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An Exercise in Poor Taste - Contamination

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Rather than bitch about not being able to write more columns because of my schedule, I’m going to preface today’s column with a quote from myself, from my very first column for the site (wow! How I’ve evolved this thing!): “Now if only there was a forthcoming release of Alice in Acidland, Teenage Mother, or Olga’s House of Shame...” That was almost a year ago (May 6, 2002 to be exact). Guess what new release arrived in the mail today? It’s coming…


Now here’s the regular apology and bitching… not for how long it took me to write this column (though I’ve had the DVD out from Netflix for a month), but rather since my Cyberlink PowerDVD inexplicably stopped taking screen-caps (well, from what I can gather it’s still taking them, but isn’t saving them), there won’t be any blood-stained color images this time. Hopefully I can get that resolved in time for Olga.


I’d also like to welcome aboard Sir Lethargic, whom I worked with before when I wrote some columns for his site Website 9 from Outer Space. I didn’t realize until the site shut down how silly it was for me to not cross-promote, since I kept DVD reviews exclusive to this site, and scattered VHS’ I found at the back of the Hollywood Video exclusive to that site. So, now that it doesn’t matter anymore, I’d like to say sorry Leth, I could’ve, and probably should’ve put up some plugs and pulled in some additional visitors to the site. But it’s good to see you writing here, and to anyone else curious… check out Website 9 while it’s still up. My personal recommendation is a Nazisploitation retrospective column that impressed me so much that it’s what really got me started writing for that site. Ahh, memories…


Film (complete with minor plot spoilers!):

American horror films in the ‘70s were some of the most inspired and original films audiences had ever seen; they were so shocking and popular that many proudly keep “classic” status to this day. Italian horror films in the ‘70s and ‘80s, on the other hand, were “inspired” mostly by the profits from their popular American counterparts in the decade before. The Italians took the basic plot elements, upped the gore, and cut the budget, creating a menagerie of cult films that are now considered “anti-classics” of their own right. For every Jaws there was The Last Shark, for every Ilsa there were ten Women’s Camp 119’s, and for every Dawn of the Dead there were too many films to count (Lucio Fulci’s Zombie proved to be so popular it inspired an entire zombie boom of the ‘80s). Even Star Wars had its Star Crash, and from the director of that film, Luigi Cozzi, comes Contamination, a forgotten 1980 film that can be easily dismissed as “Alien on earth”.


Contamination is indeed, set on earth, and it does utilize the main elements of Alien - eggs and extraterrestrials violently bursting out of people, but that’s about where the similarities end. The film opens in New York, where customs has stopped a ship packed with mysterious eggs. Very little is known about said eggs, except for their contents cause people’s bodies to violently burst apart on contact. The ship was tracked to a coffee company in South America, and Colonel Stella Holmes is sent on a secret mission to investigate, accompanied by muscle-man Lt. Tony Aris (the sole survivor of the earlier ship incident) and Hubert, an ex-astronaut who has sketches looking mighty similar to the eggs from his mission to Mars. Much less credible to the scientific community are his claims that in the same cave where the eggs were discovered an alien light brainwashed Hamilton, his partner on the mission. A few weeks after dismissing Hubert’s claims, Hamilton died in a tragic accident. Or did he?


I said the film can be dismissed as “Alien on earth”, and although it’s amazingly easy to do so (hell, Cozzi wanted the original title to be Alien Arrives on Earth!), it’s also somewhat misleading. Although the “queen alien” monster, violent body-bursting and eggs are as blatant a rip-off can get, they’re not even the focus of the movie. Contamination is at its heart a mystery film with elements of sci-fi and spy films more than a sci-fi film with elements of mystery. Although there is initial focus on the gory after-effects of the meeting of man and egg, the rest of the film basically has the three Americans trying to get information out of the coffee company and sneaking about fields as co-conspirators murmur about their compatriots losing their lives when attempts to kill off the Americans fail. If one came in ten minutes into the film, aside from a few scenes with the egg, they’d be convinced they were at the wrong film until the very end. Rather than blatantly rip off the original film like most of the… uhh… blatant Italian rip-offs of the period, Cozzi is genuinely attempting to utilize some of the elements in an original story. Which is a shame because (I can’t believe I’m saying this) the film probably would have been much more successful and enjoyable as a gorier rip-off.


To put it simply, Contamination lacks any form of mystery. Both the characters and the audience are well aware that the eggs are connected with the coffee company from the beginning, and anyone with even a quarter of a brain also knows from the beginning that the eggs aren’t being sent out for humanitarian purposes. The only question left unanswered from the beginning (though it’s fairly easy to guess, particularly given Hubert’s story) is where the eggs came from and why the coffee company is helping distribute them. The other important thing Contamination lacks is suspense. All events transpire in either a totally straight-forward or unrealistically drawn-out fashion; the worst offender of this is a scene in which Colonel Holmes is taking a shower and is trapped in the bathroom with one of the alien eggs. This should be pulse-pounding (and is when shown in a truncated form in the trailer), but the pacing is unbearably slow (with the egg, for whatever reason, remaining inactive for several minutes whereas earlier in the film the gut-busting occurred in seconds), such that the audience anticipates her being saved not for concern for her (because after a minute suspension of disbelief has been totally obliterated; it’s obvious that she’s in no danger), but rather so the scene to end. Even the score from Italian prog-rock band Goblin does nothing; Goblin’s score was a great factor why Dario Argento’s Suspiria, another slow-paced film, has such lasting impact. Goblin’s work on Contamination, however, merely plods along, calling attention to itself every now and again but not really complementing or creating the mood.


