Sam Phillips and his child Tony are playing outside their farm. The father is abducted by a strong light. Three years later, the light returns, and plants a seed. A half-human, half-alien creature grows up, and when it moves it is run over by a car. Ben is attacked and killed when he looks for the crash victim. Jane, his companion, is also killed by the hybrid creature. The monster then moves to a cottage nearby and attacks and impregnates a woman living there, before dissolving and dying. When she returns to consciousness, her belly rapidly and painfully grows to a gargantuan size that it even tears through her dress, showing movement inside her belly, and she gives birth, vaginally, to a fully formed and bloody Sam, who is connected to her by an umbilical cord like a baby is to its mother, before dying. Sam washes the blood off, steals Ben’s clothes and drives his car without bothering to get rid of Jane’s corpse, which will be found by a lorry driver.
Sam seeks Tony, who lives in an apartment building in London, with his mother Rachael, her new boyfriend Joe Daniels, and a French au-pair Analise Mercier. Rachel and Joe are professional photographers and share a studio in town. Many nights, Tony has nightmares where he wakes up soaked in blood, but it’s not his, as the family doctor discovers. Sam picks Tony up from school, until Rachel finds them. Although Joe doesn’t like it, as he intends to marry Rachel, Sam goes to live with them, saying he can’t remember anything. Tony sees him eating his pet snake’s eggs and runs from him. Sam goes after him, talking to him smoothly, and drinks his blood.
Rachel finds Jane’s photo in Sam’s clothes, but he can’t remember her either. Tony discovers he has certain powers now, so he sends a human-sized toy soldier to kill their nasty neighbour Mrs Goodman, in revenge for killing his pet snake, and a toy clown becomes a human-like clown.
Sam and Rachel both decide to visit their former residence, the farm, while leaving Tony in Analise’s care. However, she brings Michael, her boyfriend, and they make love. Tony demands to play hide-and-seek with her. She does so, only to be knocked out by the clown and used as a womb for the alien eggs; Tony sends a toy tank to kill Michael. He discovers Analise and runs away, but a black panther kills him. The building keeper, Mr. Knight, is also killed when Rachel asks him to watch Tony, as nobody answers the phone at home. Sam and Rachel make love at the abandoned farm, but she gets afraid because his skin starts to bleed and decompose. Joe has taken Tony there. Sam and Tony go up a hill towards the alien light. Sam has now taken the form of an alien, and his scream kills Joe. Along with Tony, Sam enters the light and returns to the alien world. Rachel sits down in the field where Tony and Sam left, and the next day returns to her apartment, only to be seen full of eggs. She picks up an egg, only to be killed by the same creature that impregnated the woman in the cottage as her apartment door slams shut behind her.
XTRO marks the feature debut of 32-year-old Harry Bromley Davenport. In 1974, on the advice of a mutual friend, Forstater saw Davenport’s short horror film, WHISPERS OF FEAR, and liked it very much. Davenport, who has an interest in the horror genre, had an idea for a film titled THE HORRIFIC MOVIE HOUSE MASSACRE. Forstater attempted to secure financial backing for the movie, and it was announced several times, but the project ultimately collapsed. Then Davenport and well known anthologist & author Michel Parry came to Forstater with the idea for XTRO.
The original story of XTRO was devised by its director, Harry Davenport in collaboration with Michel Parry, the latter a leading figure on the British fantasy scene, the editor of many short fiction anthologies in the genre. The final script was written by Robert Smith and lan Cassie, with the close participation of New Line Producer Robert Shaye in the script’s development. The resulting film shows a truly bizarre mixture of elements, influences ranging from I Married a Monster from Outer Space to ALIEN to Close Encounters. While the cast, particularly Philip Sayer as the Earthling turned-alien, do much to shore up the film’s believability, it’s a safe guess that many SF purists will be gnashing their teeth with indignation upon the picture’s release.
