Xtro [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (24th May 2018).
The Film

Three years ago, young Tony (Brazil's Simon Nash) watched his father Sam (Slayground's Philip Sayer) vanish into the sky in a burst of bright light at their country cottage. Now he started dreaming about his father again, waking up covered in blood and claiming to his terrified mother Rachel (Macabre's Bernice Stegers) that his father sent it. Rachel thinks Tony cannot accept that his father just walked out on them, Rachel's photographer boyfriend Joe (Yentl's Danny Brainin) and the kindly doctor (Last of the Summer Wine's Robert Fyfe) think Tony is trying to get attention through pranks, and French au pair Analise (The Living Daylights's Maryam d'Abo) supports Rachel's decision to remain patient with her son rather than seeking recommended professional help. What none of them realize is that Sam's father is back… or a reasonable facsimile. Arriving in the woods near their country cottage on an asteroid as a slimy, hissing, quadrupedal alien that kills a motoring couple (Robert Pereno and Katherine Best) before raping and impregnating the cottage's current resident (Susie Silvey) and rapidly rebirthing himself into a full grown man. Walking back into their lives claiming to have no memories after his disappearance, Tony and smitten Analise believe him while Joe is understandably suspicious and exasperated at Rachel's willingness to believe that her husband has amnesia if not going to so far as to believe he was abducted by aliens. When Tony sees his father eating the eggs laid by his pet snake Harry, Sam confesses that he was taken to another world had to be "changed" to live there. Sam claims that he has come back for Tony and his mother, but plans may change when Joe announces that Rachael plans to divorce her husband and marry him. Tony has started to undergo changes, demonstrating telekinetic abilities that his father tells him are limited only by his imagination; and Tony has quite the imagination, which he puts to deadly use when nosy downstairs neighbor Mrs. Goodman (The Godsend's Anna Wing) kills his pet snake, or when Analise has little time to play hide 'n seek with him when her lover (Prick Up Your Ears's David Cardy) drops by, or when building super Mr. Knight (Spider's Arthur Whybrow) would spoil his fun.

As much a British sexed-up/gored-up Alien cash-in – despite New Line Cinema's tagline of "Some extra-terrestrials aren't friendly" – as Norman J. Warren's Inseminoid, Xtro framing story of a broken marriage, the strange behavior of an estranged spouse, and the acting out of their child suggests that director Harry Bromley Davenport (Haunted Echoes) may have been equally inspired by the recent Cannes' succès de scandale of Andrzej Zulawski's Possession. The make-up effects are as crude as the Warren film – which was also shot by John Metcalfe (Rawhead Rex) – but Bromley's heavy-handed approach to the scripting and incessant synthesizer scoring give the surrealistic nature of Tony's telekinetic conjuring tricks more of an "everything but the kitchen" sink feel - stemming partially from the input of New Line's Robert Shaye (Wes Craven's New Nightmare) - with what is sort of a subversive take on the father manipulating his son into removing perceived obstacles between them. The alternate "happy" and downbeat endings that distinguished the theatrical and home video versions of the film also suggest that that the concept was never fully developed (surely, co-producer/American distributor New Line would have gone with the gorier ending). That the film's drama remains compelling is largely due to the central performances of Stegers and Sayer, both lending ambiguity to a story where there really is none since virtually everything is telegraphed early on by the derivativeness of the science fiction elements; and the film remains interesting as a future Video Nasty, and one of the gorier pre-A Nightmare on Elm Street New Line horror films (alongside with The Evil Dead which they would release the same year).
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Video

Second Sight's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen Blu-ray offers four cuts of the film: the theatrical version with the original ending (86:01), the theatrical version with alternate ending (86:50) – which is gorier and more downbeat, although it raises questions as to why Sam needed to mate with Rachel again – a recreation of the UK video version (85:41) which features the alternate ending but featured some trims to dialogue, and the 2018 "director's version" (86:48) which appears to be Davenport having another go at the digital effects augmentation and color correction since it is preceded by an introduction (0:34) in which he claims that Second Sight allowed him to "mess around with the color" and he has no idea whether this makes it better or not. Second Sight claims that their transfer is derived from a new scan, and it appears (going solely by screenshots of the German disc of the various cuts) to have colors that are not quite as warm as the German one and a bit more texture while the 1.78:1 framing appears to be identical to the German one, revealing more information on all four sides in the same shots while being cropped on all four sides in a few shots that reveal more on the 1.85:1 DVD. The theatrical transfer may derive from the raw scan with the same color choices more deftly applied - in concert with the expert encoding of David MacKenzie whose seamless branching allowed for four versions to be included on one disc without any apparent compression flaws - while the alternate ending and UK video version transfers also bear the same color correction peculiarities of the German disc with the contrast and brightness amped up during the ending sequence to white out the background in the kitchen (which has the side effect of making the reverse shot of the panther coming down the hallway look about as detailed as a charcoal drawing). The 2018 version is pretty unwatchable, not so much because of the new digital effects but because of the rest of the color correction which is so warm as to make skin tones look orange in the sunny opening sequence while the contrast is also amped up to crush shadows even in shots not digitally-augmented.
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Audio

