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Image Entertainment presents
Rachel: What are you doing here?
DVD ReviewWhen you have watched countless sci-fi and horror films over the decades as I have, things do tend to start running together after a while, and it becomes difficult to remember what a particular film was about because of the very disposable nature of most of the genre. When a single scene from what would otherwise be a forgettable piece of filmmaking stands alone to guarantee you will never, ever forget that particular film, well that is saying something. Even if the movie is awful.
It's the movie where a woman, after an encounter with a recently crash-landed alien, gives birth to a live, human-sized adult alien, in one of the most perversely dark moments I've ever come across. It's a scene that has stuck with me for a good 20 years, and over time anytime I was required to come up with an off-the-wall film moment, the "adult birth" scene from XTRO would usually be in my top five.
But that doesn't make it a good movie.
The bad does sometimes outweigh the good in the sci-fi/horror world, and this 1983 film from Harry Bromely Davenport is certainly one of the bad ones. Make no mistake of that. It's an exercise in adrift filmmaking, a gory British amalgam of what is apparently the dark side of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind that casually borrows bits from great films like David Cronenberg's The Brood to form some pulsating stew of alien-abduction-and-return silliness that at one point utilizes a dwarf clown and a life-sized G.I. Joe-like toy to kill off random characters.
Tony (Simon Nash), a young boy, witnesses his father Sam (Philip Sayer) disappear in a flash of light one night, convinced (and rightly so) that he was abducted by aliens. The boy's mother Rachel (Bernice Stegers) is convinced her old man just ran off, and three years later young Tony is still plagued by nightmares about abductions and the like, eventually heralding the return of alien-altered Sam from the deep reaches of who-knows-where with evil plans afoot. These evil plans include ensnaring the lovely Maryam d'Abo (thankfully after a couple of nude scenes) as a kind of convoluted alien egg factory, ensconced in a vile and nasty-looking cocoon of some sort.
That's the short version of the plot, and it actually sounds better than it really is, because even with an 83-minute runtime, Davenport incorporates plenty of walking or driving filler scenes that stall things out rather than move it along. XTRO is a wildly off-balance feature, though made memorable by a few choice moments.
Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Though this is touted as a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, it does still have very thin black lines across the top and bottom. It is, indeed, anamorphic though, and unfortunately the print has frequent grain, specking and minor dirt issues. Colors look average under optimal lighting (daylight, outdoors) occasionally delivering slightly red-hued fleshtones, and night scenes feature muddy black levels that make following all of the action a challenge.
Kudos for being anamorphic, but that's about it.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in English mono, and it is relatively hiss-free and serviceable, with the expected flatness. Dialogue is moderately presentable, with some moments of minor distortion during the sporadic scream or shriek. The horribly dated synth score by director Harry Bromley Davenport sometimes overpowers the actors, but the lack of subtitles didn't prevent me from understanding what was being said.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Deleted Scenes
2 Alternate Endings
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Extras Review: It's not often enough you come across a DVD extra where the director has such complete and utter comical disregard for his/her own film as is found in XTRO Exposed (17m:22s), in which director Harry Bromley Davenport discusses the "bit of a mess" that is the XTRO series of films. Davenport, with his dry British demeanor, admits complete confusion at the presence of the film's black panther, and how the finished product is a poorly linked "rubbish" that often makes no sense. He has unpleasant memories of working with Jan Michael Vincent on the sequel, and in general seems to want to distance himself as much as possible from XTRO. I love his attitude, and it's great to hear someone actually be honest for once. Right on, Harley.
Also included are a pair of alternate endings, with the first (01m:38s) offering a somewhat less violent resolution, while the second (02m:15s) forsakes the creepy kid voices used on the film's actual ending, but stays with the same general climax. The Xtra Scene: No Audio (:38s) is a quick bit of Tony playing with his GI Joe at the breakfast table with no sound, and its inclusion will probably appeal in some odd way to those three or four diehard XTROtians still out there.
An automated XTRO Gallery (03m:04s), made up of behind-the-scene and production stills, and a theatrical trailer round out the supplemental section.
The disc is cut into 20 chapters.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsIt's difficult to say XTRO is a particularly good movie, because really it's not. Even director Harry Bromely Davenport will agree to that. It's value as an under-the-radar piece of early 1980s British science fiction are the few small moments that make it so striking, such as the woman who gives very painful and graphic birth to a full-grown alien adult on her kitchen floor.
That's the XTRO charisma for you.
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