Thursday, June 21, 2018

XTRO (1982) (Second Sight Blu-ray Review)

XTRO (1982)

Label: Second Sight Films
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Cert: 15 
Duration: 87 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Cast: Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers, Danny Brainin, Marayam D’Abo, Anan Wing 

Synopsis: Not all aliens are friendly Part E.T., part Alien, British horror classic Xtro is one of the strangest, most shocking exploitation flicks to land on earth during the video nasty heyday. A film that narrowly avoided inclusion and prosecution on the original nasties list, threw in buckets of blood and gore and some of the most outlandish plot twists of the VHS era to create a truly memorable horror classic. Now it makes its arrival for the first time on Blu-ray courtesy of Second Sight Films as Xtro: Limited Edition Box Set.

British sci-fi nightmare Xtro (1982) opens with father Sam (Philip Sayer, Slayground) and his young son Tony (Simon Nash, Brazil) playing fetch-the-stick with the family dog in the backyard, as dad attempts to throw the stick over the house it is deflected by something unseen midair. There's flash of electricity and day turns to night, with a rush of flashing lights and turbulent winds the father is seemingly abducted in a beam of bright white light that comes from the sky, it's a real Close Encounters of the Third Kind on a really low budget sort of moment. Flash forward three years later and Tony is waking from a nightmare, having dreamed of his father, the boy has always insisted that his dad was taken by a light in the sky, however, his mother Rachel (Bernice Stegers, Macabre) believes that Sam's just run off with another woman perhaps. 

Later that night we see a UFO flying over a nearby forest and deposits something into the ground, setting a small wooded area on fire in the process. Moving in for a closer look we see something stirring in the ground, a pool of ooze begins morphing into a what looks to be an alien-mutant version of a over-sized grasshopper! This is our first taste of some awesomely cheesy 80's practical special effects via a man in a fairly awful rubber suit, I say awful but in truth I love this sort of vintage 80's stuff! A short time later a passing vehicle strikes the creature and when the driver (Robert Pereno, Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire) goes to investigate he is killed by the injured creature. The female passenger who didn't listen to her boyfriends warning to "stay in the car!" is also killed. The creature then makes it's way to a small cottage where it attacks and grotesquely alien-rapes a young woman (Susie Silvey, Octopussy), as a proboscis of some sort emerges from the creature and cups itself over the victim's mouth transferring it's alien-goo into her body. She awakens a short time later next to the body of the now rotting, dead alien creature, realizing that something rather large is growing in her womb. While her useless dog eats the remains of the creature's corpse whatever it is inside of her is rapidly and painfully growing, as she lays on the floor with her stomach distended several times that the size of a normal pregnant woman, she gives an unnatural birth to a full  grown man who emerges from between her legs in a bloody mess, chewing through his own umbilical cord. The man is familiar to us, he's Sam, Tony's father, whom disappeared three years earlier.

At about the same time Tony awakens from a another dream covered in a bucket load of blood, seemingly coming from nowhere. His alarmed mother calls the doc who discovers the boy's suffered no apparent injuries, there's no explanation whatsoever offered and everyone more or less seems alright with that, it's just one of many bizarre and unexplained happenings in this surreal sci-fi shocker. The Sam clone/creature attempts to call his wife from a payphone but it seems his vocal chords have not fully matured and she can't understand him when he gives her a ring, when he hangs up the phone it just sort of melts away for no apparent reason, yet another bizarre goings-on that is never explained, and I do believe it's the unexplainable that makes this just a keen watch, it offers no answers so it has a ageless/answer-less draw about it. 

In the three years since Sam's disappearance Rachel has moved on with her life, nit one to linger on loneliness she's in a relationship with a photographer named Joe (Danny Brainin), and she also lives with a super-hot nanny named Analise (Bond-girl Maryam d'Abo from The Living Daylights), a gorgeous young woman whose  often frisky, kind enough to have several nude lovemaking scenes throughout the film, to bad she's relegated to alien-egg incubator a bit later, but not quite yet. 

