Friday, April 22, 2016

Xtro (1982)

... aka: Judas Goat
... aka: X-tro
... aka: Xtro, attacco alla Terra (Xtro, Attack on Earth)
... aka: Xtro – Extraterrestre (Xtro – Extraterrestrial)

Directed by:
Harry Bromley Davenport

Leonard Maltin called it “crudely directed,” “guided by gruesomeness” and “overwrought but dull.” In an episode of At the Movies, Roger Ebert labeled it “one of the most mean-spirited and ugly thrillers I've seen in a long time” and added that it “doesn't even qualify as acceptable trash,” while Gene Siskel simply shrugged it off (“garbage is the operative word”) as if he had better things to do with his time. A critic for Time Out was a little more lenient, saying that it's “incompetent enough to be prime drive-in fodder.” Those and countless other extremely negative reviews from nearly every major critic of the day were what greeted this film upon release. None of that really mattered in the long run though as this did fairly well at the box office and on video. Part of that was due to an effective marketing campaign painting it as the antithesis (“Not all extraterrestrials are friendly!”) of one of 1982's biggest family-friendly hits: E.T.. Being part of a wave of similar sci-fi / horror films from the early 80s hoping to cash in on the success of ALIEN (1979) probably didn't hurt matters either. This production is also noteworthy for being produced by Robert Shaye and his then fledgling New Line Cinema; who handled the U.S. distribution. It was one of only two horror releases (the other being the entertaining 1982 slasher ALONE IN THE DARK) that predated their company-stabilizing hit A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

Since its theatrical days, this has gone on to amass a minor cult following simply because of how bizarre and ridiculous it is. The director, who'd previously made just one feature (1976's Whispers of Fear, which doesn't appear to have ever been released on home video), claims that he and his crew made this for one reason and one reason only - “to shock people” - and didn't really put much more thought into it than that. He's also the first person to admit that the film “doesn't make much sense.” He is correct. Still, that doesn't mean this isn't still wonderfully entertaining.

While outside playing fetch with the dog, Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) tosses a stick into the air, there's a sudden explosion of bright light and strong wind and the next thing you know he's gone. Sam's young son Tony (Simon Nash) witnesses the whole incident, but nobody believes him. Instead, wife / mom Rachel (Bernice Stegers) thinks Sam has run off and abandoned them and eventually moves on with her own life. Three years later, the mother and son are out of the country and living in a brownstone in the city. Rachel is now dating a new man, girlie photographer Joe Daniels (Danny Brainin), who lives with them along with French housekeeper / nanny Analise (Maryam d'Abo in her film debut). Tony rejects the potential new father figure in his life, is haunted by recurring nightmares and is convinced his father will come back one day. He's right, of course, but pops isn't quite the same once he does finally show up. The boy also has some kind of bizarre, unexplained psychic connection to his long-missing dad, who communicates with him and makes him wake up one covered in blood (“Daddy sent it!”)

A spaceship swings by Earth long enough to drop off a reptilian alien creature. It immediately kills a couple driving through the country and then breaks into a cottage, attaches its tentacle onto a woman's (Susie Silvey) mouth and then impregnates her. Her stomach immediately swells and she gives birth to a full-grown man right then and there. That man is Sam, of course, or at least a being that looks identical to him. Soon after, Sam hunts down and finds Tony and Rachel and claims he has no idea where he was or what he was doing during those three missing years. Since he doesn't have a place to stay, Rachel is pretty much forced to take him in temporarily, which doesn't sit too well with Joe. While there, Sam exhibits some decidedly strange behavior, including eating snake eggs, and then gives his son a nasty hickey that passes along special supernatural / telekinetic abilities to him in the process. The powers also give him a mean / evil streak.

At first, Tony does simple things, like making a top spin with his mind, but then he creates a dwarf clown (Peter Mandell) with a razor blade yo yo and other deadly playthings. Downstairs tenant Mrs. Goodman (Anna Wing) smashes Tony's pet snake to death with a mallet when it sneaks into her apartment, so he turns his tiny soldier doll into a full-sized plastic assassin and sends it downstairs to stab her death with a bayonet. The young and fertile Analise is up next and they have special plans for her. While they send a toy tank that shoots real bullets and a black panther (!!) out to take care of her boyfriend (David Cardy), the clown bludgeons her with a floppy hammer, Tony breaths into her side and next thing we know she's a cocooned incubator pumping out water balloon alien eggs. An elderly neighbor who swings by to check up on them gets his throat cut with the yo yo and there's also death by piercing sound waves, which make a man's ears start gushing blood. A second, skeletal-looking alien creature shows up toward the end. The original ending was changed later on because the distributor didn't like the first one and were planning to remove it.

Was this plot well thought out? No. Does this make much sense? No, not really. Still, Xtro is an extremely entertaining, nicely-photographed, fairly well-acted and efficient little exploitation movie with fun special effects, lots of gore, some sleaze (including several nude scenes from the stunning D'Abo) and many memorably oddball moments worth checking out. The director also co-wrote it and did the (pretty good) synthesizer score. He later came to America and made Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1990) and Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1995). There was talk of either a third sequel or a remake of the first but that has yet to happen.

Xtro is one of those movies you couldn't avoid even if you tried. It's been very well-distributed since its initial VHS release back in 1983 and continues to be well-distributed to this day with numerous DVD releases. Still waiting on a Blu-ray, though.

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