Both the theatrical cut and the alternate ending version offer up the mono soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 while the UK video version and the 2018 director's version offer DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks, although presumably the director's version is a separate cut given the color correction while the other three are a single encode with branching despite the one version featuring a 2.0 track. The track on all four versions is clean enough to remind the viewer of just how incessant Davenport's own synthesizer score is, smothering virtually every scene with music and the various sounds calling to mind eighties Doctor Who episodes. Optional English HoH subtitles are provided for all four versions.
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Extras

Extras carry over the Xtro Xposed (11:44) featurette from the German set – although this is a shortened version of the seventeen-minute featurette produced for the New Line/Image DVD which also covered the sequels – but the same ground is covered in far more detail in the Nucleus Films-produced Xploring Xtro (56:52) in which producer Mark Forstater (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) recalls learning of Bromley-Davenport through his debut feature Whispers of Fear, a black-and-white Techniscope film that the director himself describes as a rip-off of Repulsion, and they discussed making a horror film together. What started as the screenplay "Monster" by Michel Parry (The Uncanny) was too old-fashioned and was reworked into "Monstro" and subsequently Xtro, while New Line's Robert Shaye putting up half the money aided raising the British half of the budget. Forstater, Bromley-Davenport, and Stegers are on hand to discuss the shoot, working with child actor Nash, d'Abo (who had to do nudity and the cocooning sequence), and the late Sayer, while Silvey and Pereno discuss their brief screentime. Forstater discusses the input into the creature designs of conceptual artist Christopher Hobbs (Gothic) and their execution by Tom Harris () while Tim Dry and Sean Crawford discuss the horrors of working in the monster and Action Man suits. Bromley-Davenport and Forstater also discuss the sometimes unwelcome input of Shaye, including the live panther, with some input from journalist Alan Jones while discussion of the film's reception includes the video getting caught up in the Video Nasty debacle with some context from the BBFC's Craig Lapper.
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The World of Xtro (27:20) is a discussion with superfan Dennis Atherton who discusses the film's tropes, aspects of the family drama that get ignored amidst the alien mayhem, and obsessively points out various details in the story and art direction that foreshadow other developments that suggest a degree of stylistic deliberation that cannot be explained away by Robert Shaye throwing in demands, while Bromley-Davenport tends to downplay these touches as intentional (although that is not saying that Shaye might not have noticed the same things Atherton did, or perceived them subconsciously); regardless, it is an interesting "appreciation" of the film. In Beyond Xtro (7:24) Bromley-Davenport recalls how his ownership of the rights to the title but not the story itself allowed him to make two unrelated sequels for a Canadian producer (the omission of his name and detail about the storylines suggests that Bromley-Davenport does not hold the films in high regard), and Forstater discusses how the director came to him with the idea of a reboot "Xtro: The Big One" in which an alien invasion caused a major earthquake in Los Angeles. This discussion is followed by a promo montage which includes what are hopefully unfinished renderings of effects tests along with some live action footage featuring actors. In Loving The Alien: A Tribute to Philip Sayer (3:36), Atherton discusses how he brought the fact that Brian May of Queen had dedicated a song to the later Sayer on one of his albums to the attention of producer Forstater who, along with Stegers and Bromley-Davenport, provide brief recollections of working with Sayer before a musical tribute to the actor. Not included for review are the limited CD soundtrack – presumably the same in content as 1983 LP reproduced on CD in the German set – and a softcover booklet with new writing by Kevin Lyons plus behind-the-scenes stills and promo material. The disc is packaged in a rigid slipcase featuring original UK video and UK theatrical artwork.
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Overall

 


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