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Dustin Putman

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Xtro  (1983)
3 Stars
Directed by Harry Bromley Davenport.
Cast: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Danny Brainin, Maryam D'Abo, Peter Mandell, David Cardy, Anna Wing, Susie Silvey.
1983 – 83 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for graphic violence and gore, sexuality, nudity and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 2008.

Sam Phillips:
No one is going to believe me when I say that I was abducted by aliens,
but the truth I will always know myself.

"Xtro" is an innovative, nihilistic bit of sci-fi/horror nastiness that freaked me out as a child. One could argue I was perhaps too young to be watching it at the time, but watch it I did, and the image of a young boy and a midget clown incubating the body of a young woman with black sacs of alien fetuses stayed with me. Seeing the film again as an adult, it is easy to understand why it would make such an impression on a kid too young to understand what was going on. Then again, "Xtro" still doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, but that's part of its charm. It's perverse, it's sickening, and it's so far outside the stratosphere of conventional moviemaking that one cannot help but admire its chance-taking.

Three years after young Tony Phillips (Simon Nash) was the only witness to his father Sam's (Philip Sayer) alien abduction, he has still not been able to free himself of nightmares about that fateful day. No one has believed Tony's claims and, in the interim, caring mother Rachel (Bernice Stegers) has moved on and moved in with photographer Joe (Danny Brainin). When Sam suddenly returns, claiming that he doesn't remember anything since the day he went missing, Rachel finds herself torn between her son's father and the new man in her life. More diabolical things are afoot, however, as Sam sets out to infect Tony with his alien seed and begin harvesting alien life forms.

Audaciously directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, "Xtro" is even wonkier than it sounds. The complete antithesis of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," which had been released about eight months prior, the film is crude, slimy and surrealistic, boasting ingeniously sinister effects work that outshines its low budget. Answers to the hows and whys of the plot are sketchy, at best, the movie working as a disturbing, phantasmagoric mood piece rather than as a concrete narrative.

Would you believe it that "Xtro" features a spider-crawling alien creature crashing to earth and transferring itself into the body of a woman at a cottage, who, in turn, gives birth to a grown man? Or how about a father, now an extraterrestrial, sucking his son's bare shoulder and transplanting him with the same alien gene? There are also toys that turn into life-size beings, from a sidekick clown who does the young boy's murderous bidding, to a plastic soldier who does away with the crabby old lady living downstairs. A snake in a salad, goopy face-peeling, and an ill-fated nanny, Analise (Maryam d'Abo), whose fertility is abused in unthinkable ways only skim the surface of the places "Xtro" goes to shock and gross out audiences. It's downright Lynchian before David Lynch was even on the map.

If "Xtro" defies the standards of point-A-to-point-B storytelling, it does not lose sight of Rachel's humanity. She is the closest thing the film has to a protagonist, and the turmoil she faces as she stands to lose everyone she's ever loved is displayed with bereaved emotion by British actress Bernice Stegers. She's quite good in the part, and the one element that lifts the film from being the empty stylistic exercise it might have otherwise become. "Xtro" may be morbid, unsettling, and even upsetting—it pushes upon boundaries and then crosses them—but it's a bona fide original in the genre. No one could ever accuse it of just being more of the same.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman