Saturday, October 27, 2012

Italian Horror Blogathon: Contamination (aka Alien Contamination, Contamination: Alien on Earth, Toxic Spawn)

One of the more entertaining and endearing aspects of Italian genre cinema is its proclivity for piggy-backing off of the successes of better films. They would do this by either doing a straight copy of the film or by using their titles to suggest that their film is a sequel to the more successful American film. Whether it was Fulci claiming his Zombi 2 was a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead; Great White being nothing more than a Jaws rip-off; Beyond the Door as the Italian version of The Exorcist. And lest you think the Italians only ripped-off American horror films, let’s not forget 1980’s Patrick Still Lives – the unauthorized sequel to the Australian film Patrick. One of the most notable amongst these copies/unauthorized sequels was Luigi Cozzi’s 1979 Star Wars rip-off, Starcrash. This quickie cash-in came just a year after Lucas’ film and did pretty well at the Italian box-office; it’s also considered one of the best so-bad-it’s-good cult movies alongside films like Troll 2 and The Room. Just one year after Starcrash, Cozzi turned his attention towards another wildly popular Science-Fiction film: Ridley Scott’s Alien. Hoping to repeat the success of one shameless rip-off, Cozzi was at it again with Contamination. Now, depending on your mileage for these types of movie experiences (specifically Italian genre movie experiences like those of Nightmare City and Hell of the Living Dead), you will either find much to abhor about Contamination or much to love. I, as I’m sure you’ve guess by now, am of the latter mindset.

The film begins with a large ship that sails into the New York harbor; the ship draws interest because it seems that it’s abandoned. A crew is sent inside to investigate the ship and happen upon a slaughtered crew. As they investigate further, they notice large shipping crates of coffee filled with football-shaped green eggs. The crew that’s investigating the ship soon begins to put two and two together and notices that something is afoot. They begin to piece together the cause of the crew’s death: the eggs, when heated up, explode, causing green slime (not acid…because this isn’t Alien, remember) to spray out and infect those that are near it. Just so we’re absolutely sure that what we’re watching is a hack attempting to make his version of Alien, not only do the eggs that look like they’re from Alien spray a goo like the acid that sprays out of the creature in Alien, but when covered in said good, your stomach explodes…like in Alien.

I will say this for Cozzi: the first stomach explosion is something else, man. He slows the footage down a bit and drowns out all the other noise so that when the stomach finally does explode – even though it’s shrouded in darkness – it’s a pretty effective moment despite the clunky looking suits the actors have to wear to conceal the exploding mechanism under their outfits. Nevertheless, it’s one of the reasons the film ended up on the “Video Nasty” list. Everything about this opening suggests that Cozzi is going to overuse this shot, but to his credit (hey, that’s two things I’m giving Cozzi credit for!) he abstains from relying on it too much (I think it only pops up a couple times after that and then once at the end).

Oh, but how I wish Contamination would have just been people’s stomachs bursting. Again, when approached in the right mindset, what follows the opening can be enjoyed for its pure cheesy goodness. Cozzi’s story (credited under his penname Lewis Coates) is just plain horrendous. Without a proper budget to set the film in space, Cozzi decides to just set the film in New York (the opening has a certain Zombi 2 feel to it) and because of this we get one of my favorite characters in all of bad Italian genre pictures: Lieutenant Tony Aris, NYPD (Marino Mase, a staple of the Italian genre film). Mase’s performance as Aris is hilarious, yes, but I’m not entirely certain it’s his fault alone. Cozzi’s script is awful, and he gives Mase lines like, “What you have to understand is that I’m no hero; just your average Brooklyn cop.” He also likes to refer to Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau), the person leading the investigation surrounding the mysterious eggs, as a “broad.” Being Italy, she just accepts it…even though she’s a freaking Colonel. So, the investigation turns its attention towards a top secret mission to mars that Holmes begins to see as the crucial link to those mysterious green eggs and how they got to earth.

Like any good genre film, there has to be a haggard, beleaguered ex-something-or-other and Contamination is no different. Ian McCulloch (who also starred in Zombi 2 and Zombie Holocaust,  and more than likely had to just walk from set to set since all three were filmed around the same time on the same sets) stars as Commander Ian Hubbard, and oh man is he something to behold. Hubbard and his partner Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch) see something on Mars that drives Hubbard insane and Hamilton doesn’t even return. This traumatic experience has caused Hubbard to have a breakdown and resort to being nothing more than a drunk. When Holmes stops by Hubbard’s apartment, she gives him the hard sell on why he should help her out. Soon they both figure out that the coffee crates that had the green eggs in them came from Colombia, so the two along with Aris head down to Colombia only to find that Hamilton is very much alive and under the influence of a giant Cyclops alien that is using him to distribute the eggs all over the earth.

