Wednesday, October 29, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 24: Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1990)



When it comes to Alien rip-offs, it's hard to think of one that will leave you feeling as skeezy as Xtro. However, I'm not here to get into that film's cinematic crimes--that's Checkpoint Telstar's job this go-around--but rather to tear into its sequel.

That's most likely for the best since I'd spend at least a paragraph griping about how nobody involved in the first film knew that garter snakes don't lay eggs.

At any rate, Xtro was not a film that anybody was crying out for a sequel to. Yet, the film's director, Harry Bromley Davenport, was struggling to find any opportunities outside of the exploitation circuit that had given him his start and, for money's sake, decided to give the public what they didn't want--seven years later.

The hitch was that Davenport had retained the rights to the film's title but not its story. So he couldn't actually have his sequel follow up the events of the first film. So, instead, he created a completely different--and more conventional--Alien and Aliens rip-off. Unfortunately, it turns out that it was only the sleaze that had made his first effort worth watching in the first place: without it, Davenport proved only capable of delivering an unremarkable rehash of a rehash.

We open at a secret mountain base, presumably in the Rockies. Like all secret military/science complexes, it's deep underground. Some government representative is on hand to breathe down Dr. Alex Summerfield's (Robot Jox's Paul Koslo, who there delivered the infamous line, "I have already killed you...[pointing to forehead]...in here!") neck about the Nexus Project. Seems the project was already tried once in Texas with disastrous results. Summerfield objects that the issue there was that the person in command had no business being there.

Well, at any rate the project's other current head, Dr, Julie Casserly (Tara Buckman, who looks like Meg Foster and Linda Hamilton got Brundleflied) is busy getting all the systems running. As its name implies, Nexus is a method of inter-dimensional transport. Three volunteers in space suits are about to go through to another dimension and create history.

Well, the machine works to get them through, all right, via an effect on par with the Phantom Zone from Supergirl. But the communication equipment doesn't work, so all the team in the home base gets is some scrambled video of a budget-conscious (plainly miniature) alien landscape full of dead trees and giant spheres. And then something goes wrong, but they can't be entirely sure what. Maybe something attacked the team, but they are definitely in distress.

Seeing that the trio has 12 hours of oxygen left, something should be done to help them. Casserly wants to call in someone named Shepard, but Summerfield sneers that it's only because Shepard was her lover. Summerfield also blames Shepard for the disaster in Texas and he suggests sending a strike team through Nexus to rescue the explorers. The government man tells them to do both...and leaves the movie.

Casserly goes to find Dr. Ron Shepard (Jan-Michael Vincent, the "name" actor of the film) at his cabin. After some words about where their relationship was left, Shepard correctly guesses that Casserly is there because something went wrong. You see, Shepard knows because whatever went wrong in Texas happened after he went through Nexus. Which means that all the talk about how the three explorers going through was "historic" is kind of bunk. If the first man to walk on the moon smashed the lunar lander to pieces after he returned to Earth, you wouldn't say having a second guy walk on the moon was historic.

At any rate, the Strike Team is brought in just as Casserly returns with Shepard. It consists of leader McShane (Jano Frandsen), explosives guy Baines (Nicholas Lea), wannabe Buddhist hippy-type Zunoski (Rolf Reynolds), and vaguely ethnic guy Mancini (Nic Amoroso). But before they can even get briefed, there's a signal from the rendezvous point in the alternate dimension, and Nexus is able to pull back one of the explorers--Marshall (Tracy Westerholm). Unfortunately, she's unconscious when the medics pull her from the machine so she can't tell them anything about what happened.

Summerfield tries to question her on his own, however, which results in her waking up long enough to lash out at him, scratch his neck, and then pass back out. And then Shepard is caught trying to sneak in and inject poison into her IV. Summerfield is convinced that Shepard doesn't want Marshall to survive because he won't be special any more, but Shepard tries to tell him he doesn't understand. So Shepard is handcuffed to a pipe and the Strike Team prepares to go through the Nexus to rescue the other two explorers.

