I have to admit that I’m not usually a huge fan of the sci-fi genre or of horror/sci-fi crossovers. There are some exceptions, of course—the Alien franchise, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers—but on the whole, aliens are not really compelling baddies for me. So it was with some degree of meh-ness, one Halloween night, that I randomly decided to give a lesser-known British sci-fi horror flick from the 80s a whirl. Despite my initial trepidation, though, I have to say that I am now rather glad that I ended up watching this hidden gem, because I would have likely never sought it out deliberately, and it is deeply, intensely fucked up, but in the best possible way.
Released in 1983, the bewilderingly-titled Xtro was directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, and was presumably made to cash in on the wave of popular sci-fi films of the period, like E.T., Alien, and Videodrome. It was pretty resoundingly panned on its first release, but became something of a cult film in the ensuing years, spawning two sequels so far (though the sequels don’t have much of anything to do with the original movie). It’s not difficult to see why the film slowly found an audience, because there is some very, very strange shit going on in this thing, and though it’s a fairly low-budget affair, the special effects are actually quite good for the time, and some of the imagery is pretty disturbing.
Xtro tells the story of a boy named Tony (Simon Nash) who is playing with his dad Sam (Philip Sayer) in the yard of their farmhouse when suddenly an intense light blazes out of the sky and apparently drags Sam away with it. Cut to three years later. No one really knows what happened to Sam, but Tony and his mom Rachel (Bernice Stegers) have had to move on with their lives, and now live in London with Rachel’s new boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin) and a hot French nanny named Analise (Mariam d’Abo), who was presumably shoehorned into the film to provide the requisite titty shots.
Meanwhile, a light shines out in the woods again. Two people driving down a dark country road hit a freaky-looking creature with their car (in one of the movie’s creepier scenes, and in fact one that made the rounds on YouTube labeled as a “real” monster sighting back in the day), and stupidly go into the woods to try to find it. The creature kills the man, goes back to the car and takes care of the woman, then circles around to a house. It attacks the woman living within and impregnates her. Her belly swells to gargantuan proportions in minutes, and then a fully-grown, blood-slick Sam comes crawling out of her monumentally wrecked vagina. After heading back into the woods and stealing the clothes off the car-driving dude he killed, Sam heads to London to try and track down his family.
Here’s where the whole thing gets a little more bizarre (as if it wasn’t pretty weirdsville already). Sam picks up Tony from school, so when Rachel comes to get the boy, she is told that his father has already taken him. She chases them down, and sees that Sam has indeed returned. She’s glad to see him, but angry that he seemingly left them three years earlier with no explanation. He says that he doesn’t remember anything about what happened, so Rachel feels bad for him and takes him back home. Tony is overjoyed to have his father back, but naturally Joe, the new boyfriend, is far less enthused, especially when it becomes clear that Sam doesn’t really have any intention of leaving and Rachel doesn’t have the heart to tell him to take a hike. Joe eventually sort-of moves out, though he’s still sharing the photography studio where he and Rachel both work.
So it’s all a very awkward family drama into which even more weirdness soon manifests itself. Tony wakes up in the middle of the night covered in blood that isn’t his. The next day he catches his father eating the eggs of his pet snake, has a freakout, and hauls ass out of the house. Sam chases after him, reassures him that everything is fine and that he just needed to eat those eggs because he’s different now, and wouldn’t Tony like to be different too? Tony seems to relent, because hey, that’s his long-lost dad, so Sam creepily puts his lips on the kid’s neck and either starts sucking blood from him or inserting something into the blister he makes there.
Later on, back at home, Sam tells his son that he has powers now, and can pretty much do anything he wishes to do, and that now Tony can too. Predictably, the first thing the kid uses his powers for is revenge: Tony’s pet snake escapes and turns up in the apartment of their busybody downstairs neighbor (played by Anna Wing), who chops the hapless reptile into pieces. Tony uses his newfound alien magic to animate a toy soldier and make it grow life-size, so that it can troop down to the busybody’s flat and poke her to death with a bayonet. It’s a weird, unsettling scene, not least because it doesn’t make much sense, and also because the actor playing the life-size toy soldier has some creepily inhuman movements to go with his plastic, unmoving face.
Tony also brings one of his clown dolls to life in the form of a sinister little person (Peter Mandell) who does his bidding. When Rachel decides to take Sam back to the farmhouse to see if he remembers anything about the night he disappeared, she leaves Tony in the care of the often-shirtless nanny. Analise wastes no time in inviting her boyfriend over for some afternoon delight, but Tony keeps pounding on the bedroom door, insisting she play hide and seek with him. Finally she agrees to a short game and begins searching the apartment for the boy, at which point Tony and his creepy clown henchman hit her on the head with a mallet and then drag her into the kitchen, where we later see that she has been attached to the wall in some sort of cocoon. Squishy eggs are squelching out of an ovipositor-type tube where the bottom half of her body was. The clown midget takes these eggs and places them lovingly in the refrigerator after coating the inside with some lumpy green goop. Analise’s boyfriend, by the way, is first chased and shot at by a toy tank, then attacked and eaten by a black panther that is inexplicably wandering the halls. Because aliens.
Back at the farmhouse, Rachel and Sam are going at it, but suddenly Rachel notices that Sam’s skin is starting to rot off. He takes off into the woods toward a bright light, and Rachel runs after him. Joe has brought Tony out to the farmhouse after he finds the kid running around outside the apartment alone and everybody else dead. Sam starts alien-ing like crazy, turning back into the creature we saw at the beginning. He makes a high-pitched shriek that apparently ruptures something in Joe’s brain, killing him. Then Sam gets to the light, and he has Tony with him, and Tony is starting to alien out too, hand in hand with his dad, and then they both disappear and Rachel is standing there in the field where the light just was, wondering what the fuck just happened. She doesn’t wonder long, though, because later on, she gets back to the apartment, finds the eggs in the upturned fridge, stupidly picks one up and stares at it until a little hand thing shoots out of it and attaches itself to her face and kills her.
So everybody dies, pretty much, except for Sam and Tony, who I guess live happily ever after on some alien planet far away, where they fill their days with telepathic toy control, big cat training regimens, and reptile-egg feasts. Did I mention this was a weird-ass movie? It’s kind of like a low-rent Cronenberg flick, what with all the goop and tentacles and vaginal imagery and creatures with backwards legs and what not, and even though the guy who played Joe kept reminding me of a lost member of the Romantics, I actually enjoyed the thing a great deal more than I thought I would. As I said, some of the images—the first sight of the creature scuttling across the dark road, the full-grown man emerging from the woman’s torn hoo-ha, the eerily grinning clown doll come to life—are really effective, and I quite liked the very downbeat, bleak drama of the whole family dynamic, which I guess is pretty typical of British films. It’s definitely an odd little film, but one that I’d recommend to fans of the genre.