Never let it be said these films don’t aim high for their sources of inspiration. Greek mythology and Coleridge combine in this merry tale of Muses incarnated on Earth to help mankind strive for greater artistic triumphs – which in this case means Olivia Newton John getting Gene Kelly to open a roller disco. Lashings of ELO on the soundtrack and a bit of Don Bluth animation can’t hide the fact this looks like they were making it up as they went along – which, indeed, they were. 1980 turned out to be the high summer of the disco movie – this fought for fleapit space with the delirious Village People ‘biopic’, Can’t Stop the Music. Olivia was no stranger to the wacky world of rock opera – she’d been the singer in made-up band Toomorrow, promoted Monkees-style in the disastrous 1970 sci-fi musical of the same name. Revivalist musicals, eh? From New York, New York through to Absolute Beginners, there was always someone trying to ‘recapture the magic’ of the MGM days back then. We blame Bob Fosse for making it look easy. But this leg-warmered slice of Pacific disco glamp (It’s glam! It’s camp!) is probably the “warning from history” plum of them all.
X is for…
Xtro sounds like it should be great. It’s a British horror, it takes place alternately in a block of flats and the good old gloomsville English countryside (authentically rendered in sludged-out old Eastmancolour, natch). And as with The Omen, its playground reputation for pre-pubescent chills preceded it. Sadly, this time the reality fell a country mile short of juvenile expectation. A middle-aged Dad (played by one of the aircraft passengers off Paula Wilcox play The After Dinner Joke – yes, the cast connections are that obscure) is spirited away one day via some cheap in-camera effects, leaving bowl-cutted kid Tony (played by Kappatoo off Kappatoo!) and his mum (Countess Olga off CFF classic Sky Pirates!) to get on with their lives, and install a new daddy (er, some bloke off Whoops Apocalypse). Cut to three years later, and a murderous alien monster (actually Tik from Pebble Mill-troubling body-popping duo Tik and Tok in a sub-Giger latex wetsuit) graphically rapes a lone woman (played by one of the birds that peels a grape in the intro to episode three of Hitch Hiker’s) in her authentically ’70s-shabby eye-level grill kitchen. Said woman then proceeds to noisily give birth, Alien-style, on the kitchen floor, to Tony’s fully-grown dad, in a scene rendered marginally less revolting by the use of some clearly false rubber legs.
Then, to keep the budget down, we cut to overlong domestic scenes in the new family’s well-appointed flat. Nothing much happening here. Tony plays with an Action Man. Tony’s mum swans about in the same chunky-knit poncho she seems to wear for the entire film. A Swedish au pair (played by – ah! A star! Maryam ‘Living Daylights’ D’Abo) is on hand to fail to keep an eye on the lad, and generally look decorative draped over furry rugs. Tony wakes up covered in fake blood. Old Daddy turns up (after trying to phone the flat and causing the handset to melt in an actually quite good effect), to poncho mum’s consternation and Tony’s delight. Dad eats Tony’s pet snake’s eggs. Tony goes all semi-demonic and brings a toy clown to portrayed-by-Widget-off-of-Through-the-Dragon’s-Eye life. Lou Beale off Eastenders from the flat downstairs sticks her nose in, so Tony sends a giant Action Man (the other one off Tik and Tok in a plastic mask, natch) to jerkily bayonet her to death.
Then things go a bit funny. Dad takes poncho woman to the country cottage where he was abducted, while the midget clown helps Tony dispatch the rest of the adults via a panther, toy tank and, er, a mallet, then strings up D’Abo to make some kind of cobwebby alien incubator with the aid of a fridge and some giant mucus-lined eggs. And it goes on like this, waddling arbitrarily from rubbery set piece to rubbery set piece, with none of The Omen’s style or atmos. If Denis Norden walked in with a clipboard after each grisly death and announced that our next gorefest involves Peter Sellers in a lift, no-one would bat an eyelid. As it is we have Bernard from the National Theatre of Brent driving a van – a fair swap.
Xtro was, you may not be surprised to learn, an “autered” work, the ‘teur in question being one Harry Bromley Davenport, a sort of tramp’s John Carpenter – yep, he directs, writes the “story” and single-handedly composed the film’s soundtrack, which aims for Carpenter but, brilliantly, falls squarely into sub-Roger Limb Radiophonica which, with the muddy film stock and child actor, lends the whole venture an unmistakeable air of a Look and Read series gone sour. Ironic types do, of course, celebrate this film in their own way, but with stuff this unrelentingly weak you can positively feel the chips of tooth enamel flying out as they praise through clenched jaws. Still, the early ’80s period atmos gives it a certain quaint watchability, something entirely absent from the belated sequels – Xtro II in 1990 being a rubbish sub-Aliens affair with Jan Michael Vincent, and 1995′s installment a terrible X-Files cash-in, with the titular alien resembling a cross between the saucer-eyed white foetus of then-popular style and a Bob Carolgees glove puppet, albeit one with a neat line in Elvis lip curls.