AKA CONTAMINAZIONE, ALIEN CONTAMINATION, CONTAMINATION: ALIEN ON EARTH, TOXIC SPAWN
AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 95 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A large ship drifts into New York Harbour, seemingly abandoned. The crew sent in to investigate find the mutilated remains of the crew members, then some large containers of coffee, hidden inside of which are a series of football-sized green eggs. The eggs explode, spraying a viscious liquid over the men and causing them to melt from the inside, whereupon their stomachs explode. The sole survivor is Lt. Tony Aris and his story isn’t initially believed, but he later finds some more eggs in a distribution warehouse along with some men under some kind of alien influence. Maybe there’s a link between all this and a recent expedition to Mars where one of the two astronauts disappeared and the other had a breakdown?….
The name of Luigi Cozzi [here calling himself Lewis Coates, it being nothing new for Italian credits to be ‘Americanised’, dating back to when Sergio Leone once went by the name of Bob Robertson] is a memorable one for me because the man was responsible for one of my favourite ‘so bad it’s good’; movies of all time, the truly hilarious Star Wars imitation Starcrash. I don’t know why I haven’t checked out any of Cozzi’s other work up to now. I was expecting Contamination to be another terrible but insanely fun effort. It’s definitely pretty silly, but not really a bad movie and certainly one of the better Alien-influenced exploitation pictures that were being churned out around the time, and not actually quite as derivative either. It makes the most of its low budget and some of its aspects are quite well presented, though it ends up making little sense [nothing new there!] and, despite having one major, very memorable gory device which is repeated, there isn’t anything in it which would offend anybody – in fact, while I haven’t quite seen them all, I would say that Contamination is probably the film that least deserved to be classified as a Video Nasty, something that the film’s current ‘15’ certificate makes apparent!
It was the [very surprising] commercial success of Starcrash that led to Contamination being put into production, producer Claudio Mancini deciding that a film inspired by another big American movie, this of course being Alien, was the way to go. Cozzi’s script, co-written with Erich Tomek, was originally called Alien Arrives On Earth and more influenced by older movies such as Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and the first two Quatermass films. It seems that Cozzi was constantly overruled by his producer on this film, from the title being changed to Contamination which was actually the title of an aborted earlier project inspired by The China Syndrome, to Louise Marleau becoming the female lead instead of Starcrash’s Caroline Munro, to the monster at the end being an animatronic model which hardly moved instead of being done with stop motion, to the insertion of James Bond-style elements. Shot in Rome, New York, Florida and Columbia, the film made its money back but wasn’t really a hit. The US cinema version entitled Alien Contamination was cut by 11 minutes, removing a romantic subplot and tightening the pace around the middle, plus cutting a couple of gory shots. In the UK it missed cinemas and went straight onto video in two versions, one uncut and the other missing nearly three minutes, removing virtually all the gore, though neither version was seen by the BBFC. The film was banned as a Video Nasty in 1983, but two years later it was finally given an official UK release, though in the same mutilated version up until 2004 for its uncut DVD release.
The opening set piece of the men exploring the ship is nicely drawn out for maximum suspense, along with a rather good jump scare of a dead man falling through a door and some pretty gruesome images of dead crew members in pieces. Now as I write, this doesn’t make sense already, because whenever we see people infected by the egg their stomachs explode but the rest of their bodies are intact. Maybe they planned more extensive gory scenes but for some reason didn’t shoot them? Anyway, things do turn rather funny as one of the crew members takes literally forever to pick up an egg, the attempt to stretch out the tension here just backfiring, before a load of human chests explode. The effect is certainly startling and even quite convincing even if you can actually tell whenever it’s going to happen to someone because he suddenly seems to have gained a few pounds as a bag of fake guts is obviously just under his top waiting to be exploded! Why the DPP found all this is offensive is anybody’s guess – it’s not actual violence we are witnessing for a start – but then those were strange times, at one point Apocalypse Now being removed from shelves because people thought it was the somewhat different film Cannibal Apocalypse! Something which did startle me was the sight of an exploding mouse, and there’s a bit of human devouring near the end, but overall Contamination is pretty innocuous, and around a third of the way though the exploding stomachs stop anyway until right at the end.
