Color, 1995, 96 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Harry Bromley Davenport
Starring J. Marvin Campbell, Douglas Cavanaugh, Robert Culp, Andrew Divoff, Virgil Frye, Nigel Gibbs, Jim Hanks
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1), Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Showcase (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL)

Anyone Xtro 3who made it through the lawless Xtro 3lands of late '80s and '90s VHS mania can confirm that one of the weirdest trend was horror series in which the installments had essentially nothing to do with each other. Thus we had lots of films with Watchers, Witchcraft, etc. in the titles but no narrative connection. To that list you can add Xtro, which began in 1982 as a British film by a young British director, Harry Bromley Davenport. With its grotesque visuals and baffling plot, the grisly alien invasion film became an unlikely hit for New Line -- by Davenport managed to retain the rights to the title for subsequent movies. He cashed in those chips in 1990 with the Canadian-shot Xtro II: The Second Encounter, which was also released by New Line and did well on video. Five years later he completed the trilogy with Xtro 3, which was called Xtro 3: Watch the Skies in the promotional artwork but not on the actual film. Shot in L.A. over a breakneck two weeks, it features an alien like the other films in the series but is otherwise its own beast with a military vs. extraterrestrial angle more reminiscent of Aliens (at least in concept).

After an amusing 1950-set prologue that manages to meld together kiddie pranks, a UFO landing, and a Marilyn Monroe-style breathless starlet, the film proper takes place in the present day as government agent Cpt. Fetterman (Divoff) wrangles up a group of soldiers instructed by Major Gaurdino (Culp, who probably shot his part in three hours) to go retrieve a stash of live ammo from a remote, uncharted island. There they split up into two camps and come across an abandoned concrete bunker, which of course houses Xtro 3a terrible secret involving a procreating alien who likes to trap its prey in gooey webs.

Basically a '50s monster movie at heart and a lot less perverse than the original film, this one doesn't even try to be more than a Xtro 3pulpy time killer and succeeds on that front. The characters aren't terribly developed and are mostly interchangeable (though you do get an odd bit of background probably inspired by the Tonya Harding scandal); at least you do get to see something dreadful happen to Tom Hanks' "lookalike" brother, Jim. The alien itself is quite a fun design in a low-budget practical effects sort of way, and it all moves along quickly with little muss or fuss. The biggest issue here is actually the score by one-shot composer Van Rieben, which is so generic and drab it sounds like demo tracks someone slipped in by accident. It's not enough to bring the film down too much, but one can only wish they'd thrown a bit more money at the audio aspects to bring it up to snuff.

Barely shown on a screen anywhere, this film headed to VHS in 1995 from Triboro and later upgraded to DVD very early in the format's history in 1999 from Image. In 2020, Vinegar Syndrome finally brought it back into circulation as a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release including the usual limited slipcover edition. As you'd expect, the new transfer (a 2k scan from the 35mm camera negative, per the packaging) is a beauty and up to the label's lofty standards with pleasingly rich blacks, nice Xtro 3detail, and far more accurate colors than the dreary transfer we got stuck with decades ago. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track (with optional English subtitles) is also quite nice with some very active separation effects throughout. In "Winning and Losing" (20m7s), Davenport Xtro 3is his usual self-deprecating self as he talks about making part two ("'Cuz I needed a job"), the difficulty of mounting features anywhere in the world, the advantage of owning the title to this series, swiping ideas from Omni magazine, the missed visual opportunities ("Really, she should have been naked"), having Milton Berle visit the set (for reasons he never explains), and the inspiration from Faces of Death for the drill scene. Be sure to watch all the way past the end credits to find out why he intones, "Death to all ice cream men!" Then in "Acting like a Writer" (18m8s), writer-actor Daryl Haney offers a candid, hilarious interview about a pivotal early moment in his career involving dropping acid with morphine, getting his first big gig writing Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, working with Roger Corman (for a while), and developing this film's script after an earlier, completely different concept with Davenport. The fun theatrical trailer is also included.

Reviewed on March 18, 2020.