“The thing that attracted us to it,” says Shaye, “when we saw Davenport’s first treatment, was his intention to include in the film several jaw-slackening moments, where you’d see things that might make you doubt for a moment that you were seeing things correctly. To me, the film is ‘science fiction’ in the same sense that Phantasm is science fiction. It’s really more of a horror fantasy picture; the science fiction element often gets integrated into this kind of story because, when you want people to accept a premise, characters and action that are very far out, the quickest way to do that is to bring in a creature from another planet. People expect something weird from another planet, not from down the block.
“The story really takes off from the end of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND,” says producer Mark Forstater “It’s about a guy who returns to Earth after having been away on another planet for three years.” But here turmsaltered into a life-form which terrorizes an isolated rural community. He impregnates a woman via a tentacle that emerges from his chest and she gives birth to the man as he was before he went on his intergalactic journey. The man returns to his family and converts his son, who carries on the father’s alien ways like infecting the maid by injecting eggs into her stomach and making his toys come to life. All these unearthly events unsettle the man’s wife and she chooses to fight back, too late to affect the hopelessness of the situation. Forstater was quick to point out that XTRO is not an exploitation genre piece like INSEMINOID, with which it shares some superficial plot similarities.
Philadelphia-born Forstater is no newcomer to unusual fantasy projects; he has also produced MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and THE GLITTERBALL. He got involved with XTRO when co-writer director Harry Bromely Davenport came to him with a script written with Michel Parry. Forstater brought in two other writers, Robert Smith and lain Cassie. “The plot was kept intact,” he said, “but the new writers went off into weird and wonderful tangents. It’s a synthesis of ALIEN and a lot of recent ideas, but it’s really how you put them together, and the style with which you approach the material, that is important.”
Forstater met Davenport, who wrote the first draft of Peter Straub’s THE HAUNTING OF JULIA, during a screening of WHISPERS OF FEAR, Davenport’s directorial debut. “I was impressed with it,” said Forstater, “It is the hardest exercise of all to make a film for $10,000 and limit yourself to one set and one actress, but Harry pulled it off.”
XTRO is being financed by Ashley Productions Ltd. a subsidiary of a British investment group based in Manchester. “The company had dealings with the leisure industry before,” said Forstater. “When I introduced them to this project they liked it, found they could afford it, and that it gave them a chance to break into production.”
Harry Bromley Davenport on the Development and Making of Xtro
How did the initial idea for Xtro come about?
HARRY BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: Since I have no imagination, I tend to steal ideas from others as frequently as possible. Do you remember the ending of Close Encounters of the Third Kind all those airplane pilots and whatnot emerging from the big UFO? I wondered what happened to them afterward. That seemed like a good jumping-off point for a movie.
Describe the initial development process.
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: Michel Parry and I wrote the first draft together, but Michel is a far better writer than me, so he managed to impose a structure. Then Mark Forstater, the producer, sent me to New York, where I messed around with Bob Shaye at New Line for a couple of months, rewriting a load of old nonsense. Then Robert Smith and Iain Cassie came on. Jesus, this thing was rewritten about 40 times!
Tell us about the progression of the script.
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: The more we worked on it, the more bizarre it became That was not the intended result. It occurred because none of us had much of all idea what we were doing. But we wanted to be unpredictable and shocking. So if anyone had a wacky idea, into the script it went without further ado. And I think that’s why the film has stayed alive and available in one form or another for 30 years. It’s such arrant nonsense that viewers are constantly kept on their toes by this onslaught of drivel that passes for imagination. Mark Forstater and I would occasionally look at each other and say. This is just too ridiculous; we can’t do that, but Bob Shaye always encouraged us to go to the extreme.
How did you get the cast and crew on board?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: We were fortunate that we were scheduled to shoot it February and March, which were not periods of heavy employment in the movie business, so we scored loads of really good technicians and actors who might otherwise not have wished to work on a little monster movie. But economic reality won out and we got Barry Richardson, who did the hair on Quest for Fire, and Robin Grantham, who did a lot of the transformation makeup on American Werewolf in London. Gallons of good people worked on that show.
