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By Simon Powell • July 3rd, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 2/5

Original release: August 6th 1982
Certificate/rating (UK/US): 18/R
Running time: 81 minutes

Writer and director: Harry Bramley-Davenport

Cast: Bernice Stegers, Phillip Sayer, Maryam d’Abo


With themes like childhood trauma, parental loss, and identity crisis, and scenes featuring slimy aliens, creepy clowns and freaky births, Xtro has plenty of the ingredients needed for a disturbing, thought provoking film. Unfortunately the success of the blood, gore and disconcerting imagery, is undermined by the patchwork nature of the script, which leaves too many plot loopholes, loose ends and lapses in the films internal logic, which ultimately become annoying and distracting.

Tony Phillips is playing with his young son Sam outside their house, when, all of a sudden, the sky turns black and he’s abducted by aliens. Cut to three years later and Tony makes a sudden reappearance, eager to carry on his old life, even though his wife has got herself a new man. Little Sam is delighted to see his father again, even though there is something slightly sinister about him, a something that links him to a recent spate of gruesome and disturbing murders.

The script for Xtro is a mess, something admitted by the director, Harry Bramley-Davenport. He wrote the final draft while stoned and many scenes were added on the day of shooting, with crew members suggesting some, and producers insisting on others, regardless of relevance to the story.

At times it feels as though instead of a script, the director was working from a list headed “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a scene where…..”; “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a scene where a man gets abducted by aliens”, “a scene where a kid brings his toys to life to go on a killing spree”, “where an alien attacks a woman who later gives birth to a fully grown man”, “someone gets attacked by a panther”, all of which do happen.

None of these scenes are ever integrated into the narrative or back-story and all the way through, a lot of questions are raised that are never answered. Why have the aliens taken Tony? Have they picked him specifically, or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is he still Tony or some sort of clone? Why has Sam been given special powers? Does Tony have them too? Where DID that panther come from?


Some ideas get stretched out to the point where they become utterly ridiculous, such as the scenes with Sam’s toys coming to life to attack people. This works fine when using big toys (a soldier that grows six feet tall and comes to life) but a man being chased by a small tank looks even more pathetic than it sounds – and creates more questions that go unanswered: why is no one hearing all the loud explosions? Are these scenes supposed to be some kind of dream or hallucination? At least that would explain why absolutely no one seems to notice the deaths of an old woman and the caretaker in the building where Sam lives.

On the plus side, for a film put together on a low budget, Xtro does look great. The main influence for the production design being Alien (1979), and like Ridley Scott’s movie (and other contemporary low budget cash-ins such as Contamination and Inseminoid) there are slimy creatures, eggs, Xtrothings sticking to faces, and people being impregnated, all of which are carried off extremely well, making for a queasy uncomfortable viewing experience.

This side of things contrast sharply with the scenes of domestic home life which are grim and downbeat to look at and tense and uncomfortable to listen to. The film is also helped massively by some understated acting, in particular from Bernice Stegers, a regular in British TV shows and films. Her performance as a woman who’s watched her idyllic family life fall apart, gives Xtro a solid anchor in reality, and makes the juxtaposition with the alien and supernatural elements seem even more disorientating and disturbing.

Unfortunately this is not enough to sustain interest throughout the film, and the ever more outrageous scenes start to feel like increasingly desperate attempts to shock the viewer, while the ending seems to have been thrown together at the last minute. The overall feeling is that, despite the potential in some of the intriguing ideas, Xtro is something of a wasted opportunity.

Simon Powell

Simon Powell

Simon grew up on a steady diet of James Bond and Ray Harryhausen films, but has been fascinated with the horror genre since a clandestine viewing of A Nightmare on Elm Street as a teenager. Since then his tastes have expanded to take in classic horror from the Universal and Hammer Studios, as well as branching out into Video Nasties, Sci-Fi, Silent Comedies, Hitchcock and Woody Allen.

Apart from getting married, one of his fondest memories is buying a beer each for both Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen and Dave “Darth Vader” Prowse at a film festival, and listening to their equally fascinating stories of life at totally different levels of the industry.

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