Rachel only discovers Sam is back in town when she heads to school to pick-up Tony and shockingly finds out he's already been picked-up, and by Sam no less. Alarmed she tracks them down nearby and Sam reveals himself to her, she's gobsmacked by his sudden re-appearance, and when pressed for info about his whereabouts he says he has no memory of where he been until the day before. She takes him home where he meets the new man in her life, it's an uneasy meeting and Joe is obviously suspect of Sam's true intentions and strange behaviors. 

Later on Tony walks-in on his dad eating his pet snake rather runny eggs and runs off in a fright, Dad gives chase through the apartment building into the basement level, catching up to him he explains that since the abductions he's visited far away worlds and has changed, but he's come back for his son and wants the two to stay together. Once he's gained the child's confidence he creepily puts his mouth on the boys shoulder and starts sucking, transferring some mysterious fluids into him - or out of him - and this is such a creepy scene. Afterward Tony discovers he's gained new powers, he has the ability to control objects, but he uses his new found powers for evil - quickly dispatching the elderly neighbor who earlier killed his pet snake after it escaped into her apartment. Tony's method of revenge is somehow transforming his 12" army action figure into a 6' assassin, it's a fun scene, and the way the old biddy is bayoneted through the bed she's hiding beneath with the blood squirting out from underneath is a gloriously cheap thrill.

Xtro is a bit of a special effects n' gore extravaganza, as it is the plot is basic stuff, serving only to link the numerous and bloody effects scenes together in a way, but also realized with a strange surreal visual style that offers oodles of atmosphere and copious amounts of WTF-ery, there's a decided lack of connective tissue holding the scenes together, it has a dream-logic not dissimilar to that of a Lucio Fulci (The Beyond) film. Don't come to this film expecting a coherent plot, it's not really there, but the strange, rubbery and usually gooey special effects are a blast, this one is full of alien-fluids, human blood and a pint-sized killer clown that Tony conjures during a trippy, hallucinogenic scene, this is one strange surrealist slice of sci-fi. Not all of the weirdness works for me, a scene of a toy tank chasing down Analise's boyfriend was only meh, but overall the film's strangeness works for it and not against it. 

Audio/Video: Xtro (1982) arrives on Blu-ray from British distributor Second Sight Films in 1080p HD, this is a brand new restoration framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, and it's a fresh look for the film, particularly for me as the last time I watched it was from a well-worn second hand VHS copy in 2010! I was tempted to purchase the German HD release a while back but reports of excessive DNR (another ruinous Krekel debacle) kept me away, but this is from the original scan and is a brand new restoration exclusive to Second Sight. I am happy to report that it looks healthy with some natural looking grain throughout, it was a cheapie production and looks it in spots with some inherent softness in certain scenes due to improper lighting and lack thereof, but it looks natural. Colors are solid, but skin tones tend to look a bit cool but I think that's the intention, and the black levels are decent throughout. For a different look at the film check out the 2018 Director's Version (included as a separate viewing option) which has been heavily tweaked in regard to brightness and color grading, it's a completely different look and feel for the film, though not my preferred one. The lone audio option is an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track, dialogue is crisp and clean with no issues with hiss or distortion, the wonky synth score from director Harry Bromley Davenport is memorably strange, it suits the film.

Second Sight go all-out for the extras, kicking things off with a nearly hour-long retrospective making-of documentary 'Xploring Xtro' produced by Nucleus Films, this featuring brand new interviews with director Harry Bromley Davenport, Producer Mark Forstater, Actors Bernice Stegers, Susie Silvey, Tim Dry, Sean Crawford, Robert Pereno,and journalists Alan Jones and Craig Lapper that begins with the story of how Monty Python and the Holy Grail producer Forstarter aligned himself with director Davenport, selling the evil-extraterrestrial story Robert Shaye at a pre-'The House That Freddy Built' New Line Cinema, who was looking for something along in the vein of Phantasm to distribute. There;s plenty of the director disparaging himself and the movie, while others hold it up as something special, it goes deep into the making of the film, including fun buts with the cast and crew, including actor Tim Dry who was the man in the alien rubber-suit speaking about having to submerge himself in a mud-pit thinking he might well drown in the process!  

