Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #10
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: August 6, 1982
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 81 minutes
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Producer: Mark Forstater
Screenplay: Harry Bromley Davenport
Special Effects: Tom Harris
Cinematography: John Metcalfe
Score: Harry Bromley Davenport
Editing: Nicolas Gaster
Studio: Amalgamated Film Enterprises
Distributors: New Line Cinema, Polygram Video
Stars: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Maryam d’Abo, Danny Brainin, Peter Mandell, David Cardy, Anna Wing, Robert Fyfe, Katherine Best, Robert Pereno, Sean Crawford, Tim Dry, Susie Silvey, Arthur Whybrow
Suggested Audio Candy
Harry Bromley Davenport “Brainstorm”
I remember it like it was just yesterday. It was my tenth birthday and I was just about to venture outside to walk my dog. Suddenly, without any prior warning, a luminous flash of blue light appeared in the skies above my house and the sanctuary of my front garden was rapidly awash with blinding rays, accompanied by a gust of wind so ferocious that it blew the freckles clean off my cheeks. Before I could grab the nearest drain pipe for safety, I was wrenched high from the ground towards this ominous light source. From that point onward, I have absolutely no recollection of what occurred but would imagine the dreaded anal probe had something to do with it as that’s how aliens get their shits and grins apparently.
At any rate, enough blowing smoke up your ass. It was indeed the early eighties but didn’t happen quite as I said. At the time, E.T. was clearing up at cinemas nationwide, and pirate copies were busy doing the rounds. Sketchy bootleg was not the favored manner in which to experience Steven Spielberg’s enigmatic blockbuster, but I had to find out what all the hype was about and couldn’t wait another minute. Bearing in mind this was at a time when a Blu-Ray rip could only mean that you’d put a hole in your favorite Wranglers, this rough cut left me somewhat underwhelmed and I couldn’t fathom out why it was held in such lofty regard. Thankfully, for every friendly extra-terrestrial that docks on our planet, there is an obligation to supply humanity with a less approachable alien to balance things out and this is where Harry Bromley Davenport’s glorious antithesis Xtro came into play.
Coincidentally, its landing coincided with the arrival of our very first household VHS toploader. My first notion? The only thing this wide eyed ten-year old desired was a visit to the local video store and it was there that I was first formally introduced to Davenport’s nonsensical B-Movie masterpiece. Our eyes met across a crowded room and from that point there was only ever going to be one cassette leaving the shop under my father’s wing. It was my first taste of visual seduction. My poor mother’s horrified face was a picture that evening as she ironed my school uniform against the backdrop of a naked cocooned beauty sporting some sort of enormous alien member, ejaculating gooey eggs via said phallus into a bathtub of white creamy solution. Needless to say it was not the birthday present she had envisaged.
Xtro was met with similar bewilderment and disgust by many critics upon its release, incensing the bigots at the same time. Seemingly a woman giving birth to a fully formed middle-aged man and said man proceeding to give his own son a martian love bite didn’t sit right with the likes of Roger Ebert and it found itself walking the walk of shame soon after, although it was never actually included on the DPP’s prosecuted list of video nasties. I can only imagine the look of horror on their faces as the censors attempted to make sense of this bizarre little film as, to this very day, there are few features quite so completely off their trolleys. Needless to say, the soundly befuddled general public scratched their heads too.
Let me make this abundantly clear before we proceed any further: Xtro is a mess of catastrophic proportions. There can be no getting around the fact that it is as mad as a sack of inebriated squirrels and any attempt to suggest otherwise would be simply dishonest. However, and I say this with considerable gusto, I love every single last unhinged minute of it. In truth, Davenport’s oddity would make my desert island list above other, more highbrow, offerings and the reason for this is straightforward. It never concerns itself with being plausible and, instead, wears its heart on its sleeve with immense pride and purpose.
The uncannily desirable Bernice Stegers takes leading lady responsibilities proving herself once again after impressing in Lamberto Bava’s 1980 chiller Macabre. Her increasingly desperate mother routine is pretty much spot-on and possibly the only sober thing about the entire experience. She plays Rachel Phillips who, after her husband Sam (Philip Sayer) performs an inexplicable vanishing act years earlier, has to contend with his unforeseen comeback and the impact this has on her latest relationship with her younger lover Joe (Danny Brainin). As if that isn’t troublesome enough, then some increasingly bizarre incidents coincide with his return to the fold.
In truth, bizarre didn’t even begin to cut it. Not…even…close! To give you an inkling of just how outré events are; a mime artist was hired to crawl on his back in full outlander attire, to play a spider-crawling impregnating alien. Only in Xtro. Within the first ten minutes or so, it plays its ridiculous hand and, at no point whatsoever, is Davenport interested in applying so much as a dash of logic. E.T. may have considered himself outrageous for dressing up in mother’s pearls and chiffon but here he would have fitted in without so much as a blink of an eye.
I won’t elaborate the plot any further as I would pay a handsome fee to have my memory erased temporarily just so that I could watch Xtro fresh one more time and could never strip another of that experience. I will say this however: if you have ever wished to see a seven-foot Action Man on the prowl, complete with bayonet and murderous intent, then this is the film for you. What other film can boast alien abduction, remote-controlled tanks with demonic minds of their own, wobbly hammers, a man guzzling snake eggs, a life-sized Pez dispenser, and vertically challenged clowns? It even finds time to throw in an agoraphobic panther for good measure. To top it all off, Davenport’s shrill musical score is the stuff of legends. Pure synthesized preposterousness.
Despite his film generally baffling audiences worldwide, Davenport went on to churn out a pair of sequels in the early nineties but both were shoddy direct-to-video fodder and neither worthy of any real note. What is gratifying however is the news that he still intends to gift the world Xtro: The Big One and return to the original formula. Whether or not this would work in practice remains to be seen but, while there’s hope, my fingers will remain firmly crossed. His film may be ludicrous in the extreme and impossible to recommend as an outright classic of its time but it is also completely unique. I have never seen another film quite like it and if you lend yourself to its quite plainly absurd charms then you will find solace in its very existence and hopefully a warm little glow inside.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Wonderfully offensive and at the same time as harmless as a newborn kitten. Xtro tied for an International Fantasy Film Award in 1983 for Best Special Effects which is quite an achievement considering its limited budget. There is much bloodletting and some very satisfying schlock but it’s those macabre images it leaves in your frontal lobe that will stay with you like airport baggage. On the skin front, future Bond girl Maryam d’Abo makes her debut here as inattentive au pair Analise, and shows enough bare flesh to give Timothy Dalton the knee-trembles. The alien egg incubator which she ultimately transforms into is however somewhat less erotic.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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