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In 1979, Ridley Scott's groundbreaking film Alien was released and was successful in both the sci-fi and horror markets because of its terrific script, tight direction, believable actors, and excellent set design. Unfortunately, when a film is very successful, many try to cash-in on it with versions of their own. One of the first and goofiest of the early 80s Alien rip-offs was Luigi Cozzi's Contamination, also known as Alien Contamination, made in 1980.
The plot, ridiculous as it may be, begins with a strange ship called ‘The Caribbean Lady' coasting into a New York harbor. The vessel is boarded by an inspection team that not only finds it littered with the dead bodies of the crew, but also full of strange green eggs. One of these eggs, nurtured by the heat of a hot water pipe, has ripened and when one of the inspectors picks it up it explodes. The goo that blows out of is covers all of the crew save for one member, New York Police Department Lieutenant Tony Aris (Marino Mase), in green slime that causes them to explode from the inside out after only a few short minutes. And we're off!
From there we cut to a poorly recreated military security compound where Aris is under quarantine and being questioned by Colonal Stella Holmes (played by French Canadian actress Louise Marleau, doing her best Sigourney Weaver impersonation). Holmes and her team figure out that the toxin contained inside the eggs is very lethal and that someone in New York had ordered this shipment sent to them. They're unsure why anyone would do this, but they go under the assumption that it was probably for some diabolical purpose. When this in mind, Holmes decides that it's time to enlist the aid of an old drunk space pioneer, Commander Ian Hubbard (Zombie's Ian McCulloch). When he and his partner, Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch) returned from an expedition to Mars, Hubbard complained of these strange eggs and their evil abilities. At the time, everyone (including Holmes) thought that he was mad and because of that, he was discharged from the forces. Now they need his help.
Together, our three heroes head to South America and trace the origins of the ship and its cargo. Before it's all over, they'll have to save New York from exploding green eggs, a crazed cult, and one of the most ridiculous looking space monsters ever created for a movie.
Contamination features endless shots of people getting into cars, packing their suitcases and extreme close-ups of talking heads in between some less than convincing special effects that are mainly comprised of people's chests exploding and spewing Safeway butcher shop garbage at the camera. It's kind of awesome, but it's also kind of terrible and rarely is it ever convincing. The effects are fantastic in their own goofy way, there's something to be said for a movie that hinges pretty much everything on glowing green eggs that look like pimply melons, but it's tough to take any of this the least bit seriously. The infamous cyclops alien that shows up at the end is kind of great, but again, not necessarily because it's convincing or scary but more likely because it's just so flat out weird and silly that it's kind of endearing.
And then there's the writing. Written by Luigi Cozzi (using his Lewis Coates pseudonym in an attempt to convince American audiences that this wasn't an Italian import) the film is full of cheesy, poorly written dialogue, a prime example being when Holmes tells Hubbard "'you couldn't even get it up with a crane!" in reference to, well, you can figure that one out. The film tries to get some witty one liners and snappy dialogue going but it isn't really all that convincing or involving. Again though, it adds to the movie's goofiness so in that regard it does compliment the effects work.
As far as the acting goes, even the usually reliable Ian McCulloch can't really turn this thing around. He seems to more or less walk through his role, without the usual dynamic screen presence that he had shown in the past in other Italian schlockers. It's fun to see him and he plays the grouchy drunk guy well enough, but it's not his most memorable work, not by a long shot. Louise Marleau is actually more fun here than McCulloch is. She's at least got some enthusiasm and she seems to enjoy playing the tough gal part quite a bit. Marino Mase is okay as the cop drawn into something much bigger than he ever anticipated and Siegfried Rauch is fun as Hubbard's old partner, or at least, what's left of him.
