Back in the mid-to-late 80s, in the era when VHS was king, a certain type of entrepreneur sprang up in the UK prior to the big chains like Blockbuster getting themselves established. A man (almost exclusively a man) with a van would buy a load of films on VHS tape and drive around neighbourhoods renting these out to anyone who wanted them – no need for 6 pieces of ID and a photo, just a few pounds and a point towards your door ‘that’s where I live’ and the tape was yours for a couple of nights. Now I can’t speak for all of these movie rental vans, but the one that serviced my area when I was a teenager wasn’t too worried about who rented what, and certainly didn’t care about age ratings. This meant that I was able to see many things that perhaps an impressionable young lad shouldn’t have, and Xtro is exactly the type of movie I would have rented then. I don’t recall having seen it, but then again I only have hazy memories of being in hazy rooms a lot of the time in my late teens, so who knows!
I have recently started listening to an excellent podcast that ‘gives a second chance to films that might not deserve it’ – Strong Language and Violent Scenes – and Xtro was featured in one of their early episodes. I liked the sound of it from just the feedback from other listeners, so I decided to dive in. Well, what a wild dive it turned out to be!
The best way I can describe this extremely weird 1982 British horror is that it has the look and feel of a late 70s episode of Tales Of The Unexpected, crossed with a British Public Information film of the same era and directed by the bastard child of Lucio Fulci & Dario Argento. Add a dash of early Eastenders (including a character played by actual Eastenders royalty in Anna Wing ) and you might get close to understanding what you are in for. But you won’t be – this is monumentally strange, from the acting to the score everything is just that little bit off (I mean this in the best possible way) and there are some very well-made and unsettling practical effects to really get your ‘eeeew’ responses firing. It should be noted here that this film was considered as a potential ‘video nasty’ on release, however it has now been given a 15 certificate, which does seem a bit strange to me, especially as there’s a graphic ‘birthing’ scene that will never leave you once you have seen it.
In case you haven’t worked it out yet I LOVED this movie – the plot is bonkers and I’m not going to try and explain it fully here. The top line is that an alien-abducted father returns home (radically altered) after 3 years to (ostensibly) try and reclaim his place in the family home with his wife and son. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff going on – if at the end of this anybody can explain to me the lifecycle of the alien species then please get in touch. If none of that whets your appetite, there’s also a turn in this by Bond girl-to-be Maryam d’Abo, who fans of this type of film will be able to predict what scenes she will feature in and also her potential fate from her first appearance on screen.
This gets an instant Hall Of Fame entry with a 9 on the Skelpometer.
Xtro is available to rent or buy on Prime Video