Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rape from Space

XTRO (1983)

Unremittingly cheesey and occasionally ridiculous, it really does feel like XTRO is from another planet.

IN the wake of seemingly endless ALIEN (1979) rip-offs, Britain’s contribution to this unnecessary subgenera were two low-budget films both structured around extraterrestrial rape: Norman J. Warren’s INSEMINOID - where Judy Geeson is assaulted by a monster with a test-tube penis - and Harry Bromley Davenport’s XTRO - where a male abductee is reborn fully grown by a girl who has been probed by an alien tentacle. For those who want to try this at home, the inseminatory fluid in Warren’s entry was a combination of raw egg and watered-down Swarfega.

INSEMINOID tells the story of an archaeological expedition, who discover a vast tomb-like complex and an assortment of crystals beneath a strange planet. The first half is unbelievably slow (with dialogue functional at best and banal at worst), and only gets going once Sandy (Geeson) is attacked. Once impregnated, the character - at the psychic urging of the crystals - hunts down her colleagues, feasting on them to sustain her pregnancy, and eventually gives birth to plasma-seeking twins who eventually abscond to Earth. The highlight is John Metcalfe’s low-lit Chislehurst Caves interiors, which make the most of the combination of blue and red filters - with this surprisingly lush element contrasting with the increasingly garish content.

“...A far from Human Birth”: INSEMINOID’s exploitative poster.

XTRO is a completely nihilistic shocker, mixing scenes of bitter, understated British life with effects heavy on teeth and slime. Narrowly escaping becoming the second official Brit-made “video nasty” - that honour only belonged to James Kenelm Clarke’s EXPOSE (1975) - XTRO was marketed as the “anti-E.T.”, with the tagline “Not all aliens are friendly.” In fact no-one “phones home” here - they're usually bludgeoned, stabbed or sucked to death in a mess of rubber mallet-head bopping, murderous toy tanks and (inconceivably) a black panther.

Surprisingly, XTRO opens on an idyllic autumn afternoon. Tony (Simon Nash) is playing with his father Sam (Philip Sayer) and their dog in the garden of their house; the sky shatters, its crisp sunlight replaced with darkness and howling winds. Sam is absorbed by a blinding white light and disappears; three years later, Tony is suffering from recurring nightmares. Feigning amnesia, Sam returns and moves back into a fragmented family unit, and sets about rebuilding his relationship with Tony and Rachel (Bernice Stegers). But this is a front to get closer to his son; in an unsettling scene which could be viewed as a child abuse allegory, Sam bites Tony's neck and starts pumping secretions into the child, preparing him for a similar change. This gives Tony amazing abilities which he uses to bring a toy clown and an Action Man doll to life. The latter set piece is truly outlandish - the boy sends the life-size doll to slaughter his next door neighbour after she chops up his pet snake. The fact that neighbour Mrs Goodman is played by Anna Wing - who spent years as Lou Beale on EASTENDERS - is a fittingly trivial fact for a wholly trivial viewing experience.