When Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) mysteriously disappears one morning whilst playing with his son Tony outside the family home, his wife Rachel (Bernice Stegers) assumes that he has coldheartedly walked out on them. Young Tony (Simon Nash) knows different though, having quite literally seen the light and witnessed otherworldly activity that has whisked Sam away. Although the youngster believes that his father will one day return, Rachel has far less faith, wasting no time and settling down with local photographer Joe (Danny Brainin).
Three years later a strange mutated creature appears in woodland, takes an instant disliking to a passing motorist who nearly runs it over, before breaking into a nearby cottage and impregnating the lone female resident (Susie Silvey). Following an unfeasibly rapid pregnancy, the woman gives birth to – I kid you not - a fully formed adult Sam. Now back on Earth, Sam heads to London with the aim to reclaim his son.
Rachel is both shocked and angered when unexpectedly confronted by her husband, never really knowing what happened to him. Her lover Joe clearly resents Sam being back on the scene, assuming he was gone for good, so creating instant hostility between them. Everyone is initially unaware that Sam is not in fact who he used to be, though gradually his sinister intentions unfold. In the process Tony is passed special powers by his father – for no apparent reason, other than to allow the film further excesses. The boy is suddenly - and inexplicably - able to bring his toys and everyday objects to life, all with murderous intent. In her film debut, former Bond girl Maryam d’Abo struggles gallantly with a French accent as au-pair Analise, before having the indignity of being turned into an alien incubator. As you might gather, Xtro (1982) is not a film with any degree of subtlety, or indeed coherence.
Although the late Philip Sayer is best remembered for his role in this film, which became a cult favourite, I also recall him being excellent in the compelling ITV crime series Floodtide. In Xtro, both he and co-star Stegers manage to rise above the ridiculousness of it all and turn in solid performances. Part domestic drama and part outlandish gloopy sci-fi, Xtro incorporates elements of so many better films. There’s a hint of Close Encounters, The Thing and even a dash of Kramer Vs. Kramer. While an obvious influence is Alien, it reminded me more at times of those grimy low-grade knock-offs such as Norman J. Warren’s Inseminoid, Galaxy of Terror and Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination. Bromley-Davenport once said that his aim was simply to shock and, on this level at least, the film succeeds with a couple of effective gross-out sequences. The sustained surreal atmosphere occasionally works quite well and elevates this slightly above other rubbery monster B-movies of that era. If only they had used that whining synth score more sparingly, as it eventually becomes excruciating and sounds like something straight from the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop (it was composed by the director himself).
For the UK HD release of Xtro, Second Sight Films have worked from a new scan of the film and carried out their own restoration work. This will come as a relief to anyone concerned that it would resemble the much-maligned German release from Digi-Dreams Studios which, according to fans, suffered from overzealous DNR.
Four versions of the film come on a single region free disc, with authoring duties in the safe hands of Fidelity in Motion’s David Mackenzie. He has utilised seamless branching to access alternate sequences, rather than storing multiple complete versions of the film onto the disc and compromising quality. The differences are as follows: (1) Original Ending (1:26:01) - the version that played in UK cinemas and later appeared on DVD. It features the so called “happy ending” which, in my opinion, is unsatisfying and marred by some shoddy FX work. (2) Alternate Ending (1:26:50) – as released in the US by New Line Cinema, with a more derivative jump scare climax that serves the film better. (3) UK Home Video Version (1:25:41) - has the alternate ending, but with minor trims to other scenes and is a recreation of what Polygram released on VHS in the early 1980s. (4) Director’s 2018 version (1:26:48) – has the alternate ending, but the film has undergone colour correction work by the director, who has also added some new visual FX to give it a noticeably different look.
All variations of the film are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. For the first three versions, the image is clean throughout with no discernible signs of damage. There’s an appreciable level of fine detail that had been previously lost in earlier DVD editions, while retaining a satisfying degree of filmic grain. Colours are bright, with natural looking skin tones. Although the climax has blown-out whites, this was completely intentional by the film makers to make it more atmospheric – it is still possible to make out some detail. This is arguably the best the film has ever looked. By comparison, the colour correction applied to the Director’s 2018 version makes the film look simply dreadful. Skin tones of the principal characters here often look too orange and unnatural. Some sequences are now too dark, completely ruining a scene where Anna Wing confronts an intruder. During the climax, those blown-out whites have been further intensified, so what little detail existed before has now been lost entirely. There’s also an annoying vertical line that appears during a key moment. Furthermore, the newly added digital FX on this version look chintzy and add absolutely nothing to the film. In his intro, the director ponders whether he has improved Xtro with the new tweaks. In my opinion, it looked fine before, so he should have left well alone.