Nucleus Films also offer up a handful of shorter extras all sourced from the same interview sessions, ‘The World of Xtro’ is a 27-min featurette with more of director Harry Bromley-Davenport and producer Mark Forstater along with super-fan Dennis Atherton (wearing a Shock Waves podcast t-shirt) all speaking about the peculiar charms of the film and why it has gone onto have cult-status. Atherton is an especially obsessive fan with some keen insights into he what makes the film so damn strange and wonderful, contradicting the director's claims that the film is a bit of nonsense, pointing out some foreshadowing and strangeness, including the women in the car whose foot gets stuck in the steering wheel. In ‘Beyond Xtro’ Harry Bromley-Davenport and Mark Forstater  speak briefly about the sequels, in addition to the unfinished fourth film Xtro: The Big One, including test footage from the unfinished film, and I am sorry to say that it looks truly awful, but then again so were the sequels. 

‘Loving The Alien: A Tribute to Philip Sayer’ is a 4-min tribute from Harry Bromley-Davenport, Bernice Stegers and super-fan Danny Atherton, the latter of whom speaks of the Brian May (of Queen) tribute song for Sayer from 1992, the song is presented at the end of the tribute along with a montage of scenes from the film featuring the late actor. The only non-Nucleus produced extra is 'Xtro Xposed', a vintage 12-min featurette from Digital Roadshow featuring a 2005 interview with the director intercut with behind-the-scenes images and clips from the film, it's a good watch as he admits he doesn't much care for his films, believing them to be rubbish, but it seems he's warmed up to the film a tiny bit on the newly produced extras, but not by much. 

Finishing up the disc extras we get a theatrical trailer, US TV spot, and the option to watch the original UK cut of the film, the original clones ending, the slightly longer alternate ending version or a new 2018 version of the film overseen by director Harry Bromley-Davenport which tweaks the color grading and changes up the title sequence by adding additional text effects to the credits, some scenes are notably darker and less bright and detailed in the 2018 version, I honestly didn't care for it at all. 

We were just send the "check disc" for the purpose of this review, but retail copies include both original UK theatrical and video artwork plus a rigid slipcover, a softcover book and a soundtrack CD - none of which accompanied out screener version. 

Special Features:  
- Limited Edition box set featuring both original UK theatrical and video artwork flipped on either side so you choose the front
- New Second Sight restoration with option of original and alternate endings plus the original UK video version
- New 2018 Director’s Version (87 min) with Director Introduction (32 sec)  
- ‘Xploring Xtro’ - a new 57 minute documentary featuring interviews with Harry Bromley Davenport Mark Forstater, Bernice Stegers, Susie Silvey, ‘Tik’ – Tim Dry, ‘Tok’ – Sean Crawford, Robert Pereno, Alan Jones and Craig Lapper
- ‘The World of Xtro’ - a new featurette with Dennis Atherton, Harry Bromley-Davenport and Mark Forstater (27 min) HD 
- ‘Beyond Xtro’ – a new featurette with Harry Bromley-Davenport and Mark Forstater looking ahead to new reboot ‘Xtro – The Big One’, including exclusive test footage (7 min) HD
- ‘Xtro Xposed’ (12 min) 
- ‘Loving The Alien: A Tribute to Philip Sayer’ featuring exclusive Brian May music tribute (4 min) HD
- Original Trailer (2 min) HD 
- US TV Spot (32 sec) HD
- Soft cover book with new writing by Kevin Lyons plus publicity and production stills
- Original soundtrack CD

Of all the cheap sci-fi flicks that came out in the wake of Speilberg's E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind this is definitely one of the strangest cult sci-fi flicks out there - even to this day it holds a special magic I love. The atmosphere of the film is deranged, you never know what might happen next, if you crave alien rape, sweet full frontal nudity, and rubbery and gooey  special effects, then this a true treat. The new restoration from Second Sight looks and sounds great, this surreal slice of sci-fi WTF-ery has never looked or sounded better on home video, and the new extras are truly entertaining, this is easily the most definitive version of the film to date, and it's region-free so dig in!
More screenshots sourced directly 
from the Second Sight Blu-ray 

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