Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Best. Toychest. Ever.

What you will find in XTRO:
  • One feisty midget clown
  • A killer toy tank
  • Alien birth
  • One life-sized GI Joe (or a similar brand found on your local Family Dollar shelf)
  • Panthers
  • Lasers
  • A man shedding his skin during his first sex in three years
  • The implication that a seven-year-old boy has impregnated Maryam d’Abo
  • The implication that said seven-year-old boy is very fertile

How did it take me 28 years to catch this one? As MY CONTEST (enter!)  proves, my viewing history has more holes in it than a sexy mesh t-shirt.
Quick Plot: A routine game of fetch turns tragic when young Tony’s dad Sam gets, it would seem, abducted by extraterrestrial light show enthusiasts. Fast forward three years when mom Rachel has moved on to engagement with an American photographer while young Tony clings to the hope that pops is just a planet or two away.

And by the serendipitous impregnation of a random young blond, he is. Following an impressively gory birthing scene, Sam emerges to chew off his own umbilical cord and reunite with his hesitant family, now joined by slutty French au paire Mayram D’Abo. Though Tony is ecstatic to show his pet snake off to Daddy (literally), others--including a nosy neighbor marked for immediate death--are a tad more suspicious.

XTRO is a minor cult classic, a low budget video nasty that spawned two sequels. While its bizarro gross-out reputation is well earned by the weirdness of its elements (which do indeed include unexplained animated toy henchmen), for much of its first and second act, XTRO is surprisingly disciplined in building its characters and developing their conflicts. Left alone for three years, Bernice Stegers’s Rachel is sympathetic and believably torn between her new fiancee and the mysterious father of her child. Though director Harry Bromley Davenport seemed to think little about the logic of his story (based on the extras), the human relationships are quite solid. Even Danny Brainin as The Other Man that should come across as the minor villain feels like a real guy just trying to improve the family he’s supposed to inherit.
But nobody rents XTRO for a Brady Bunch-like lesson in blending families. You want oddball imagery and gooey practical effects, and both get gleefully popping as Sam and Tony bond the way all fathers and sons are meant to: sucking blood and reproducing via  cocooning the hot young nanny and hooking her up to a complex tubing system for egg laying. Now THAT’s how you talk birds and bees.

High Points
Am I ever going to complain about evil clown midgets?
Though a lot of the alien-like lighting feels a tad too ‘80s, most of the practical effects are gruesomely exciting and quite well done

Low Points
Part of this is the nature of XTRO’s storytelling style, but due to the tale, it’s hard to know exactly who we should be rooting for
Lessons Learned
Think British. Look Yiddish
As you would expect, life is pretty sweet when a midget clown does all your dirty work

In order to attract a passing race of aliens, be sure to look good in a sweater while throwing sticks high in the air. Certain species appreciate those kinds of skills
Any genre film fan--particularly those with sci-fi leanings--should definitely check out this film. The DVD includes an interesting alternate ending (don’t worry; the panther remains prominent) and a fantastically amusing, possibly drunken conversation with verbose and self-deprecating (also, apparently Jan-Michael Vincent hating) director Davenport. Though I don’t expect to rewatch this film any time soon (there’s not quite enough humor or scare factor to warrant instant classic status, at least upon first viewing) I’m putting the sequels on my radar and look forward to seeing how the series develops and if we ever actually find out what the heck XTRO as a word means. Like Detective Mike Norris from Child’s Play, I just hate loose ends.


  1. Whoa. I need to see this.

    Great review!

  2. Very strange. Not your review of Xtro but as I was reading it I was playing an episode of NOTLP(trying to catch up), and you actually called in to them--it's blowing my mind.

  3. Great post, Emily! This film seems to emerge every now and again in popular cult genre conversation, but I've never really felt the need to see it until now.

    Gory special effects and weird clown midgets? Sounds like a good time!

  4. How does a film like this get released on DVD but The Video Dead doesn't? Regardless, I've never seen it and I'll be remedying that, ASAP.

  5. TheMike: I look forward to your own review.

    Kangas: It's all part of my master plan to oversaturate society with my presence until it has no choice but to call me its lord. Or slightly important. I'm really not that ambitious.

    Strange Kid: Thanks! It's an odd one, but definitely worth the watch, if only for some random egg-laying and clown midgets!

    PoT: I always get The Video Dead confused with TerrorVision, so I can never remember if I've seen the first or not, but XTRO doesn't feel like too low budget of fare. I think you'll get a kick out of it.

  6. I forgot to mention Panthers in my review of this a few weeks back. Damn it. How could I forget Panthers?!

  7. Whoa, this sounds great!! I gotta check it out!

  8. One of the all-time greatest VHS covers, right here. This summer I plan to haunt yard sales until I get enough cult VHS's to make a small wall art display in pinball room. Xtro - front and goddamn center!

  9. Right Zed? Maybe because they have absolutely nothing to do with the story, but still!

    Enjoy Jon!

    Damocles: I wish you speedy luck in creating this artwork. Fantastic idea and XTRO sounds like prime center square material. I'd love to see it close and cozy with The Pit.

  10. This movie has always sounded pretty awesome for all the reasons that you mentioned, but I keep putting it off because everyone says that it sucks. I plan on covering it in August for Video Nasties month though. Great review as always!

  11. What flea market did you find this one at? I hate when I miss these kinds of gems.

    But my curiosity is peaked.

  12. Can't wait to hear your thoughts Aaron! I would never say this film sucked. The production values are pretty top notch, and the bizarreness makes it something of a gem.

    Ashlee: That mystical portal known as Netflix! I think it was first discussed via the Gentlemen's Guide (possibly in their Nightbeast coverage which is another true low budget diamond you NEED to see). Best of all, there are two more!

  13. I caught XTRO on one of the Showtime channels late at night about a year after it was released and I was completely blown away by the weirdness.

    I've always heard that the original script for ET The Extra-Terrestrial was a horror script and I daresay that if that version had been made, it might have looked a lot like the way XTRO turned out.

    One thing that saddens me is the release of the three sequels in name only to XTRO that completely miss the point of the first film.

  14. I'd hate to imagine ET as a horror movie! It'd be like turning Kermit into a Ghoulie! But at the same time, WERE it a horror movie, I'm sure it'd make an outstanding double bill with XTRO!

    Sad to haer that the sequels are such poop. Not that I won't still watch them, but I guess I'll save the good beer for something else.