The soundtrack is presented in English DTS-HD MA 1.0 for the original and alternate ending versions. Alternatively, the home video and 2018 versions come with DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono. Neither soundtrack exhibit any issues, with dialogue well-defined throughout. English subtitles have also been included.
Rather than just using existing material produced by Digi-Dreams, Second Sight Films have put together their own impressive selection of extras.
Xploring Xtro (56:52) - a brand new 2018 documentary from Nucleus Films. This entertaining retrospective is directed by Jake West, who is well-regarded for his documentaries covering the horror genre. There are interviews with Director Harry Bromley-Davenport, producer Mark Forstater and various other cast members including Bernice Stegers, Susie Silvey and Robert Pereno. Bromley-Davenport is self-deprecating and makes for a highly amusing interviewee recalling some priceless anecdotes about making the film. We learn that former New Line Cinema boss Bob Shaye put up half the money to make Xtro, but in return demanded script changes to make it completely off the wall, having been impressed by Don Coscarelli’s outlandish Phantasm (1979). New Line Cinema was a struggling new player at the time, but Xtro eventually did good enough business in the States to give them a welcome financial boost, before they struck gold with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
The filmmakers note that Xtro didn’t perform as well at the UK box office, but later became a cult success on VHS when it managed to get caught up in the ridiculous furore over video nasties during the mid-eighties. This is despite the fact that it never actually featured on the DPP’s list of banned films, plus the BBFC had no problems with the content (it was later passed with a 15 certificate). Actress Stegers also discusses her involvement in Xtro, which became her second horror role after appearing as the lead in Lamberto Bava’s Macabre (1980). She is now a familiar face on British TV screens, having appeared in dozens of shows over the years and is also married to director Mike Newell. The documentary includes interviews with Tim Dry and Sean Crawford, who started out as an eighties robotic mime duo known as “Tik & Tok”. In Xtro they were cast simply as the “Monster” and “Commando” doll respectively, with both being quite memorable. There are contributions too from horror critic Alan Jones and the BBFC’s Craig Lapper.
The World of Xtro (27:20) – an interview with Xtro superfan Dennis Atherton, with contributions from Harry Bromley-Davenport and Mark Forstater. Atherton explains why this film is one of his favourites, providing some interesting observations in the process.
Beyond Xtro (7:24) – Bromley-Davenport apparently owns the rights to the Xtro title, but not the story and characters from the first film. This enabled him to direct two further unrelated films: Xtro: The Second Encounter(1990), followed by Xtro: Watch the Skies (1995) - both crummy Alien clones that headed straight to video in the UK. What’s missing here is the director’s recollection of working with troubled star Jan Michael Vincent on the second film – there must be some interesting stories to tell. Now the director has re-teamed with original producer Mark Forstater to make a reboot, imaginatively entitled: Xtro – The Big One. The pair discuss this new project and show some very early test footage, which utilises extensive CGI to recreate an earthquake in the US caused by an alien invasion. It is of course too early to tell for sure whether this latest endeavour will become the next big screen Independence Day, or perhaps more than likely just slip quietly on to the Syfy channel very late at night.
Xtro Xposed (11:44) – An archive featurette from 2005 produced by Digital Roadshow featuring an interview with director Harry Bromley-Davenport, who is on top form.
Loving the Alien: A Tribute to Philip Sayer (3:36) – Queen guitarist Brian May never met Philip Sayer, but he was so moved by the actor’s death from cancer in 1989 (aged 42), that he wrote a song dedicated to him. The track entitled “Just One Life” featured in May’s 1992 solo album “Back to The Light” and is included here.
The extras also include the obligatory Trailer and TV spot, a Soft cover booklet with new writing by Kevin Lyons and the original soundtrack CD (neither were available for review).
Xtro is available now on Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.