The movie has a few things going for it: the music by Goblin is nice (and one of their more popular scores), the exploding stomachs – although impressive in their gore – are hilariously cheesy as the actors are in such obvious oversized suits (they look about 100 pounds heavier than they do in the shots prior to their stomachs exploding) that are hiding the machine that is spraying all of the blood and gore, the awful banter and stilted exposition is the kind of bad movie dialogue that actually keeps the momentum of the movie going because it’s so entertaining in its awfulness. The narrative is held together by these cheesy elements and moves at a pretty decent clip. I know I’ve already said this, but it really does remind me of the joy I get when I watch Nightmare City.

The real joy that comes from watching these movies, though, is when you can get together with a group of friends, grab some pizza and beer, and just have a fun time watching all of the cheesy goodness. There are some monumentally awful moments (Marleau’s reaction to an egg being in her hotel shower comes to mind, the subsequent non-payoff to the egg being in the shower, the reveal of the giant Cyclops) that just bring a smile to my face when I think about them. So, I thought it would be fun to consider the rest of the space for this entry as one giant media room that we’re all gathered in. Let us enjoy Contamination in all of its glory:

  • Here is the opening and the horribly disguised gut-blowing mechanism under their costumes.
  • Remember when I mentioned Mase’s acting? Here is one of his finest moments.
  • Some fine acting here by McCulloch; I really wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he actually was drunk when he did that scene.
  • It wouldn’t be the‘80s, and it wouldn’t be Italian horror movie unless a man was slapping a woman (a Colonel in the military, no less!) and then spouting a line like, “that’s just so we understand one another.”
  • In my favorite exchange of the movie, Holmes reminds Aris (who saw the stomachs of friends explode because of the eggs) and Hubbard (who was on the mission to Mars and was in the cave where his friend supposedly disappeared) to be careful because they're dealing with something "from beyond our planet." Yes, I think they know this by now. 
  • And finally, how about this romantic exchange? Feel the sexual chemistry!

Okay, thanks for coming over, guys. See you tomorrow.


  1. Nice review, Kevin. I might just need to check this out, if I don't lose my mind in the process.

    It almost seems to be a "chicken or the egg" thing, with regard to who's ripping off whom. It could be argued that the idea for Alien originated with Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires (which Ridley Scott and Dan O'Bannon denied), so who's to say that the goop in Contamination didn't influence Ridley Scott on some level for the goop in Prometheus?

    1. Yeah. Alien definitely gets something from Bava's film despite what its creators say. I haven't seen Prometheus yet, so I can't comment on that. Unless you're being sarcastic...

  2. I love this movie. So many of the Italian gorefests from the late 70s/early 80s can seem rather mean-spirited to the uninitiated, but in this one, the gore is all in good fun. You can show it to friends who don't normally watch this sort of thing without worrying they'll think you're a sociopath. I think the main reason for that is that Luigi Cozzi has always seemed like a fan first and a filmmaker second. In spite of his shortcomings as a director, his sheer exuberance comes through in the finished product. Plus, anything with Ian McCulloch is worth watching.

    Good point, Barry.

    1. I agree with you, Michael. I remember showing Burial Ground to a friend of mine who appreciated bad movies, but he didn't really have any use for bad horror movies. He enjoyed some of the aspects of that horrible movie, but I think Contamination is much more palatable. I agree with you about Cozzi's exuberance. This film moves at a decent clip even with all of the cheesy dialogue and exposition. And, yes, McCulloch is in full ham goodness here.

  3. Between watching this and ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH, I've had that Goblin tune rattling in my head non-stop for days!

    I'll agree with Micheal above that this is a good one to show to people as a intro to this style of Italian film -- the zombie and cannibal films are usually a bit harsh and this one just had a more laid back feel to it. Even the misogyny of the film is more fun than it otherwise should be!

    That being said, I'm still all broken up inside from Tony getting vaccumed up by the cyclops's protuberance. I'll miss you Tony.

    1. Poor Tony. I should have dedicated more words to his demise. The cyclops at the end looks like an abortive attempt to try something massive, but the budget just wasn't there for Cozzi. And yes, that Goblin score is awesome.