Review : Xtro (1982)

Second Sight Films sent me a copy of their brand new release of Xtro, arriving for the first time on blu-ray on June 18th, 2018. This limited edition boxset comes with a lot of special features including both the original and alternate endings, a documentary and several featurettes.

Xtro is an exploitation horror film directed by Harry B. Davenport and released in 1982. Surprisingly, in the midst of the Video Nasties era, Xtro managed to avoid being on the list despite being quite gory and sometimes even disturbing.

Young Tony is playing with his father in the garden of their cottage when suddenly, a bright light appears in the sky and seemingly makes Tony’s dad disappear. Three years later, Tony and his mother now live in the city with Jo, the mom’s boyfriend and Anne-Lise, a french au pair. Since her husband’s disappearance, Tony’s mother believes her husband simply abandonned his family. When the strange light returns and dumps an alien creature, slaughters and weird events start occurring, including the return of Sam, Tony’s father.

The first thing that surprised me with Xtro is…its release date. This 1982 film screams of the seventies : from the camerawork to the furniture and clothing, I couldn’t believe this wasn’t set in the 1970´s. I suppose England took a couple of years to fully dive into the kind of 1980’s we know.

Xtro is a surprising little gem regarding different aspects. First, I was expecting a rather mediocre exploitation B-movie but what I got instead is a well-made creature feature with a big emphasis on its characters. Xtro spends more time with the characters than with its creature. The result is well-crafted characters, with enough qualities and flaws to find them interesting. Though the story is not well written, I still wanted to find out what would happen to Tony and his relatives.

The creature, though not on screen enough in my opinion, is really well-made, proving once more that practical effects will always be better than any kind of CGI. This human-alien hybrid is terrifying and the few moments it appears on screen will make you shiver. For the rest of the film, Tony hangs out with different things including a murderous midget clown. Being terrified of clowns, you can imagine I spent most of those scenes hiding under a blanket. Overall, the scares in Xtro work really well.

Now, Xtro is known for one specific scene : a disgusting, disturbing, gory birth scene. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the alien creature impregnates a woman (in a fashion similar to Alien but way more disturbing as the creature seems to be enjoying the process) who then gives birth…to Sam, the father who was abducted three years earlier. It doesn’t make much sense but you probably won’t care because you’ll spend that scene trying not to vomit. It does indeed deserves its reputation of being extremely disturbing. That scene alone should have made Xtro a high contestant for the Video Nasties list.

Xtro is often incoherent and mostly all over the place. It is poorly written and yet, you can’t take your eyes off te screen. The less sense it makes, the more intriguing it becomes.

Why is Tony surrounded by clowns, panthers and toys which help him terrorize the neighbors ? How is Sam altered from being aducted ? What is all that sucking about (yes, you read that right) ? Those are questions we won’t get anwers to. And yet, you will for sure watch Xtro until the end, if only to try and make sense of it all.

Xtro has good characters and great effects but it is strangely a memorable film for its lack of coherence and some disturbing moments. I wish I could unsee that horrible birth scene but I am really glad I finally got to see this weird Alien rip-off which I’ve heard about for years but hadn’t seen until today. Xtro is definitely one of those weird movies you have to watch, even more so with Second Sight Films’ new release which has a great transfer (the image is clear but the grain is still present…I personally like my older films grainy).

📚 Goosebumps Project #2

This second haul is a rather small one as I only found three Goosebumps books. I went to a thrift store that I had never been to before which turned out to be a gold mine for vintage books. Each book is 50 cents so I got quite a lot but unfortunately, they only had these three Goosebumps titles. I plan on going to this store every month.

Above, you can the three titles I found : Why I’m Afraid of Bees, Stay Out of the Basement and Return of the Mummy. I am quite pleased because they are in excellent condition. By visiting only two stores, I already own 16 Goosebumps titles so I have high hopes that I will have the complete series by the end of the year.

Below is the corresponding titles and numbers between the French and American versions of the books.

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Chair de Poule VS Goosebumps

There will be less updates in the future as it is not worth it to write an article about only 2-3 titles. Next time, I’ll update you on the collection once I have found at least 10 new titles. Wish me luck !

📚 Goosebumps Project #1

As many horror fans, my love for the genre started back in my childhood (I’m a 90’s kid) with books and programs like Goosebumps, Tales From The Cryptkeeper, Creepy Crawlers, The X-Files etc…

I recently started a little project : I am trying to find the books that made an impression on me as a child. I am in the process of slowly but surely reconstructing my personal childhood library. Since those were among my absolute favourite books, I decided to start with the Goosebumps original series. To make things more interesting, I am solely focusing on the original editions of the series, published between 1995 and 2001. The French publication differs from the US publication as Goosebumps 2000 was integrated in the original series. The numbers are also different as well as the order of publication. For instance, the first book published in France is The Mummy’s Tomb which is Goosebumps #5.

