Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Xtro: The Complete 'Trilogy'

When is a movie trilogy NOT a movie trilogy? When it's the "Xtro" series!

"Xtro" is a series of sci-fi/horror films that are linked only by the presence of killer creatures from other worlds, the same director, and the word "Xtro" in the titles. There are no story links and the killer aliens are vastly different in each film. One really has to wonder why they chose to make the second two films "sequels" to the original; was the title "Xtro" really such a draw in the early 1990s? I understand that the first film achieved some minor legendary status by being included on the British list of "Video Nasties", but was that really enough to drive viewers to sequels made as long as ten years after the original? Especially given how bad the sequels were?

Xtro (1983)
Starring: Bernice Steger, Phillip Seyer, Maryam D'Abo, and Simon Nash
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Three years after being abducted by aliens, Sam (Seyer) returns a very different man, and he passes his gooey, gory alien powers onto his young son (Nash).

When I first saw this movie as a kid, it freaked the heck out of me. The father coming back and spreading alien corruption throughout the household, the way the son was transformed, and the way he in turn went after the horny au-paire (D'Abo)... even the creepy way he made deadly things appear with his mental powers. It all seemed very, very scary.

I suspect someone watching the film with less jaded eyes than mine could still find "Xtro" scary. At this point, I find still find some of the movie quite disturbing--Sam's method of returning to human form was not something I recalled, and it is definitely creepy; the alien egg-laying scene; and the final scene with the mother... well, up to a point with that one--but in general, I now view this film mostly with a sense of frustration because there are two fundamental things that spoil it for me.

First, there's the fact that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to what the characters do, alien or otherwise. In fact, some of the things that happen are pure "Stupid Character Syndrom"--a character does something just to make sure the plot doesn't come to screeching halt, even if a vaguely intelligent person would take any one of numerous different options.

Second, the director and/or scriptwriter simply doesn't know when enough is enough, and this spoils a number of what otherwise would have been excellent, very scary moments. The movie's ending is the ultimate example of this. I won't go into details, because I would spoil it, but suffice to say, the filmmakers ruin a perfectly good ending. If they had been smart, the film would be about 5-10 seconds shorter.

On the upside, we do get to see D'Abo prance around in absolutely nothing, and the acting is uniformly bland (not quite bad... just flat) so no one stands out as good or bad. Gorehounds might also be impressed with a number of scenes in film. The "Return of Sam" scene is a standout in that sense. "Xtro" also features a well-done electronic score, and those are few and far between.

Nonethless, this is a film that clocks in at the low end of average... although I admit my reaction may partially be due to it not living up to my memories of it. (Maybe I'll get the courage to watch "The Exorcist" again. It's the only movie I walked out because it scared me too badly.)

XTRO II: The Second Encounter (1991)
Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Tara Buckman, and Paul Koslo
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Deep underground, American scientists discover how to open a portal to another world...but, surprise-surprise, something goes wrong and murderous critters come across the dimensional void to run amuk. How will the best-and-brightest of the Mad Science Set stop the invasion and save themselves?!

Picture a bad "Aliens" rip-off and cross it with some of the lamest plot elements of a bad "Stargate SG-1" episode, and you have "XTRO: The Second Encounter."

Not only does this "sequel" have absolutely nothing in common with the first movie--the creatures don't even seem to be related--but it's also devoid of good acting, competent direction, and anything that even approaches originality.

For all its faults, the original XTRO at least delivered some genuine weirdness and horror, and it did so with a certain flair. This "sequel" brings absolutely nothing worthwhile to the table. It is a study in complete mediocrity and unoriginality.

Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1994)
Starring: Sal Landi, Andrew Divoff, Andrea Lauren Hertz, and Robert Kulp
Director: Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of Marine demolitions experts are sent to a remote, deserted island to disarm explosives left over from WW2. As will happen, something goes wrong and they unleash an alien that has been trapped in a bunker for several decades. Gory mayhem ensues.

I've read in several places that director Harry Bromley Davenport says this is his favorite entry in the "Xtro" series. I can't for the life of me figure out why. As flawed as it was, the original "Xtro" is far more interesting on every level than this one... and far more competently made.

It's actually a shame that "Xtro 3" turned out as a textbook example of what happens when a low-budget film is made with a slip-shod attitude, because there was a lot of potential here.

The setting--a deserted jungle island that once housed interned Japanese and a secret research facility could have been a character unto itself and filled the movie with atmosphere if the cinematography and direction hadn't been as lifeless as an instructional video on how to navigate the Dewey Decimal System. The story of Marines stalked by a murderous alien creature could have been engaging if the script writer had taken time to research actual military protocols and behaviors, had spent some time making the characters interesting and distinct, and bothered to actually bothered to do more than one draft so the dialogue didn't sound like something written for a cheap voice-over of a Japanese sci-fi movie.

And speaking of characters, perhaps if the actors all didn't seem like they had been handed the script pages right before cameras started to roll but instead seemed like they were in character instead of simply delivering the bad lines, the audience could perhaps develop attachment to one or more of them. Although decent acting would not make up for the fact that illogical, plot-dictated behavior governs every action they take, because no one seems to have bothered to think scenes through.

Similarly, if someone had paid attention to costuming and continuity on the production, maybe generous-minded or entertainment-starved viewers would be able to suspend disbelief and engage with the film, despite the incompetent direction and script. However, the appearing and disappearing gear on characters and less effort put into costuming than you might put into getting dressed for lounging around the house on a Saturday when your friends are all out of town, make that impossible.

Finally, although the alien has possibilities to rival the creepy creature of the original "Xtro," it ends up more laughable than scary due to badly executed special effects and the aforementioned illogical, plot-dictated character behavior. Is there anyone reading this who has seen this film who didn't think like I did: "Why run when you can just kick it really hard?"

"Xtro 3" continues the decline of this series into crapitude. The only thing that keeps it from sinking to a Two Rating (and thus earning a place over at Movies You Should [Die Before You] See) is the alien's back story. It's a cool idea... and it's too bad that it is wasted in a movie like this one. (I won't give it away here, because it is one of the few decent story elements in the film.)

If your looking for something to round out a Bad Movie Night line-up, "Xtro 3: Watch the Skies" might be what you're looking for. You might, however, be better off actually watching the skies and identifying shapes in the clouds.

Trivia: Harry Bromley Davenport stated in a 2010 interview that "Xtro 4" was in the works, which he confirmed in March 2011, in this interview. It remains to be seen if he continues to trend of making each installment in the series worse than the one that went before. It's already a given that this film will have no connection to the others, save for the word "Xtro". (And the fact that a fourth Xtro film is in production puts a lie to the claim that this post covers the complete series/trilogy. Although that may be kind of fitting, given how this "series" isn't one.


  1. Wow, thanks to your recommendation I don't believe I will bother with this series unless I'm in the mood for a laugh. Thanks for sharing, and it's a pleasure to meet you via the A-Z Challenge!

  2. Just doing my part to improve the lives of people everywhere, sir. But thanks for stopping by! :)