Review by Kelly
“A man who was abducted by aliens returns to his family three years later, but his presence affects them negatively.”
Released in 1982, Xtro is considered an Aliensploitation film, in company with films like Inseminoid and Contamination. It’s a British sci-fi horror film which made it to Section 3 of the infamous video nasties list due to it’s graphic and obscene nature. This means that “titles on the Section 3 list could not be prosecuted for obscenity but were liable to seizure and confiscation under a 'less obscene' charge. Tapes seized under Section 3 could be destroyed after distributors or merchants forfeited them” (Wikipedia). It was directed by Harry Bromley Davenport and co-produced by Bob Shaye. It stars Bernice Stegers, Phillip Sayer, and Simon Nash. Sadly, there aren’t a huge amount of space horror films actually set in space or on space ships so I decided to go back to my home planet and look into this alien film. I read about it in the amazing book edited by Michele Brittany called Horror in Space: Critical Essays on a Film Subgenre. It is really a one of a kind book looking into this very interesting, and perhaps overlooked, subgenre of horror.
Xtro opens with our happy family: Sam, Rachel, and Tony, enjoying some quality time out at their cottage. One evening while Sam and Tony are out playing, a bright light appears and Sam is abducted by aliens, leaving little Tony behind to explain what happened. Of course, no one believes him and Rachel is left feeling devastated by her husband abruptly abandoning the family. Flash forward three years, Rachel has re-married to a man named Joe, and Tony still believes that his Dad is going to return one day. Sam does return from outer space but not after being born through an Earth woman in a visually disturbing way. He is no longer human and returns to his family to shake things up for them all.
An Aliensploitation movie is one that came after the infamous Ridley Scott film, Alien, that tries to utilize concepts from the film and make it their own. They are associated with being “rip-offs” or “knock offs” of the film hoping to garner a piece of the success that Alien had. However, what Alien did for human sexuality, sexual imagery, symbolism and more, Xtro does the opposite. Where Alien switched the gender norms and expectations with male impregnation and birth, Xtro regresses and utilizes women for exactly what our patriarchal society expects them to be, bodily vessels for reproduction and, seemingly, destruction. Women are orally raped with a phallic extension of the alien and either birth an adult male or become a vessel for alien eggs. In all circumstances, the women die. The males of the movie are either killed outright or “saved” and turned into aliens themselves. The subversion of gender ideals is lost on Xtro, although making it incredibly visually appealing, yet disappointing to see. The scenes are disturbing and juxtaposed with some very silly scenes, which makes for a conflicting and odd experience. Actually, the most horrific scenes in Xtro are the rape, birth, and deaths of the women, all done with incredible practical special effects, the epitome of 80s horror.
In Barbara Creed’s book The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, she discusses the monstrous womb. In horror, a woman’s womb is often seen as monstrous as it can birth inhuman creatures, bringing destruction and harm to the world. They “define woman as monstrous in relation to her womb, that is, her reproductive capacity”. As someone who never wanted to have kids, and never will have them, declaring my womb as something terrible or at least something that has the potential to be so scary is quite unpleasant. The fear of female sexuality is ripe in this film as the woman who is seen as sexually overt, the one we see having sex the most, is shown topless or nude multiple times, is turned into the egg machine. A woman’s uterus and reproductive abilities have forever been linked to nature. As per Creed, “her ability to give birth links her directly to the animal world and to the great cycle of birth, decay and death”. This can be seen with the death of one woman; she is literally cocooned, or crocheted like a spiders’ web, onto the wall and ceiling, suspending her so to create the tunnel for which the alien eggs will be released into the world. The womb is seen as monstrous in the first rape/impregnation/birth incident as the woman’s abdomen swells to gargantuan proportions; the skin stretches, the woman is screaming and the “fetus” tears through the birth canal into the world. It rinses off the fetal blood and continues on its journey, leaving the devastation behind without remorse.
I really enjoyed the overall premise of Xtro, and the acting I thought was fantastic, mainly from the woman playing Rachel, Bernice Stegers, and the man who played Sam, Phillip Sayer. She gave me real Clare Higgins (Julia in Hellraiser) vibes. The synth music was fitting for a 1982 sci-fi horror film, along with the aforementioned practical effects. The peculiar scenes with the boy, Tony, and the circus performer and toys took me out of the seriousness of the movie. The overall tone was very dark and these scenes really felt out of place. The movie would have been even stronger without them. Thankfully, it didn’t ruin the movie for me but definitely was an odd choice. This was a fantastically weird, violent, and interesting film.
Xtro was a very surprising watch and I would highly recommend it for fans of sci-fi horror, space horror, alien horror, 80s horror, and feminist thought.