, you managed with this odd, deliriously crazed, badly behaved attention-seeking scifi horror mashup to cull together a minor genre classic of that time… and one that got you rewarded with a nice paycheck (achieved after some considerable legal prodding of New Line, apparently).

Xtro (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1982)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

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