The film soon becomes more of a thriller with a sci-fi edge as our two heroes – Cmdr. Ian Hubbard and Lt. Tony Aris – and our one heroine – Col. Stella Holmes [and even if you ignore the name it’s quite obvious the character was written for Caroline Munro] – set out to find out what is going on and end up in Columbia, and it must be said that the pace seriously dissipates around half way through, though Cozzi does give us one really good suspense scene that really shows that he knows that he’s doing and has some skill [not things I would have necessarily thought after watching Starcrash]. The two men are waiting for Stella to go out and have some dinner but she’s been locked in her room with one of the eggs. The tension becomes really strong and it’s even slightly scary what with the strange sound, like two musical notes on some weird synthesiser repeated over and over again, the egg makes, even if the egg should have probably shot its load way before Ian and Tony eventually burst in. After this things do get increasingly daft though the film does eventually bring on a genuine monster and the ‘Cyclops’ actually looks rather good. He may barely move, and we don’t even get a full view of his whole body, but the design is quite inventive and certainly made me long for the days when every monster wasn’t done with computer graphics and designers and special effects often had to just throw something together and make it work!
So technically Contamination really is quite good while some of its humour seems to be intentional, such as Tony being shut in a room for fear of contamination and complaining about this and that to the point where you eventually just see his mouth moving but hear no words, though Cozzi’s ‘talent’ for awful dialogue is still present. “You’ve always made me feel like a caveman “ says Ian to Stella in one would-be romantic interlude. The screenplay is full of gaping holes. Stella seems to be very slow on the uptake, as she was a major player in the investigation which declared Ian insane when he returned from Mars babbling about football-sized green eggs, Yet when she is called in to deal with the NYPD’s discovery of deadly football-sized green eggs, she doesn’t make the connection until her science team connects the dots for her. And don’t get me started on the sheer absurdity of the alien plan to conquer Earth. How are the eggs exactly supposed to wipe out humanity when all they do is kill people within their splash radius? Characterisation is equally weak – Ian’s alcoholism is entirely forgotten about after the first time we see the character, despite the heroine amusingly insulting his manhood in their first scene together! On the evidence of the two films of his I’ve now seen, Cozzi just wasn’t a very good scriptwriter, nor did he have much visual flair, but he could certainly churn out a fun movie that just sets out to entertain, and succeeds in that objective. The biggest disappointment for me from Contamination is that it just doesn’t really try to be scary apart from the opening sequence and the bit in the hotel room.
Neither Ian McCulloch [fresh from Zombie Flesh Eaters] and Marino Mase are great actors but do have an easy charm and certainly work well together. One of the fun things to do when watching films like this is to spot all the performers who were in other Italian exploitation movies of the time. I recognised familiar Fulci alumni Carlo De Mejo and Martin Sorrentino [if you don’t recognise the names you’ll recognise the faces!]- the latter’s mannerisms as his character is about to have his stomach explode being most amusing along with the beat driven Goblin score, which plays a major part in the film throughout. Sometimes cheesy in the best way, sometimes quite inventive with its use of odd electronic sounds, always entertaining to hear with its melding of prog rock, jazz funk and disco, and recorded nice and loud on the film’s sound mix, it’s a score by this cult band which I hadn’t heard before in any form but am now going to obtain as soon as I can! Contamination is messy and unfocused, but there’s a lot to enjoy in it. I’m still not convinced that Cozzi was much of a filmmaker overall, but his enthusiasm just about gets him by.
Aside from the opening scene which seemed to be full of pops and scratches, Contamination looks great with yet another meticulous Arrow restoration from the original negative. The restoration has kept the slightly tacky 80’s look and as usual the disc comes with a fine selection of special features. One featurette is carried over from the Region 1 Blue Underground DVD release, and, while the Blu-ray is missing the second featurette from the previous release of Cozzi talking about the film, this more than compensated for, especially by the commentary which is a joy to hear – it’s great to hear fans of oft-maligned films sing their praises!
* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
* Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
* Feature Commentary by filmmaker, Fangoria editor and Contamination super-fan Chris Alexander
* Luigi Cozzi on the Creation of Contamination – an archive documentary hosted by the director and including behind-the-scenes footage
* 2014 Q&A with Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch
* Sound of the Cyclops: Goblin’s Maurizio Guarini on the music of Contamination – the Goblin keyboardist discusses Contamination’s dark, progressive rock score and a lifetime of making music for Italian terror
* Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery – A critical analysis of the Italian “Mockbusters” trend of filmmaking which sought to capitalize on the success of Hollywood blockbusters
* Theatrical Trailer
* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
* Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris Alexander, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
Check out Matt Wavish’s review of Contamination here: https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2012/03/contamination-aka-contaminazione-1980/