The gore effects, on the other hand, are fantastic. Whereas low-budget gore, particularly that of the twenty-year old variety, has a tendency of looking silly, the exploding bodies, though an incredibly simple effect (Cozzi explains it in the “Alien Arrives on Earth” featurette included on the disc that it was essentially a modified air bladder filled with butcher’s guts), takes itself seriously and looks convincing enough to disgust the unaccustomed friend or family member, yet enjoyable enough that the more desensitized of us can still giggle at the gory glee. Most of the victims in the film are wearing light clothing, so the contrasting red after-effects stand out even more (and must have led to a hell of a laundry bill by the end!). The effect is used in large doses, but at the same time only appears sparingly throughout the film – satisfying the gore-hungry while keeping it from getting too campy.


Contamination, like any cult film, has its share of hardcore fans, and they’d be delighted to know that the film has finally made its way to DVD. For the average moviegoer, however, I’d recommend just renting it once to check out the gore.


Body Count (because every good movie has at least one death in it!):

Fourteen humans, one white rat (never fear animal lovers, despite Italian cinema’s horrible track record regarding animal cruelty, looking carefully one can see the rat still breathing after his “explosion”), one giant googly-eyed alien Cyclops


Wrestling Moves/References (because in the end, this IS a wrestling site):

none… not even anything I can fake.


ONE Redeeming Scene (Spoiler Warning!):

The first explosions still work the best. Though their placement is somewhat expected (unless of course, one hasn’t read the back of the box or seen the trailer), they still manage to retain a spontaneity. After investigating the ship in New York, and finding not a living soul (but several bodies that appear to have “exploded from inside”), a few gas-masked, white-suited men find a spilled box of the alien eggs, with one “ripe”-looking egg resting underneath a pipe and… KABLOOEY~!



Contamination makes its way to DVD in a beautifully remastered, 16x9 enhanced 1.85:1 widescreen. Blue Underground utilized the original vault negative, and the colors look vibrant without looking unnatural and retaining the “’80s feel”, contrasting with the equally strong blacks (of which there are several, particularly in the scenes taking place in the Pentagon and those with the Cyclops near the end, to hide the inconsistent low-budget effects). There are also a strangely high amount of audio options – a 6.1 DTS-ES, Dolby Digital Surround 5.1-EX, Dolby Surround 2.0, and original mono track. Although their website claims it was the Italian negative, I don’t believe this to be the case (perhaps it doesn’t exist?), since all these options are for the English dub only (not that it really matters, since it’s a good dub, but it’d be interesting to have had the original soundtrack for comparison regardless), and Cozzi is credited by the Americanized “Lewis Coates” instead of his real name (which he’s credited as on the German and Italian posters in the still gallery).


Special Features:

Blue Underground has given us two featurettes (in Italian with subtitles) with director Luigi Cozzi – “Alien Arrives on Earth” (newly recorded for the DVD) and “Luigi Cozzi on the Creation of Contamination” (recorded around the time of the film’s original release). “Alien Arrives on Earth” runs around 18 minutes, and is the more informative of the two: Cozzi talks about his love of sci-fi and aspects from specific b-movies which influenced his films and Contamination, how the explosion-effects were created, and what he’s up to now. He also speaks disdainfully about how the producer forced him to make the film “more James Bond” since straight science fiction films didn’t make a lot of money in Italy at the time. Despite its longer running time (23 minutes), “Luigi Cozzi…” has little additional information to show for it. Cozzi repeats much of the same information, however, since it was still close to the film’s release he doesn’t go into detail on the special effects, only telling us that it wasn’t real blood, nobody really blew up, and that the white-suits would become badly stained after only one take (to which I say… duh!). “Luigi Cozzi…” also suffers from poor image quality – unlike the film, this featurette wasn’t touched up at all in its transfer to digital state, and looks quite fuzzy. There are a few behind-the-scenes shots near the end of the interview, but given the stills gallery included on the disc, it’s only necessary to view “Alien Arrives on Earth”.


There are two still galleries: one featuring around 65 images of lobby cards, posters, and still photographs for the film, and the other features about 25 images of storyboards/conceptual art for the film. The storyboards mostly focus on the “Cyclops” monster, which comes off as much more menacing than in the final film (probably because, as Cozzi spoke of in his featurettes, the mechanisms in the monster didn’t work properly and the beast had to be moved by hand), although it’s also interesting to note that the climax originally took place in a typical basement room, as opposed to the eerie, noir-ish space-ship motif used during shooting. In addition to these two galleries, a graphic novel based on the film is included as a PDF file on the DVD-ROM. Though the novel takes a few liberties (mostly small changes to the story, however, it does completely remove the element of the egg in the shower scene, instead having Holmes hear a knock at the door, and, frightened, rushes out to answer it naked!) and is in black and white, it might be worth flipping through for a few pages, as it’s much more concise than the film.


Finally, there is the seeming requisite of all DVD releases, the original theatrical trailer. The trailer is well-paced, features the best of the score tracks, and has great “cyber-punkish” style inter-titles. It shows one or two of the gore scenes, but unlike many trailers, it doesn’t give away all the best kills (on subsequent viewing, however, there is a stray line of spoiler dialogue, but presented in a context that if one hadn’t already seen the film they wouldn’t recognize it). It’s not an old school exploitive trailer, nor is it a cookie-cutter, spoiler-laden modern trailer. It is successful however, as it enticed me into renting the film, and even after being disappointed with the rest of the film rather than looking back with bitterness or disgust (as often happens when I’m misled by trailers), I look back and say “But that trailer’s still pretty sweet!”


‘Til next time… I say ciao, blow up now, please don’t sue me Mr. Scott!

Edward Robins

[email protected]

Missed a column? Now you can catch up!

My Collection (DVDAF, since Guzzlefish still doesn’t have everything yet)

My Collection (Guzzlefish, missing titles due to their incomplete database)

Wishlist (Amazon… ‘tis still better to give than receive)

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