ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN GOREZONE #16, WINTER 1990
By Steve Newton
Four years ago, Vancouver’s Expo ’86 opened its doors to visitors from far and wide, who came to take in the World’s Fair and revel in its fancy displays on the theme of transportation. But lately the old Expo site has seen visitations of a more unfriendly, vicious sort.
In Xtro II, a 16-foot creature with a bad attitude is transported from another dimension to play hide-and-go-splatter with a group of scientists conducting time travel experiments. The film features former mainstream action hero turned low-budget video star Jan-Michael Vincent and Paul Koslo (who co-starred with Charlton Heston in The Omega Man and is featured in Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox). The film is directed by Britain’s Harry Bromley Davenport, who helmed the first Xtro back in 1982.
During a break in shooting, Gorezone cornered a burnt-out, up-all-night Davenport in his Winnebago and asked him to compare Xtro II to his surprisingly successful Xtro.
“I couldn’t draw any form of comparison,” Davenport asserts. “I’d say that Xtro II has nothing to do with the first one, aside from using the idea of Xtro as a short name for an extraterrestrial. This film is set underground in a scientific establishment sometime in the near future, and Xtro was a contemporary story set in a domestic environment. They’re completely different.”
At $2 million, Xtro II is the most expensive film produced so far by the Vancouver-based North American Pictures, which has also given us such exploitation titles as Slow Burn, Empire of Ash 2 and 3, Ladies of the Lotus, Possession and Goodnight, God Bless. Producer John Curtis says that Xtro II is a more “mainstream” release, and as such, he and partner Lloyd Simandl had to change the way they normally make films.
“We aren’t following the ‘formula’,” Curtis explains. “In the past, we followed a format that had us throwing in a jiggle scene or a car chase every seven minutes. In this film we’ve abandoned the traditional exploitation formula, and we’ve spent more money on art direction and set decoration. When we started out, Lloyd and I used to decorate the set with whatever we could find around the house.”
Xtro II‘s makeup and FX work work is being handled by Tibor Farkas and Bill Terezakis, who previously worked as Jamie Brown’s assistants on the Vancouver-lensed Friday the 13th Part VIII, and Scott Dawson, who helped out on Ghostbusters II and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5. The brunt of the creature FX, involving miniatures and stop-motion animation, is being conducted by the Cyberflex Films team of Charlie Grant, Victor Gagnon, and FX supervisor Greg Derochie. The film’s major FX involve an Alien-like creature-birthing sequence, the subsequent clawing deaths of various scientific personnel, and the climactic battle with the fully-grown beastie.
Since directing Xtro (for which he also co-wrote the original story and composed and performed the music), Davenport has been running the 24-track recording studio that the money from the flick helped him buy, as well as working in small capacities on numerous films shot at Pinewood and Elstree studios, such as Aliens, Return of the Jedi, Krull and Supergirl.
“I sort of hop from one thing to another,” says Davenport, “and then I get back to playing the piano, which is what I prefer to do. I would rather be playing the piano right now!”
Although he pines for the ivories at the moment, Davenport says that the Xtro II shoot is going relatively well, all things considered. “It’s par for the course,” he says. “There are some areas which are very understaffed, including the art department, which is so important to any film–the people who make the sets and do the props and all that. There really aren’t enough of them, and they’ve had to create things from scratch, ’cause there’s only a couple of locations in the film — the rest is all studio.
“But I’m very pleased with the performances,” he adds. “I’m very glad we were able to get a hold of supporting players like Paul Koslo and Tara Buckman, and in particular the Canadian subsidiary cast, who worked terribly hard. It’s been a very uncomfortable film for some of the actors because they’ve had to spend an awful lot of time on a set which is smoked up, with damp clothes on, and people have been getting ill. Every time a shot comes up, the makeup people have to come in and spritz them all down with water, and that’s horrible, sitting around in wet clothes all day.”
Paul Koslo, who plays scientist/administrator Alex Summerfield, actually suffered quite a bit in real life when he got a lung infection and had to be hospitalized at one point.
“The smoke affects people in different ways,” says Koslo, a veteran of over 100 movies and TV shows. “I felt fine, and all of a sudden, ‘Whammo.’ Jan-Michael was saying it was the smoke they put down gopher holes to kill gophers. I don’t know if that’s true or not.”
Once Xtro was released back in 1983, it helped launch the Bob Shaye-led New Line Cinema’s bid to become a leader among independent producers. It made a great deal of money, but viewers of the bizarre film have always been at a loss to pinpoint the real attraction of the movie. Even Davenport himself is mystified.
“I don’t know–I guess there hadn’t been a film of that kind around for a while,” he muses. “And it had good publicity, there was no question about that. But then you can’t get people on publicity alone–a film may be alright for a week just on publicity, but it can’t run forever on that. So it must have had something, and I think the something that it had was not that it was a good film–because I thought it was a bad film. I’m not deceived by the fact that it made money. It had a kind of craziness about it that people must have found amusing, ’cause the script was pretty chaotic–you didn’t really know what the hell was gonna happen. I don’t even think the writers knew what was gonna happen next!”
Don’t ask me why I bothered getting Davenport to sign my copy of Fango #24 with the original Xtro on the cover. Even he thought that movie was crap.