Were there any obstacles to overcome during the shoot?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: The damn panther. There’s no real reason for it to be there that I can recall, except that it was a whim that emanated from the imagination of Bob Shaye. Panthers are untrainable, you know, but Bob absolutely insisted that we somehow shoehorn in a scene where one jumps out and kills somebody. He said it would be “off the wall”. Well, he got that right. We had to get a shot of this damn panther jumping over the camera for the attack. So the crew and I were imprisoned in a cage while a trainer stood above us and waved a chicken at the panther. Now, I don’t know if you have ever seen a panther cat a chicken, but it’s a pretty ruthless operation, and afterward the panther gets lazy and spends an hour or so digesting and snoozing. And we were still locked in this cage, peeing into empty beer cans, Ghastly business. That poor animal cost us $6,000, and I doubt if it’s on screen for more than 12 seconds. But any scene with a live animal is hell to shoot, because even if the trainer Swears up and down that the creature is ready to Tock and roll, it never does it right. Never. And you spend hours rolling camera on bad takes.
Tell us a bit about the killer toys.
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: I always disliked that part because it was dated, even then. And that wretched clown. God, I hated him-personally, I mean, I remember that we all got a lecture about how we could not refer to him as a *midget.” He was to be called the clown.” Nasty little bugger, he was. He was the only midget in the UK who was not employed on Return of the Jedi playing an Ewok, and so he was horrid. I think he stole those clown shoes at the end of the shoot, too. They cost $120 and were custom-made. You don’t just tatter down the road and buy a pair of clown shoes, you see.
How about the incredibly gory birth scene?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: That is the only truly original death in the movie. I am told that it has been imitated since on multiple occasions. It was a terribly messy business. Rehearsal is unheard of in low budget films, but we actually did a full rehearsal of that scene on a stage and shot film it so that the cast and crew could see how to improve it.
What can you say about the FX, which are pretty impressive?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: There were some very entertaining people working in the special effects department. In those days, there was no digital manipulation possible, and opticals were too expensive for bottom-feeders like us, so all the effects were done live on the set. We went for quantity, and had very little money left over to spend on the quality.
What do you credit Xtro’s initial success to?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: New Line promoted the shit out of it. They did TV commercials, and it played all over the world. The relative success of the film is entirely proportionate to the advertising budget. The actual movie has little merit. I wish we could take another shot at it, but thank goodness that’s not in the cards.
Xtro is obviously a cult favorite, what do you owe that following to?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: That’s because there had not been a movie like it released for quite some time, and apparently, there was an audience out there who wanted to be shocked. “The more we worked on the script, the more bizarre it became… none of us had much of an idea what we were doing.’ pleased that Siskel and Ebert absolutely panned it. It was their lead-off review, and Ebert said it was “mean-spirited” and a bunch of stuff about how horrid the whole film was. That was immensely helpful to our box office, and caused lines around the block. When it was finished, I was far from proud of the film, because it should have been much better. But the older and more geriatric I become, the more forgiving of my weaknesses I am. I was angry with the movie, because I still don’t think I did a good piece of work. It should have been terrifying, and it became sort of campy. But what are you going to do when you’re dealing with rubber monsters and clowns and panthers?
Preproduction sketches from XTRO show how the actor’s head (upper right) fits inside the mask. Marginal notes indicate that “lower part of the alien face is a prosthetic mask” which will tear if the mouth is opened.
The bulk of the effects sequences, executed by NEEFX with makeup effects by Robin Grantham, seem designed to emulate illusions seen in films budgeted on a much grander scale. Because the effects are the primary focal point of the finished film, the plot takes some strange right angle turns in order to include some of the sequences devised.
The talented special effects team of Tom Harris & Francis Coates have both had wide television experience. With science fiction & horror subjects leading the state of the art in this area, it’s not surprising that even a low-budget film such as XTRO is filled with effects sequences. Forstater explained that the movie will contain “at least 3 or 4 major ‘buzz’ sequences” which would excite & awe an audience, and he had only praise for the team handling these often difficult scenes. Almost 40% of the effects work was completed during live-action filming because of the budget restrictions. This ranged from the radio-controlled toys to special Latex makeup effects & difficult multi-image opticals attempted directly inside the camera.
XTRO also offers 2 alien monster designs, which resemble H.R. Giger’s full-grown creature in ALIEN. Davenport & Forstater discussed these designs with artist Chris Hobbs, who is the film’s visual consultant. Hobbs came up with a number of effective ideas-not only for just the aliens but also for Forstater’s aforementioned “buzz” sequences: these include the impregnation of alien eggs under the skin of a young au pair, the decomposition of the creatures’ human bodies revealing the hidden alien forms within and, perhaps most startling of all, a woman giving birth to a fully-grown man! Hobbs’ pre-production artwork has a strong EC Comics quality.
Harry Bromley Davenport prepping the “Pregnancy Scene”
“Our six week shooting schedule meant we had to be incredibly precise about the effects we wanted,” said Forstater. “Francis came up with designs that we have had to stick to. Everything had to work the first time as couldn’t afford delay. Every time we shot an effect, three others had to be lined up in case something went wrong. If the prosthetic on the maid’s stomach didn’t work the first time, off it went and another one went on immediately.”
Chris Hobbs, a sketch artist, helped sort out the visual concepts for the production. Originally, a man in a faceless rubber suit was suggested for the creature, but was scrapped when Hobbs came up with a clever and original idea. “I hope the audience doesn’t realize this, but our creature is a man on his back, on all fours,” said Forstater. “He will have to arch himself as much as he can so this won’t be too obvious. We hired a trained mime artist, who perfected a strange scuttle. You only set the creature at night, so I think we’ll get away with it.”
Other special effects sequences involve a giant cocoon, the father infecting his son by implanting his lips into his shoulder, a scream exploding a man’s eardrums, and the father deteriorating so badly that he literally falls apart. Acording to Forstater, these ambitious effects will be dealt with in an elegant way. “We’ve gone for the dry, clean look,” he said. “There’s no gone or slime to invoke an uneasy physical response’. I know that audiences are now so sophisticated that they want to see it all, but we’ll get gross only as a last resort: if we decide that the effects aren’t working. We’ll do whatever is necessary to make them work and I won’t apologize for it if that’s what we have to do.”
Director Harry Bromley Davenport originally intended the film to end with Rachel coming home to find the apartment filled with clones of Tony, having apparently come from the alien eggs which the real Tony had been left in the refrigerator. But executive producer Robert Shaye, not thinking the scenes special effects were convincing enough, edited it out and released it for its New York debut with the film ending when Rachel sits down in the field after Sam and Tony have left. Davenport, however, not wanting to have it end on such an abrupt note, created another one which had Rachel going back to the apartment, picking up one of the eggs and being attacked by a face-grabbing creature similar to the one that attacked the woman in the cottage, and ultimately the film was released with this ending.
Xtro – Missing scenes (These scenes are missing from all current DVD releases of the film, yet were in the old VHS releases and also in the version screened by the UK sci-fi channel in 2005.)
Xtro came under fire in the United Kingdom during the 1980s due to several graphic sequences; most notably the pregnancy scene. Were you shocked at this reaction and do you feel the censors overreacted?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: I was greatly surprised – and pleased. When the film came under the scrutiny of the censorship brigade, sales roared. I wish I could get that kind of attention today. Now it’s impossible to shock people. We’ve seen everything.
The first film mainly focused on abandonment issues, both of the child losing his father and the man losing both his family and his own identity. Was this something you intended on exploring in the next film?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: Wow! Abandonment? I guess so. I never thought of that. You’re right. Maybe I should ask Daryl to do yet another re-write of the current script to emphasise this abandonment issue. Does that ring true for you? Now that you force me to think about it, you may have tapped into something that helped the film to hold the viewer’s attention. Wow! Don’t ask perceptive questions like that.
