Monday, July 6, 2015

CONTAMINATION (1980) Blu-ray Review

Contamination (aka Alien Contamination) (1980) d. Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates) (Italy)

One of the more flamboyant examples of ’80s Italian rip-offs, director/co-writer Cozzi borrows heavily from Ridley Scott’s Alien but then literally explodes in directions you’d hardly think possible. When a mysterious ship comes floating into a New York harbor, a group of investigators headed up by Col. Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) and NYPD Lt. Tony Aris (Marino Mase) discover a crew that has been turned to a bloody mess and a cargo hold filled with strange pulsating eggs… much like the strange pulsating eggs soon discovered in a NYC warehouse. At this point, a previous space expedition to Mars is revealed, headed up by astronauts Hubbard (Ian McCulloch) and Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch), which also involved some alien eggs, and we’re off to the races, a trail that will lead us all the way down to a Colombian coffee plantation run by Perla de la Cruz (Gisela Hahn), who is growing a very strange crop indeed.

Highly entertaining and unintentionally hilarious from start to finish, Contamination is rife with over-the-top performances, frequent verbal snafus, crazy conspiracies, and a final-reel visual-feast “Alien Cyclops” (designed by Claudio Mazzoli and built by Giorgio Ferrari) with eating habits that will leave mouths agape. All this is topped off with Goblin’s repetitious but rockin’ musical score and ooey-gooey-kerplooey special makeup effects by Giovanni Corridori. Yes, it's all very silly, but that just makes it all the more enjoyable, and despite the bladder-busting special effects, it’s hard to believe this was one of the official Video Nasties prosecuted by the BFCC.

Not to sound like a broken record, but Arrow Video has once again delivered up the gold-standard for home video releases. If you are a fan of Contamination, you will be more than satiated by the supplemental feast the Arrow chefs have been preparing, starting off with the 22-min making-of vintage featurette by Maurizio Checcoli and Luciano Galluzzi, which first premiered in 2003 on the Blue Underground DVD. Here our director is very candid about he and co-writer Erich Tomek (Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon) lifting elements from various sci-fi films, including Them!, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Enemy from Space aka Quatermass 2, The H-Man, and, of course, Alien.

This is followed by a 40-min Q&A with Cozzi and McCulloch (Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombie Holocaust), where Cozzi explains the concept of “Aliens come to the Earth” (or to the “Hearth,” as Cozzi’s thick accent pronounces it), and that the title change was due to another Italian film studio at the film market having the same title! Producer Claudio Mancini came up with the title Contamination, which Cozzi initially balked at because there is, in fact, no contamination!

In fact, Cozzi actually prefers the Americanized Alien Contamination title, since it actually makes a little more sense. We also learn that drug dealers were actually involved in the financing and that Cozzi’s crew may or may not have smuggled drugs back to Italy with their film equipment. McCulloch starts off looking just as grumpy as his character, though he eventually warms up about halfway through and regales the crowd with a few wry anecdotes.

“Sound of the Cyclops” features Goblin keyboardists Maurizio Gaurini discussing the film’s dark, progressive rock score and a lifetime of making music for Italian terror. Not terribly enlightening, but he’s a chatty enough subject for 11 minutes. However, while on the aural side of things, it’s worth noting that the Arrow sound mix is quite uneven; we were forced to ride the remote the entire time since the appropriate volume for the dialogue sequences means that the music and explosions are ear-shatteringly loud, a disparity of 10-20 clicks. Bit of a bummer, that.

During the 45-minute “Luigi Cozzi vs. Lewis Coates” featurette, the director barely takes a breath in what basically amounts to a single shot in front of a green screen (with various footage projected behind him). As Cozzi discusses his 50-year career in sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, starting with his Futuria Fantasia fanzine as well as his role as “Foreign Correspondent” for Famous Monsters of Filmland, it’s impossible not to be caught up in his infectious enthusiasm. This is clearly a guy who loves making movies. However, since his output is likely to be familiar to only the most versed genre fans (Starcrash, Vampire in Venice, Paganini Horror, The Black Cat, and two Hercules flicks with Lou Ferrigno), it’s possible that casual viewers’ attention spans might be tested.

Cozzi has great fun explaining the challenges of covering up the inert quality of the producer-imposed papier mache monster that serves as his film’s climax, making 140 edits to create a sense of drama and mobility. Also discussed is his hand in the creation of the Profondo Rosso memorabilia shop in Rome, and the segment concludes with the revelation of his new, low-budget project, Blood on Méliès’ Moon and his criticism of today's wannabe schlockmeisters. “The restriction in filmmaking today is no longer the budget, it’s expertise and knowledge. Too many people pick up a video camera or a mobile phone and say, ‘I’m going to make a film.’ They can’t do it, because they don’t know how to make a film. They don’t know how to construct a film, how to write a film.” (I can’t say that the 1-minute preview of BoMM we’re given shows us anything revelatory, but hey.)

The grab-bag of goodies continues with the 17-minute talking heads offering, “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: A Critical Analysis of the Italian Cash-in,” features Maitland McDonagh (Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds) and Chris Poggiali (Temple of Shock). They discuss the Italian philosophy of “the law of the stream,” where a single film’s success (Jaws, Escape from New York, Mad Max, Alien, Dawn of the Dead) leads to a series that creates a subgenre unto itself, where the knockoffs would do just as well (if not better) at the box office. This is followed by a 55-page graphic novel version of the film, with art by Sergio Muratori, and the film's theatrical trailer.

The self-described “fan commentary” by Fangoria editor-in-chief Chris Alexander, who also provides the liner notes, is more one of enthusiasm than insider info, but considering how much time we spend with Cozzi himself throughout the other extras, this is hardly a crime. Even as he celebrates the flick (telling more than a few personal stories along the way, including discovering its existence via Chas Balun's Gorezone column), Alexander spends a goodly amount of time tearing it apart logistically, citing many of the issues that my friends and I had during our most recent viewing. But this is what makes Contamination special, he says, and in the right company, it’s hard to disagree. Grab your hazmat suit and enjoy!

Contamination is available now from Arrow Video and can be ordered from MVD Entertainment HERE:

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