These are the first books I found at a thrift store. They were 1€ a piece so I couldn’t resist and purchased all the ones they had on the shelf. I am not trying to find first editions as it would be way too complicated but these are all part of the publication time frame I am focusing on.

Here is a list I compiled of all the titles shown above. The list shows the French title and number as well as the original American title and number corresponding for each book.

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Diapositive1

 

 

📼 A Nightmare on Elm Street VHS Boxset

In my previous article, I showed you in details my Friday the 13th VHS boxset. This time, we are going to take a look at another VHS boxset which includes the first three Nightmare on Elm Street films. From the information written on the back of each VHS, it seems this boxset was released around 1998. It was edited by TF1 Vidéo and Mad Movies, a horror magazine which also released several VHS and DVD editions of various horror and cult films. This magazine is still in print though it differs from its original form.

The design is very simple. On the front, you see Freddy on a black background with Freddy written in bold green letters. The series is known as Freddy in France instead of A Nightmare on Elm Street. On the back, there are small pictures of each covers and there is a synopsis for every film included in the set. As you can see on the third picture above, the VHS are bright yellow.

 

The gallery above shows you the front and back of each VHS. I especially love the design with the original poster and the Mad Movies banner above it. As you know if you are familiar with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, the posters for Freddy’s Revenge and Dream Warriors have little to do with the movies themselves.

I didn’t find strange things in this boxset compared to the Friday the 13th one but this is a great retro item that I enjoy displaying in my collection.

📼 Friday The 13th VHS Boxset

With two movies left to review as part of my Friday the 13th marathon, I thought I’d take a break to show something different (but related to Friday the 13th). The underlying reason for this little intermission is that I don’t own a copy of Jason Goes To Hell and haven’t found one for a decent price yet.

A few years ago, I made the acquisition of a Friday the 13th VHS boxset. I keep it as decoration and only dived into it recently. I found a couple of neat little things I thought might interest you. Note that this is a French boxset, another reason why I wanted to write about it as maybe some of you might be interested in seeing foreign editions.

The boxset itself displays artworks from both The Final Chapter (on the sides) and Jason takes Manhattan (on the top and front). Since Jason Goes To Hell and Jason X are not included, I assume this boxset was released between 1989 and 1993.

As you can see on the two pictures above, the boxset goes up to the eighth film in the franchise but there are only seven tapes. For an unknown and strange reason, the first film is not included. The boxset starts at Friday the 13th Part II. It’s not difficult to imagine why they chose to ignore the first film : no Jason = no Friday the 13th. I personally find it extremely weird to ignore a film that started a long-lasting franchise in a boxset that is designed to be a complete franchise set. French people are weird (trust me, I know, I’m French). And they didn’t stop there !

Before going into further details on two of the tapes, above is a gallery of all seven tapes, front and back. I like the consistency in the title displayed above each poster. And who can resist those beautiful classic movie posters. Not to sound cliché and old, but they don’t make them as good as this nowadays.

Now, let’s take a look at the first two tapes : Friday the 13th Part II and Friday the 13th Part III. Below the title Vendredi 13 (the french translation of Friday the 13th), there is a subtitle which reads “le tueur du vendredi” (which translates to “the friday killer”). They probably added subtitles to the first entries to match the later films which all have subtitles, starting with The Final Chapter. But this is not what surprised me. Take a closer look at the second picture above. Do you see it ? They used the exact same subtitle for both movies ! You can’t distinguish them unless you look at the back and look at the screenshots or read the synopsis. This is simply insane that nobody ever noticed that both movies have the exact same title.

This time, let’s take a look at the Jason Lives tape (pictures above). The original title of the sixth installment is Friday the 13th Part VI : Jason Lives. For some reason, they decided to translate the subtitle to Jason, le mort vivant which means Jason, the undead. They want to change the title ? Fine. But then, why put Jason Vit a.k.a Jason Lives on the lower part of the poster, on the tombstone ? It’s like the dude in charge couldn’t make up his mind and was like “I wanna change the title because fuck them, I’ll do what I want but I don’t want to ignore it so I’ll just put them all on the cover”.

I really love my Friday the 13th boxset not in spite of all the nonsense I pointed out but because of it all. For all of us who started watching films during the VHS era, these objects hold a special place in our hearts. I hope you enjoyed this article as I have a few more in mind.

Review : Friday the 13th Part VIII : Jason takes Manhattan (1989)

Another year, another sequel ! In 1989, Jason takes Manhattan, directed by Rob Hedden, was released. This is regarded as one of the worst sequels in the franchise. While this movie should have been called Jason takes a boat to Manhattan (as he only spends a third of the film in NYC), I don’t share the common dislike for this film. I actually like it. Sue me…actually, don’t, let me explain !