They never get the chance, however. The biological contamination alarm goes off because Marshall is in the midst of a John Hurt moment. But whatever's inside Marshall doesn't just punch its way out of her and tear its way into the air duct: it also drains her body of all fluids, including the IV bags being pumped into her system! That's admittedly a neat touch. Though her dehydrated corpse looks more like it was set on fire than drained when we see it.

You have no idea how hard it is to not make a Joan Rivers joke here.
The contamination alarm means that almost the entire facility is evacuated except for the Strike Team, Shepard, Casserly, Summerfield, and a few technicians. This is a strange way to deprive your film of expendable meat. But then, the film seems very reuctant to tear into the expendable meat it has in any significant way. One scientist working by himself sticks his head into a vent after some powder falls out of it and stares at the ceiling fans inside the vent (!) until suddenly the slimy whatsit deigns to drag him into the vent to his fate.

Also, funny how the creature apparently thirsts for fluids so much as to drain its host entirely in a matter of seconds--but it spends the rest of the film dripping fluids. If it's that thirsty, then its body failed to adapt a means to retain liquid and it would probably die of thirst soon anyways.

However, unfortunately for Baines, it doesn't die that fast. See, Baines has been making eyes at an attractive nurse (doctor?) and he wanders into sickbay and tries to get a, uh, physical examination from her since he's tired of waiting for orders regarding their mission. She's amiable, but before the film can provide any exploitative elements, she decides to go lock the door--and is killed off screen. And I do mean off screen. Baines goes to investigate her disappearance from the film, sees the monster in the vent and--in a moment cribbed from Predator--he shoots into the vent and his team runs in and does the same until part of the ceiling collapses.

The remaining survivors convene in a conference room and try to decide what to do. Whatever the creature in the vents is, it's been tripping so many sensors that the computer that runs the facility has not only sealed them in, but in 13 hours it will flood the facility with a massive dose of radiation. Casserly wants Shepard to take charge since he knows what they're dealing with, somehow, but Summerfield isn't keen on that idea. McShane, however, has taken charge and he feels Shepard's input would be valuable.

Now, you may notice that Shepard is more or less taking on the Ripley in Aliens role here. This feeds into the bizarre feeling that this whole movie is a sequel to a movie we weren't privy to. We already know that it in no way follows the events of Xtro, so these hints at a bigger story are more frustrating than anything.

It's decided that the Strike Team, Shepard, and Casserly will search for the creature while Summerfield and a technician whose name I didn't catch and whom the IMDb refuses to help me identify will stay in the control room. McShane grabs his Smart Gun, which I can only assume he stole off of Vazquez.
"Hey McShane, you ever been mistaken for a man?"
"No. Have...wait, what?
The group finds something left by the monster, which the dialogue can't decide is an egg or feces. Nobody bothers to examine it further, so we'll call it feces--especially since Baines flies into a rage over Zunoski cracking wise about what it's been eating. Zunoski actually apologizes for his insensitivity, so that's something.

Zunoski and Casserly also share an admittedly amusing exchange here:

Zunoski: "Dying's not so bad. We'll get a new body before you know it."
Casserly: "Yeah? Well, I just got this one in shape."

Finally, after interminable amounts of searching the monster suddenly punches through a wall--and through McShane's head. The others quickly flee when the creature comes after them, escaping through an air vent.

The creature somehow follows them, which--given the bulk implied by the puppet--seems unlikely.

"Kindly move closer so I can reach you with my claw. I--I can't actually move toward you."
The group finds themselves trapped by a hatch and radio the control room for help. Summerfield suggests to the technician that they should leave the creature contained, even if it means it kills the others. Unfortunately, the others hear this. They make it through the hatch and to a ladder in a ventilation shaft. For some reason they climb down when the control room should be up.

The monster follows and gores Mancini, who had been stuck on the ladder due to a case of vertigo. Baines tosses a grenade up to Mancini and the mortally injured man pulls the pin and--something on fire falls past the others and hits one of the giant ventilation fans, leaving a blood smear. It is only through later dialogue we find out that that was supposed to be Mancini and the monster.

Though naturally it's never that easy.

After Zunoski punches Summerfield out, it's decided that Baines and technician guy will try to scale the elevator shaft to get to a spot where they can radio the surface. While loading all Baine's explosives--so he can blow the hatch in the elevator--Zunoski jokes that Baines has "enough C4 to blow up the World Trade Center!"

