Contamination (1980) Blu-Ray Review

contam1Contamination (ITA/US, 1980)

Dir. Luigi Cozzi

Starring. Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau

Out on Dual Format DVD/Blu-Ray now from Arrow Video

Plot.
When an unmanned freighter drifts into the New York harbour carrying hundreds of crates filled with mysterious alien eggs and a dead crew, the attending police officer and a hardened Army Colonel enlist the help of a disgraced former astronaut to find the source of the cargo. Their investigation leads them to a tropical coffee plantation and a confrontation with a familiar enemy whose motivation is stranger and more deadly than they could’ve imagined.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to presume that if you asked the average film fan what their memory of Ridley Scott’s SciFi/Horror masterpiece ALIEN was, chances are they will probably be refer to any one of alien eggs, exploding chests or slimy ‘one eyed’ creatures.

On this basis, you can’t accuse Luigi Cozzi’s Sci-Fi caper CONTAMINATION of being poorly researched, given that it was produced with the sole purpose of capitalising on its predecessors’ record-breaking box office return.

It would be hard to imagine something like this being made today without tongue firmly planted in cheek. But back in the late 70s/early 80s the Italian commercial film industry turned a profit on these knock offs of Hollywood blockbusters. Nothing was sacred- Cozzi’s “STAR WARS” rip-off STARCRASH, released in 1979 has to be seen to be believed. CONTAMINATION plays like a greatest hits package of genre film tropes.

contam2Producer Claudio Mancini (a noted collaborator of Sergio Leone, with an ethos that prioritised capital gains over any pretensions of artistry) compiled a shopping list of elements, from espionage & romance to an abundance of ‘midnight movie’ friendly gore, designed specifically to milk the film for every cent, from a minimum production cost.

The plot is more or less a straight up spy thriller, complete with the dubious gender politics you’d expect from a BOND film. Cozzi admirably manages to maintain a glimmer of intrigue throughout and truth be told it’s set pieces are well constructed, given the clear budgetary restraints and a script peppered with clichés and eye wateringly unsubtle exposition. It’s worth mentioning Luciano & Massimo Anzelotti’s brilliant foley work, specifically the eerie, low moan of the eggs. And unbelievably, CONTAMINATION was cut by Italian cinema’s greatest editor Nino Baragli (regular collaborator with Corbucci,Pasolini & Leone), whose understated, rhythmic nous provides an essential, solid foundation.

There are a few sequences of note, namely the night time exploration of the abandoned ship (riffing on ALIEN/NOSFERATU) and the final confrontation with the otherworldly mastermind responsible for all the gory mayhem. Both are atmospherically lit, with suitably timed shocks, ably assisted by a pounding synth score from regular Argento collaborators Goblin. The performances are suitably OTT, with a famously hysterical turn from British TV legend Ian McCulloch (Survivors, Zombie Flesh Eaters).

contam4The film’s signature gonzo visual effects (assumedly created on a three figure budget) range from the gloriously evocative to the ridiculous, with another ALIEN-esque sequence featuring a stunning matte painting of a cavernous interior, only to be followed by a scale miniature ‘birthing chamber’ using what seem to be frozen peas as substitute eggs.

While there are moments during CONTAMINATION that are so daft, they will have you reassessing PIRANHA 2’s Oscar credentials, there is enough entertainment value to make it an interesting artefact of pre-VHS/Video Nasty excess, an era long passed.

THE EXTRAS.

This is what Arrow Video do better than anyone else in the home video market, with hours of illuminating special features.

Highlights include an insightful, entertaining commentary by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, and interviews with director, star and composer.

contam3The jewel in this crown has to be a fantastic documentary charting the rise of Commercial Italian genre cinema and its relationship with the Hollywood blockbuster.

A lovingly crafted package, essential for cult horror fans.

Film – 6/10

Extras- 9/10