The film opens with two high school graduates aboard a boat on Crystal Lake. Apparently, staying on a lake known for having been the location of multiple massacres is a brilliant idea ! The boat’s anchor damages some underwater cables which shock Jason’s corpse and bring him back to life. The next day, a group of students is getting aboard the Lazarus on a cruise to New York City. An unexpected guest joins the teenagers and gets rid of them one by one until the boat reaches New York City, allowing Jason to…take Manhattan…sort of !

Let’s first address the elephant in the room : the title is misleading and, on the first viewing, will surely be a big disappointment. The majority of the film takes place on the ship and not actually in Manhattan. Jason arrives in NYC in the final act of the film. While I am indeed disappointed that the film is set on a cruise and not in the city, the short time spent in NYC is entertaining enough to be satisfying. I found the shots of Jason in Times Square and in front of a giant hockey billboard quite epic.

Now, with each sequel, the characters seem to get worse. With more sequels comes less character development. However, the main protagonists are a big improvement over Tina from The New Blood. Rennie and Sean are likable enough and not too annoying that you’ll enjoy following them trying to escape Jason. The others are just expendables and, as we are used to now, are just body count for Jason to have fun with.

Jason takes Manhattan has many flaws, several scenes makes no sense and yet, I found it really entertaining. The boat sails from a lake to the ocean…how exactly does that work ? Then, in New York City, apparently it is a common thing to find barrels full of acid in alleyways. These are only two examples of the silliness that occurs in this film.

The ending, while not as bad as The New Blood, is once again impossible to explain rationally. Now that we are on the eighth Friday the 13th film, it is quite clear that none of the directors and writers had any clue on ending any of these films.

I don’t understand the hate towards Jason takes Manhattan. Is it indeed flawed but I thought it wasn’t worse than some previous entries in the franchise. Jason, as portrayed by Kane Hodder, is still a badass and plenty enjoyable to watch. 

Review : Friday the 13th Part VII : The New Blood (1988)

Directed by John Carl Buechler, the seventh installment in the Friday the 13th franchise was released in 1988 and marks Kane Hodder’s first time as Jason Voorhees. He is the only actor to have reprised the role several times.

Jason Voorhees is still chained at the bottom of Crystal Lake. We are introduced to a new family living in area, Tina and her parents. One night, after abusing her mother and chasing her to the lake, Tina, who has telekinetic powers, accidentally kills her father. Ten years later and after years at a mental institution, Tina returns to Crystal Lake with her mother and her psychiatrist to face her past and come to terms with it. However, Tina accidentally (again…) raises Jason from the dead. 

I have many issues with The New Blood and the predominant one is the main character, Tina. She is annoying and constantly whining. First of all, while I understand she would be traumatized by having killed her own father, the degree of grief she demonstrates is unbelievable. We only have one single information about her father : he was violent and abusive. Knowing that, it seems unlikely that she, as she states herself, misses him greatly. While on the topic of her father’s death, the scene made little sense. It seems that he died simply from falling into the water as nothing hit him or trapped him underwater. He simply died…because he fell into the water…really ?

The other two characters surrounding her are just as poorly written : the psychiatrist is an asshole and his sole purpose is to be disliked (and trust me, you’ll hate that guy) and her mother is oblivious to the fact that this man is so obviously mean spirited and after her daughter’s powers. The teenagers next door are textbook slasher characters and I barely remember any of them.

However, there is someone who reedeems all these awful characters : our friend Jason ! It is the first tim Kane Hodder portrays him and it is clear why he is fans’ favorite. Jason has never been more badass than in The New Blood. It’s a shame Hodder is in the worst entries in the Friday the 13th franchise because he is possibly the best Jason Voorhees. He brings charisma and a menacing physicality to the character like we’ve never seen before. While he sometimes acts over-the-top, it never bothered me. He is definitely the highlight of the film…though that wouldn’t have been difficult to begin with. He still deserves all the recognition for making this movie watchable. His make-up is fantastic as we get to see him unmasked and there are a few epic scenes thanks to our hockey-mask wearing freak !

The New Blood is once again heavily edited and makes me wonder what is the point of watching a Friday the 13th film if we are denied the blood and gore. There is one aspect I didn’t like and it is again linked to the main character, Tina. I simply don’t like the fact that she has telekinetic powers. It feels like cheating ! The other final girls had to find ressources and inner strength to fight Jason, it would have been too easy to have superpowers (what is this, the X-Men ?). To make things worse, Tina doesn’t even use her powers for anything but move an object from point A to point B, which anyone could do without powers. She never does anything amazing or badass. Many have stated that this is Carrie VS Jason…but that’s disrespectful to Carrie.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy The New Blood because Jason is plenty entertaining but other than him, the movie doesn’t have much to offer. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is the worst in the franchise so far and is impossible to explain because no matter how you look at it, it makes no sense. Watch it if you have 80 minutes to lose.