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Xtro (1982)

Xtro is the film that narrowly escaped becoming the second Brit-made video nasty. Why it didn’t becomes immediately apparent on viewing – there’s nothing there that puts it in the same league as something like the reviled I Spit On Your Grave, or even (gulp) the only actual banned Brit, Expose.

Xtro’s only crime (other than being a bit crap) is that it features an extra-terrestrial rape followed by a deeply nasty birth. What it was about life in the late 70s and early 80s that created this as a mini genre, I have no idea (think of Alien, Inseminoid and a host of Italian gore movies…). Xtro manages to take the idea of a randy alien "at it", remove any remaining logic from such an absurd premise and then film it in loving close-up. Accompanied by the worst music outside of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. And it is revolting. But more of that later.

The film itself has come in for its fair share of brickbats over the years, which is a shame. Okay, so it is unremittingly cheesey, occasionally truly awful and sometimes just boring, but there are a number of excellent ideas there, if you’re prepared to give it a chance.

The opening scenes are actually something of a tour-de-force – as a man and a boy play with their dog in the garden of a country cottage, the stick the man has thrown suddenly freezes in mid air. Day suddenly switches to night, and the scene is illuminated by some Close Encounters (or if you prefer – school disco) lighting effects.

Things shunt forward to “three years later”, and we’re re-introduced to the boy from scene one, whose name is Tony and who appears to have spent the intervening time having bad dreams and inheriting a new dad.

As the lights re-appear in the sky over the English countryside (courtesy of your typical not-very special effects), a couple in a Volvo crash into something that scuttles across the road in front of them (quite spooky, this bit). He (of course) goes to have a look at whatever it was that they hit, and gets something sprayed in his face, causing blood to pour from his eyes and killing him dead. The woman is the next to die, and whatever it is then proceeds to the home of a freshly-showered blonde and does the dirty with her on the kitchen floor.

At this point Tony wakes up in bed and finds himself covered from head-to-toe in bright red blood, in what has to be the worst example of a horror wet dream ever. “Daddy sent it…” he explains. “I just felt… sticky…” We’ve all been there, right, lads?

Then it’s time for that birth scene, which sees the abused woman wake up on the kitchen floor and finds the alien thingy dead. Before you can say “Great (Ridley) Scott!” she’s writhing on the floor, and a fully-grown man (Tony’s dad) explodes from between her legs in a shower of gore, Geri Halliwell-style.

And this is where the film falls down. What was the alien thingy? Why did it kill those people? Why did it have to rape the woman? If that is Tony’s dad, why did he have to be re-born? None of this is explained, which kind of makes you think that the only reason the rape/birth scene was included was because someone thought it up and shoehorned it in. Still, I suppose that’s exploitation movies for you…

That’s the end of the nasty violence, and the film gets on with telling the everyday story of the mother, son, step-dad and alien abductee original dad. For the next hour or so, the film lurches from kitchen sink melodrama (complete with hip references to the early 80s unemployment situation – apparently, if you "look Yiddish, think Briddish" you’ll find gainful employment!?!), to extremely saucy sex scenes (Bond girl Mariam D’Abo in a clinch that leaves nothing to the imagination – hooray!), and complete “daft as a brush”-ness (man being chased by a toy tank that somehow manages to fire real rockets).

Tony turns out to be every inch his father’s son, and develops the ability to control inanimate objects (he also inherits a spooky murderous clown). The high spot of his new-found telekinetic talents is not the tank scene (which is quite frankly shit), but the sudden appearance of a perfectly-realised full-sized 80s Action Man (complete, one assumes, with gripping hands and eagle eyes) which proceeds to viciously bayonet Lou Beale out of Eastenders. If only Xtro II had come up with an army of such unstoppable killing machines (one with black hair, one with a beard… perhaps one wearing a floral shirt with enormous buttons that your mum made for when he’s not “at work”), which perhaps could have laid waste to the entire cast of Hollyoakes

When Tony's mum takes his errant alien dad off to the cottage to "try and remember", the boy gets left with D'abo, who, in the best tradition of all good au paires, is more concerned with shagging her boyfriend than doing her job. Such shenanigans are soon put to an end, though, by a combination of rubber mallet-head bopping, murderous toy tanks and a full-sized black panther (I kid you not).

As D'abo gets turned into a one woman alien breeding machine and dad starts to messily show his true colours to mum, things are set for an ending which sticks two fingers up to E.T. in fine style. In fact, the whole film was marketed as the "anti-E.T.", with the tagline "Not all aliens are friendly". Many phones get destroyed during the short runtime (no-one "phones home" in this film - they're usually just messily bludgeoned, stabbed or sucked to death). But the "shock" extra ending is pure Alien.

Xtro is nowhere near as bad as you might think - especially if you're a connoisseur of the cheesey. Although messily gory, it never really repels because of its lack of chills. It'll never be a classic, but deserves a small ante chamber off the Brit horror hall of fame, none the less.

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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