Monday, August 11, 2008

Contamination (1980)

Contamination (aka Alien Contamination aka Toxic Spawn) is a ridiculous wholesale rip-off of Ridley Scott's Alien that oddly chooses to emulate that film's chestburster scene again and again rather than copy any of the tension or character development that made the original film so successful. In fact, while director Luigi Cozzi rails against budget limitations on the special features, the film's biggest flaw is its lame script (by Cozzi himself) which handicaps any sort of momentum the film might pick up from its gory special effects.

A seemingly empty vessel floats into New York Harbor, and an investigation finds the captain and crew mutilated and a cargo full of strange green eggs. An unfortunate fellow decides to pick one up, and soon the contents of his stomach have sprayed all over the screen. The surviving New York cop (Marino Masé) is quarantined, and soon joins with Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) in investigating who was responsible for sending the ship to New York (aka Italy). Things take a turn for the bizarre as Stella remembers that a disgraced astronaut (Ian McCulloch from Lucio Fulci's Zombie) spoke of green eggs after returning from a trip to Mars, and decides to pay him a visit. Soon the whole crew is off to South America to check out a coffee company that just might be a front for an alien invasion. The climax treats us to the best awful looking alien this side of an Outer Limits episode.

Let's start with the positive. We get a really fun score from Goblin, though it's more Dawn Of The Dead than Suspiria, which elevates a few slow scenes. The gore is messy and plentiful, but always goofy enough to remain enjoyable. And I thought some of the performances were actually pretty decent, particularly McCulloch who is probably a bit too good to be in this film. Or Zombie. Or Dr. Butcher MD.

Cozzi is a capable schlock director, and helmed the campy Star Wars rip-off Starcrash (starring David Hasselhoff!) before this film, but his flat film-making style brings the pacing to a crawl between scenes of entrails being spewed forth. Admittedly he's not helped by the dubbing of the international cast, a necessary evil of a lot of Italian exploitation, that sometimes makes the whole mess resemble a bad kung-fu movie. However, the initial scene where the police are investigating the boat actually manages to raise some tension and is really the closest the film ever gets to being a successful horror film. It's just too bad that's in the first ten minutes.

After the first half hour the film starts to get ponderous, with many extraneous driving scenes obviously padding out the film's running time. Cozzi complains about the producers making some unreasonable demands in the extras, in particular wanting the climax to resemble a James Bond picture, and these influences start to reflect in the uneven tone in the film's second half. The whole thing ends with a thud, as the bad guy's viscera gets blown out in comical slow motion and the eggs are all destroyed. Or ARE they? Dun dun DUN!

Whatever complaints I have about the film, it's tough to criticize the great job Blue Underground has done with the DVD. Shown in its original 1.85:1 ratio, the image quality is inconsistent but is by far the best the film has ever looked on a home format. The audio is presented in English only with DTS 6.1 ES, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, and Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono options available. I watched this on a dinky little screen, so I can't tell you the difference between any of those, but it certainly sounds impressive.

We're also treated to a nice array of special features, the best being the 18 Minute Alien Arrives On Earth, which is a nice modern (subtitled) interview with Luigi Cozzi about the making of the film. His love for the sci-fi genre is obvious, though the homages he references are a tad spurious. He also calls Louise Marleau ugly, and doesn't seem to understand why the film received an R rating, despite the fact that its main selling point is exploding guts.

We also get a 23 minute making of featurette created at the time of the film's release. The image quality is quite low, and it seems to have been made from the perspective that film-goers have no idea how films are made, but it's a nice treat. We're also treated to a poster/still gallery, some conceptual photos, and the film's trailer.

Finally, we're treated to some DVD-Rom content in the form of a comic book adaptation of the entire film. It's absolutely terrible, and since it's based on the original script it features some freaky moments (and nudity), but is worth reading if only for the fact that such an oddity even exists.

I first saw Contamination as a teenager, having rented it from the local video store to watch with my cousin. At the time I enjoyed it as a splatter fest, and for a particular scene where a mouse is injected with the contents of one of the eggs and proceeds to explode all over the inside of a glass cage. Age (and possible wisdom) have muted my enthusiasm for what is really a derivative, flat piece of exploitation not really worthy of the treatment given here. Stick with Alien, or the many, many better rip-offs that are out there.


J.T. said...

Man, I love movies where the budget is so cheap that the director decides to save money by skimping on the props.

That picture of Andrew Stevens using a fucking Thompson Submachine Gun in a zombie / sci-fi film not set in the 1950's is awesome.

Doug Tilley said...

What's strange is that the film is actually supposed to take place in the (not too distant) future, which makes the cheap looking props particularly flagrant.