Nihilism is the philosophical belief that life is meaningless. In other words, life is without any form of objective purpose. Nothing happens for a reason. The world and all our lives are rudderless. Never been a believer in nihilism, that was until I watched Xtro (1982), I found its lack of plot and causality a toughly good example of the nihilist worldview.
Out from the 18th June on Blu-Ray, Xtro special edition comes with four versions of the film. Don’t get your hopes up. It isn’t going to be a Blade Runner (1982).
Three years after witnessing his father Sam’s (Philip Sayer) abduction by an eighties electropop video pretending to be a UFO, young boy Tony Phillips (Simon Nash) is haunted by nightmares of that day, much to the worry of his mother Rachel (Bernice Stegers), her boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin) and French au-pair Analise (Maryam d’Abo) who seems to have wandered in from Emmanuelle (1974).
Meanwhile, the English countryside is menaced by a glowing acute triangle that plants a seed in the ground. From it, a human/alien hybrid, which resembles a shaved melted Rottweiler, emerges from the ground, kills two motorists and impregnates a woman in a more Freudian manner than Alien (1979). The woman undergoes a rapid pregnancy and gives birth to a fully developed and adult Sam who heads back to London to find his family.
I now want you to read over that last paragraph and tell me what made sense because despite watching it several times to make sure I didn’t have a break down I have no clue how many of that made sense.
In London, Sam meets with Rachel and Tony and, despite having been gone for several years with no memory of what happened, moves back in with them. As tensions between Sam, Rachel and Joe build, Tony displays strange and disturbing powers…because he’s a child in a 1980’s horror film.
Sometimes you can call a film a train wreck. If you have a moment, Xtro is two trains traveling on the same track towards each other at 130mph; one train is carrying capuchin monkeys infected with a new airborne strain of Hepatitis while the other is carrying families returning from Disney land, the crash happens beside a children’s hospital and the headliner for the benefit concert is Phil Collins.
It’s not so much that the plot is half-baked, more that the plot still hasn’t been put in the oven. It has a premise, a theme, but no story. No reason why Sam has come back, no reason why he and Tony, who wasn’t abducted, both have these alien powers. Powers which somehow result in small toy clowns and soldiers coming to life and growing to the size of adults.
An example, without giving too much away, Tony kidnaps Analise, as part of the scheme he and his dad have cooked up. It’s creepy, I’ll give it that. Might be creepier too if they told us at some point what scheme was. The whole thread stands out like a sore thumb on a hand covered by nothing but sore thumbs. I know that horrors become less scary when we are given a straight answer, that mystery builds fear but it doesn’t even do that. The actions happen and then are forgotten about, such as how and why Tony suddenly gains alien powers. But that isn’t even the main problem with the plot. That comes from it flipping between being a movie of the week level of a Family Drama and B-movie Sci-fi horror. There are points, long points, during the film were its focuses on the personal love triangle between Sam, Rachel, and Joe that it forgets to be a horror so it abruptly compensates by having a moment of jarring body horror that doesn’t even make sense in the confines of the film.
Maybe it would have been better if the cast were able to, you know, act. But I have seen Ikea catalogues filled with a better range than this lot. I’m willing to cut the kid some slack because he’s 9 and doesn’t know better but Rachel approaches everything with the same cadence of voice, from her husband’s sudden return after three years to asking for a cup of tea. Joe, for someone who risks losing the woman he loves, approaches everything with the same tone of mild annoyance as somebody trying to charge their phone with a dodgy cable. At one point, after Sam casually throws a bottle at Joe’s head during dinner, the next scene shows them all sat down eating calmly like nothing happened. It is not even bad editing as they reference something from the previous scene.
It is so bad, so stupidly awful, that it actually goes full circle and becomes good.
It was never frightening, but the over the top practical effects and Oak Furniture Land acting makes it funny in ways the cast and crew never meant it to be.
Like I said above, the Blu-ray comes with several versions but all it really ends up being is different gradient and an alternative ending. There is a 57-minute documentary, Xploring Xtro, and several featurettes.
Don’t watch this film alone. Not because you’ll be scared. Not because the body horror will turn your stomach. Watch it because its sheer brutality of badness will have you rolling around laughing with your friends. This is the ideal movie to rift on.
Dir: Harry Bromley Davenport
Scr: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry, Iain Cassie, Robert Smith
Cast: Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Bernice Stegers, Danny Brainin, Maryam d’Abo
Prd: Mark Forstater
DOP: John Metcalfe
Music: Harry Bromley Davenport
Runtime: 86 minutes