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Xtro II: The Second Encounter

1990, Starring Jan-Michael Vincent, Paul Koslo, Tara Buckman. Directed by Harry Bromley Davenport.

Harry Bromley Davenports Xtro is arguably one of the most unique horror/sci-fi films of the 1980s, a surreal shocker about an absentee father who returns with alien powers that he passes on to his son. Made seven years later, this B.C.-lensed sequel doesnt come close to the bizarre heights of the original, but it's still one of the better Canadian sci-fi movies of the eraor, more accurately, one of the least awful.

Winnipeg-based producers Lloyd Simandl and John Curtis had already been collaborating for several years when they brought Davenport up to Vancouver to film this barely related sequel. It was a trick they had first used with their 1985 post-apocalyptic effort Empire of the Ash II, a follow-up to a non-existent film. Reportedly hated by the director since it bears little resemble to his unique original, Xtro II is a more standard sci-fi monster b-film about inter-dimensional beings that takes its cues from big-budget action blockbusters like Aliens and Predator, both of which are specifically mentioned on the VHS box in an effort to draw in 1980s sci-fi action fans looking for more of the same.

As with many straight-to-video sci-fi efforts, the film takes place almost entirely in a large industrial spacein this case, an underground government laboratory that is conducting expeditions into another dimension via a top secret portal. But their latest test goes very, very wrongwhen the sole survivor of a party of three returns from their research trip, a slimy alien pops out of his chest (where have you seen that before?) and gets loose in the complexs intricate maze of air shafts. The programs lead scientists, Dr. Summerfield (Paul Koslo) and Dr. Casserly (Tara Buckman), lock down the lab and call in zen supergenius Dr. Shepherd (Jan-Michael Vincent), a troubleshooter who successfully handled a similar, past situation that is only alluded to throughout the script (and, curiously, doesn't seem to be the events of the first film). Shepherd brings in a team of gun-toting leathernecks that must overcome Summerfields anti-military prejudices before they kill the alien. And they dont have long to do itin a matter of hours, the computer will radiate the sealed-off building to contain the hostile threat, killing everyone inside.

James Cameron's Aliens is the touchstone for the entire picture, informing everything from scenes of the crack SWAT team running around pipe-laden corridors, heavy firepower and Tara Buckman's hardened shtick that clearly comes from the same mould as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. But without the cash for eye-popping effects, Xtro II is only a pale imitation of its big budget inspiration. While not awful, the rubber-suited alien isn't close to being scary when he finally emerges from the shadows, and the few action set pieces, such as when an alien falls down an airshaft and is hacked to bits by an industrial fan, fail to impress. This is a shame, because the premise does have potential, especially the inter-dimensional travel twist that could have involved some impressive sequences set in the creature's home world, which instead are foggy wastelands glimpsed on tiny black and white TV monitors.

In many ways it was a sign of things to come for John Curtis, who springboarded from Xtro II to become one of the biggest sci-fi producers in the country, working with Simandl until 1993, and then breaking out on his own. Unfortunately, the increasingly dire line of lukewarm sci-fi schlock he both wrote and producedLaserhawk, Time Runner, Shadowchaser and Cyberjackaren't much of an improvement over this effort. These films all follow the basic template Curtis used here, featuring one big imported American star coming up against various future CGI menaces including robots, computer viruses and aliens in proud low budget rip-offs of recent major Hollywood hits.

Despite its problems, viewers of Xtro II willing to adjust their expectations to Simandl and Curtis' piggyback promotional tactics will be rewarded with a story that proceeds at a nice clip once it gets underway, a few moments of suspense one of Vincent's better late-career performances (despite the director's reported difficulties with him on set). Davenport does the best he can with a handful of ugly, dark sets and gives the film a straight-to-video gloss that is better than the subject matter deserves. It dosen't live up to the original and it's never very good, but there's a simplicity and straightforwardness about its dimwitted alien hunter plot. Xtro II doesn't get overambitous or try to disguise its schlocky origins, and that makes it a passable Canadian sci-fi effort.

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