Yeah. That joke would get awkward within 3 years of the film's release, and super awkward 11 years later.

About this time Summerfield is beginning to feel the effects of those scratches. Some awkward video-based hallucinations of the other dimension, and a normal-yet-inhuman Marshall hint that maybe he's going to follow her example. Summerfield almost bows his own brains out, but changes his mind. Meanwhile, after an interminable climb Baines blows the hatch on the bottom of the elevator just in time for the monster to appear out of one of the elevator doors and terrify the technician into falling to his death.
"Boo! Ha! Gets 'em every time."
Baines assumes that the technician was hit by falling debris and continues on--only to be ambushed by the creature. He falls back into the elevator and the creature lands on top of the elevator, sending it plummeting to the bottom of the shaft. Baines rigs all his C4 to detonate on impact--and the explosion somehow fails to kill Shepard, who was standing scant feet away from the elevator doors when they were blasted open. Maybe to try and explain how the monster survived, because you know it did.

About this time, Shepard realizes that Summerfield has been acting strange and reviews the security footage of Marshall in sick bay. After seeing the scratch, he tells Casserly and Zunoski that Summerfield is incubating and if they don't do something they'll have an even bigger problem on their hands. So it's time for more searching. Yay.

Casserly and Zunoski find Summerfield, but the doctor has a gun and shoots Zunoski. As Casserly tries to calm him down, he suddenly falls over and the monster looms up behind him. Surprise? Of course, this time Shepard is waiting with the Smart Gun and he shoots the monster to pieces. This time the death takes, but now they have to get Summerfield taken care of. So Casserly powers up Nexus and Shepard heaves the infected scientist onto the platform.

But Nexus is taking too long to warm up and Summerfield is about to burst and release spores. Shepard does his best to keep the swelling man on the platform, but he looks like he'll be going with if Nexus does activate. Suddenly, Zunoski shows up, alive, to help Casserly throw the switch. Shepard gets clear and Summerfield is Phantom Zoned just as he explodes like a ripe fruit. So sadly he will not be fist-bumping the monster.

The three survivors collapse on the floor of the control room in relief as the countdown to radiation flood stops at 15 minutes. An alert tellls them that the surface door has opened, meaning that rescue teams must have arrived--but then the control panel monitor switches on and the trio sees that Marshall is addressing them. The End.

What?! No, seriously, what the fuck was that ending? Near as I can tell, the director saw John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness and decided to rip it off but didn't understand why it worked. It makes absolutely zero sense in context.

Prior to that moment, Xtro 2 is not exactly a good film, but it's a serviceable enough entry in the gallery of Alien rip-offs. The main weaknesses are that none of the characters make any impression, the monster is largely immobile, and the pacing is slow as molasses on a cold day. And then that ending comes along and just puts a layer of turd frosting on top.

On the other hand, the film has...um...

Okay, the film has no actual redeeming qualities. Oh, it has little moments like Zunoski wearily repeating the impending radiation purge warning that they've been hearing for hours--but those are spread far and wide among lethargic "searching the corridors" sequences and bickering scenes between actors who aren't much interested in actually acting. The worst offender is Jan-Michael Vincent, who apparently so refused to give a shit that he made the director--who was, himself, making this movie against his will--furious. Apparently, Vincent even refused to learn his damn lines and had to be fed them during filming. Boy does it show.

Whatever else can be said for Xtro, it's memorable. Xtro 2? Um, well, there's the horrible karma of the World Trade Center joke and...uh...yeah, that's about the only thing I remembered about the film before I rewatched it for this review. This is the sort of movie you watch for 90 minutes and then completely forget about it. It's not painful, it's not good, and it's rarely engaging on any level.

I can't even recommend this to those who are cinematic masochists, because it's not even that bad. Lifeless and inert, never rising to any form of quality nor sinking to the depths of awfulness. It's like flat soda in cinematic form.

Sure, it's not the worst thing you've tasted, but why the hell would you drink it?

http://hubrisween.blogspot.com

Thus concludes Day 24, the day of the damnably challenging letter X. As you can see by the fact that all three of us chose the Xtro franchise in one way or another.

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