Review for Contamination
Italian cinema, being somewhat under-funded, has never balked at paying homage (aka ripping off) successful Hollywood films. ‘Contamination’ has clearly been ‘inspired’ by Ridley-Scott’s ‘Alien’ but, being Italian, and having to work around budget issues, the resultant film is an absolute one off, despite its many nods to ‘Alien’. In fact, to drive the similarities home, it was renamed ‘Alien Contamination’ for its US release.
‘Contamination’ is actually a strange and slightly misleading title as it suggests that the film might be about some deadly virus. It’s not. The film starts with the investigation of a ‘ghost ship’ entering New York Harbour. On investigation, it seems that the crew have been wiped out; they are festooned throughout the ship with their insides blown out, almost as if they have exploded. On further investigation, it transpires that some of their cargo (supposedly coffee beans) actually comprises of giant pulsing ‘eggs’ (actually more like big avocadoes). When one explodes in the lab, anyone touched by its gooey contents also ‘explodes’ with blood and guts everywhere. (This could account for it being branded a video-nasty and banned for a period in the UK though I must say that it’s hardly shocking by any standards today).
Stella Homes (Louise Marleau), a very senior Secret Service agent, takes control and soon questions a laid-back Bronx based police inspector, Tony Aris (Marino Masé), who was unlucky enough to have been part of the crew to explore the ship but who had managed to escape from being covered in goo. Her cold and officious manner is in stark contrast to his warm, laid back demeanour and it’s not long before the two develop a rapport. He’s clearly smitten with her but its unclear whether she has feelings for him.
Digging deeper into the origin of the eggs, it turns out that the shipping company has thousands of them and when the two investigate they are shot at by gun wielding thugs who will do anything to keep the police away.
It transpires that the eggs are exactly the same as those described by a discredited astronaut (Ian Hubbard, played by Ian McCullogh) on his return from a trip to Mars. His co-pilot denied all knowledge of having seen them and the world fell in with his view. As a result, Hubbard hit the bottle and remained out of sorts ever since. But Stella decides to re-make contact as she now believes that it was he who was telling the truth. He joins Tony and Stella on a mission to Colombia to the very source of the pods. What they find there shows that the world is in grave danger and only they can save it. Cue lots of gun fights, more goo and plenty of splattering blood. (Actually, you might want to add ‘turgid dialogue’ to that list of ingredients too).
Music is ably provided by Goblin, perhaps best known for their ‘Suspiria’ score among many others. It’s all synth-based and terribly eighties, adding to the period charm of the film.
Of the three principle actors, McCullough is the hammiest and Marleau the most wooden. Holding it all together is Masé who provides most the humour and light relief.
As reinforced by Fangoria editor, Chris Alexander, in his audio commentary, ‘Contamination’ is by no means a great film or even a very good one. But it is a hell of a lot of fun with an Italian eighties vibe that fans of stuff like ‘A Beast in Space’ and the TV series ‘Star Maidens’ will love.
The film is not without technical merit, despite its low-budget feel with some excellent moving camerawork and some of the effects are impressive. If you manage to stick around till the end of the film a treat is in store. Despite director Cozzi’s protestations that the alien monster in the final reel was foisted on him by a producer and hardly moved, the so-called ‘Cyclops’ alien looked pretty good to me and the devouring of humans through a tube-like mouth piece was genuinely horrific.
The film has had a 2K make-over from original negatives and looks pretty good throughout with good detail for the most part. Audio is fine (you can choose Italian or English Mono 1.0) though whichever way you go, much of the dialogue will be clumsily dubbed.
As usual with Arrow releases, the extra features are worth the price of admission alone and the line-up on ‘Contamination’ is no exception.
Notes on Science-Fiction Cinema, is a twenty minute archive documentary featuring behind-the-scenes footage, and a featurette with director Luigi Cozzi on the birth of Contamination, as well as a brand new interview with the director in which he discusses his filmmaking career from past to present. He’s clearly a real sci-fi enthusiast and his study is packed with books, magazines, and posters. He’s so enthusiastic about the project that you can’t help but get caught up in it. What’s particularly endearing is the way he says he got this idea from that book, and that idea from this story and so on. Lots of fun to watch.
Alongside this, the new release will include the new featurette, Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: A Critical Analysis of the Italian Cash-In which looks at the Italian genre movies that sought to cash-in on popular Hollywood blockbusters.
There’s a lengthy (40+ minutes) Q&A with Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch which looks like it probably took place after a screening of the film. It’s a shame that the small theatre/cinema looks half empty. Cozzi is on fine form but McCullough’s cynicism about the film and the industry in general slips out more than once in an attempt to get a few laughs.
Sound of the Cyclops is an 11 minute featurette with bald but bearded Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini who reflects back, not just on the soundtrack to 'Contamination', but to his whole career in Goblin and their association with classic Italian soundtracks like ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Suspiria’ among many others.
In addition, the Blu-ray comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin and a fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander.
Also included is a contemporary ‘stream of consciousness’ from Cozzi, talking directly to camera with various moving backgrounds keyed in behind him. He manages to talk about his career for about 45 minutes without pausing for breath, telling his tale from its earliest days when he published a sci-fi fanzine, moved up to becoming an unpaid foreign correspondent for ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’ and the break that this gave him into the world of cinema, particularly through meetings with Mario Bava and Dario Argento.
Also included is a 17 minute, slightly academic but very engaging piece (Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: A Critical Analysis of the Italian Cash-In) about Italian film’s cashing in on Hollywood hits.
There is just a single audio commentary (with Fangoria editor Chris Alexander) which is unapologetically a ‘fan’s view’. It’s actually quite informative and you can tell that, whilst intellectually Alexander can see ‘Contamination’ is not a great movie, that he thoroughly enjoys watching it nonetheless.
The disc ships with a fully reversible cover (I love those – swapping them makes it look like a brand new disc) as well as a fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris Alexander.
Not the greatest film in the world but one worthy of a look and Arrow couldn’t have pulled out more stops to make this edition any better.