Over the last few years, Contamination has gained a pretty sizeable cult following. There are some legitimate reasons for this, not the least of which is the excellent score by Goblin, a series of compositions that go a long way towards convincing us that the movie is way more exciting than it actually is. To be blunt, Contamination is quite simply a knock off of Fulci's Zombie and Scott's Alien without any of the competent direction or expert storytelling that those two films had. It's fun though. It throws logic out the window to be sure and cares not for production values or common sense but in place of those more conventional attributes it offers up lots of exploding chest cavities, glowing green egg things, hilariously bad dialogue and a ‘final level' monster you won't seeon forget.The Blu-ray:
Contamination arrives on Blu-ray in 1.85.1 widescreen in a really nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer from Arrow. Blue Underground released this one on DVD years ago and that disc looked great for its time but this freshly minted Blu-ray definitely gives fans a big step up in terms of video quality. There are a few white specks here and there but aside from that, no real print damage, at least nothing problematic. Grain is light for most of the running time but it's there and while there are some scenes that look softer than others, that looks like it has got more to do with the way that the movie was shot rather than the transfer itself. Detail is, some of those softer shots notwithstanding, typically very strong here and the colors look fantastic. Skin tones are pretty nice and black levels are good. The disc is well encoded and there aren't any issues with compression artifacts nor are there any signs of noise reduction or edge enhancement.Sound:
LPCM Mono tracks are provided in English and Italian with optional subtitles provided in English. Clarity is quite good here, that aforementioned Goblin score really pulsing in that strange way that Goblin scores can when it kicks in. Levels are nicely balanced throughout and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion. The weird throbbing noise that the eggs make resonates nicely here too while the dialogue stays clean, crisp and clear.Extras:
Extras, which are substantial on this release, start off with an audio commentary from Fangoria's Chris Alexander. While he didn't have anything to do with the making of the feature, he's obviously a pretty big fan of the film and he has no qualms whatsoever about sharing his love of the picture with anyone willing to listen. It's not a track that will blow you away with loads of historical information as it's primarily presented from his point of view as a fan, but he elaborates on the film's history when and where he can and he offers up some interesting stories about getting to know Cozzi and McCulloch that are of interest.
From there, we move on to the featurettes starting with the twenty-three minute Luigi Cozzi On The Creation Of Contamination archival documentary that was originally seen on the Blue Underground release. This fullframe piece, shot on film, lets Cozzi discuss writing the film before showing off a load of behind the scenes footage. As all of this plays out he talks about what influenced him while making this movie and he shares his thoughts on the cast and some of the effects work. Cozzi and McCulloch are also on hand for a forty-one minute Q&A session conducted at a horror film festival in the UK a little while back in 2014. Ewan Cant of Arrow films hosts the talk that covers most of what you'd expect: the effects, the cast, the locations, influences… all the basics are covered here and this actually makes for a decent substitute to an actual commentary from the director and star. Gobin's Maurizio Guarini spends eleven minutes in front of the camera for The Sound Of The Cyclops, a featurette that lets him talk about what was involved with creating the score for this film (one of the band's best outside of their classic Argento collaborations) and what it was like working alongside his sometimes temperamental bandmates during this era in their history. Luigi Cozzi Versus Lewis Coates gets the writer/director himself to sit down for a really interesting forty-three minute discussion of not only his work on this film but his work in the Italian horror film industry in general. Cozzi is a very amiable guy and a good storyteller and he's really seen it all by this point. He's happy to share some fun memories of his work ranging from his early days as a film journalist all the way through to his directorial effects. This is definitely the best and most interesting supplement on the disc as it's as interesting as it is entertaining. The last featurette is the seventeen minute Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery, which gets genre scribes Maitland McDonagh and Christ Poggiali for a chat about the strange habit Italian filmmakers had of blatantly ripping off successful Hollywood films, resulting in B-grade rehashings of movies like Jaws , The Road Warrior, Dawn Of The Dead and Alien.
Outside of that we get a theatrical trailer for the feature, a black and white comic book adaptation of the original screen play (presented as a slideshow), animated menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Thankfully Luigi Cozzi's Contamination is as entertaining and fun as it is ridiculous and nonsensical. It's tough to recommend this one to serious cineastes but those with a taste for Italian B-movies and goof knock-offs will definitely get a kick out of this one and Arrow's Blu-ray not only looks and sounds very good, but it's stacked with extras as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.