In his review of Xtro, film critic Roger Ebert described it as ‘a completely depressing, nihilistic film, an exercise in sadness.’ How does this make you feel and would you say this is in any way accurate?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: I’ve seen that review on YouTube. And Siskel and Ebert look like a couple of nannies telling their children not to go near the swamp. It’s a statement of enormous self-importance. It is cruel too – designed to make him sound like the savior of mankind. I refute that observation. I find that real critics – not ‘reviewers’ like fat Ebert – take tenable positions about the films I have directed when they don’t like them. This dope just aimed at an easy target – a low budget independent exploitation film – and let rip.
I would like to remind your readers that the script for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls flowed from the pen of Mr. Ebert. I’m glad that I didn’t see that Xtro review until recently. Had I seen it when I was younger, it would have cut me to the quick. I hope that he gets eaten alive by an army of big black spiders.
Upon its fairly successful 1983 U.S. theatrical release, Xtro was trashed by critics who dismissed it as a cheap, over sexualized variation on E.T. To add to the film’s notoriety, Xtro was labeled a “video nasty by the British Board of Film Censorship. It spawned two very unofficial direct-to video sequels, none having anything to do with the others beyond being directed by Bromley-Davenport—1991’s Xtro II: The Second Encounter and 1995’s Xtro : Watch the Skies.
With Michel Parry having written the original script, did you ever discuss collaborating together again on the subsequent sequels and how did you come to work with Daryl Haney?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: Michel, who is an accomplished writer, does not live in L.A., and for me to mete out sufficient psychic trauma on the writer, I need the victim to live here where I can maximize the misery I inflict. I am also very fond of Michel and would not wish to subject him to my hideous method of work. I met Daryl Haney through a remote connection with Roger Corman when we were putting together the third Xtro. Daryl talks a lot and has a fresh idea every thirteen seconds, which means that I don’t really have to do any work. Our method is to spend several months having lunch at Taix Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, where he expounds and I take notes. After sufficient money has been spent on these three-hour lunch marathons, Daryl disappears for a few weeks and then sends me a first draft screenplay which has no connection with anything we have previously discussed. But we have managed to actually make seven movies together and that probably means something – perhaps what idiots we both are.
New Line Cinema are known for exploiting their products as much as possible, yet they chose not to take part in the sequels. Why was that?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: Because I own the rights to the title Xtro and they do not. But I do not own the rights to the original story. This is caused by some quirk of the original production contracts. Strangely enough, they did call me a couple of years ago to discuss doing a ‘re-boot’, but Bob Shaye, the CEO of New Line, who co-produced the original film along with Mark Forstater, had been shown the ejector seat button and I didn’t care to deal with anyone there but Bob. He’s a wacky individual who is far more cultured than most film executives. However, Bob was in a bad mood for the entire shooting period of Xtro and that somewhat curtailed his desire to be nice to me. He was in ‘I-am-the-dark-demon-boss-Bob’ mode for some inexplicable reason. But he sure as hell promoted the shit out of the film in the States and for that I am grateful, although it is a mixed blessing to be associated with a film that, at the time, was considered somewhat shocking.
It seems inevitable that every cult movie is eventually remade; has this ever been discussed with Xtro or would you rather continue the series with further sequels?
BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: I was approached by New Line, which owns the original story – but I would rather shoot another sequel far from the interfering hands of the conventional Hollywood executive phone-monkeys. The fun part about having directed a movie which was, at the time, infamous, is that I frequently receive emails from people all over the world which tell me of how they first saw it when they were kids and how it terrified them. Or else it was a film which they couldn’t shake off.
Xtro Xposed Harry Bromley-Davenport Interview
Pure Destructive Records is proud to announce, an official licensed reissue of XTRO. The original score composed by the director, Harry Bromley Davenport.
REFERENCES and SOURCES
Twilight Zone#10 1982
Famous Monsters of Filmland 191