As a UK script consultant and script writer for hire, I am proudly part of the video store (or shop) generation. In 1982, the year Xtro was released I would have been eight years old. And I remember being fascinated by the video box in my local video shop (although I was never allowed to rent it).
Xtro, at some point I believe, ended up being on the video nasty list – the whole video nasty thing was a right wing, backlash by the mental Tory backed media – a media filled with all kinds of awful people, who were much more toxic than films like Xtro.
Over the years, the film’s reputation has continued to grow – it was meant to be a crazed, gory, homemade Alien or Close Encounters on a very low budget. I finally got hold of a copy a couple of weeks ago and settled down to watch it recently – in between reading Mark O’Connell’s rather delightful book Watching Skies – which captures the dawn of the video shop age in the UK, and brought back what it was like to be a movie mad child in Leeds, in the 1980s.
The film, Xtro, is as mad as a box of frogs. There’s some pretty good special effects and some clearly ropey ones. The acting, for this sort of film is actually rather good – lovely Maryam d’Abo (who would be a Bond girl later on) makes her acting debut. Bernice Stegers is a real actress too, and probably too good for the material.
I can see this film spinning people’s minds back in 1982, it was recognisably a very British film, but it was also playing with American style ideas from the time, Alien abduction, extreme gore. It’s also odd, off key, and in parts pretty unsettling, even if it’s finally pretty silly and doesn’t really make an awful lot of sense.
Sequels followed, which by all accounts, aren’t much good. I hope, that the film made a ton of money for the producers and director. While the film may not add up to much, the video box, with the iconic cover art is still seared into my memory. And for a while at least, a little low budget horror film made in England sat alongside the best that the American studios, and Spielberg could make – that’s an achievement worth remembering.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour