Saturday, 4 July 2015


imagine a low-budget 'homage' to alien in which the action is moved from space to present day new york and there are no aliens in it (not quite, anyway). that's kind of what luigi cozzi does with contamination and the results are truly bizarre.

marino mase plays tony aris, a new york detective investigating a deserted cargo ship. inside, aris finds the crew ripped apart and a collection of large green ‘eggs’ in the cargo hold. when one of the eggs explodes it sprays green gunk over aris’ three colleagues and within seconds they are being ripped apart from the inside by a truly horrific, incredibly fast-acting virus. the only survivor of the incident, aris is taken in by col. stella holmes (louise marleau) and together with former astronaut ian hubbard (ian mcculloch) they begin to investigate the source of the alien eggs.

the opening scenes of contamination do a great job setting up the mystery. the deserted cargo ship, the discovery of the crew, finding the eggs – all of this is done with a kind of earnest atmosphere and mood that really sets a creepy tone. then people start exploding and it all gets a bit ridiculous. occasionally the more ridiculous moments make it all the more worthwhile but I couldn’t help thinking there was a better film here somewhere. the issue is, taking alien out of space and re-setting it on earth is actually a pretty cool idea for a low-budget film and it’s a shame cozzi doesn’t completely follow that idea through; a single alien stalking a police detective and his team through an abandoned new york location would have worked brilliantly. the problem here is, there’s no alien. as the title suggests, the eggs carry a deadly, flesh exploding disease and nothing else, so there are no creature effects until the final sequence where things do at least get a bit more creative.

before we get to that there’s a lot of aris and holmes stomping around what looks like an abandoned space ship set, complete with star trek-style sliding doors. then there’s a really effective flashback to a mars expedition, followed by a trip to south america where it all goes a bit james bond. despite the obvious alien inspiration in the opening, what the film actually reminded me of more in its best moments was quatermass. there’s something about the returning astronaut and the alien eggs that feels very nigel kneale, but like the efforts to steal from alien, cozzi again neglects to mine the best part. just like there’s no alien, there’s also no professor bernard quatermass and the film badly needs a more interesting character among its three leads.

one thing that becomes clear that cozzi understands how to get amazing production value for little or no money. there are numerous aeriel shots of new york, an extended parade sequence in south america and an extensive tour of a coffee factory, all of which would make it look like the film cost more than it did except cozzi overuses every one of them. that said, there is a sequence in which hubbard is flying over a coffee plantation that is quite effective. but where this film really excels is in the effects.

the chestbursting is like the john hurt scene in alien turned up to eleven, and it happens over and over again. in a way, what’s interesting about this film is that in expanding some of the ideas set up in alien, cozzi comes to many of the ideas that would later turn up in james cameron’s aliens, including an alien ‘queen’. the creature at the end of the film is truly brilliant in a roger corman way. it’s part audrey 2 from little shop of horrors, but with a face from a 1950s b movie monster and a snake-like appendage that swallows it’s victims whole. this is where the film is at its ridiculous best and unlike alien where the creature was mostly hidden from view to build suspense, here we see every inch of it in all its slimy rubber glory.

contamination is not a good film, but it’s entertaining enough and there are some great sequences, like the moment holmes is trapped in a bathroom with an egg that’s about to explode. it’s also a fascinating to see how you can take the opening sequence from alien, set it on earth and take in a completely different direction. at the same time, the film really slows down once the action moves from new york to south america and it starts to feel a bit tedious until the alien shows up in the last ten minutes.

what makes this blu-ray release worth checking out is the abundance of extras. there’s a vintage Italian documentary about the film, a q&a from when the film was shown at the abertoir film festival last year, a new interview with cozzi and a featurette about the trend of italian filmmakers copying american films, among others.

contamination is an example of a film that shouldn't necessarily be re-released because it’s a great film, but because it’s a piece of history. it’s a snapshot of the influence of american movies on europe and of how their ideas were reinterpreted. it’s also a testament to creativity and finding creative solutions when you’re on a tight budget. this is a curiosity piece, an oddity, so if you are indeed curious then it’s worth a look.

contamination is released by arrow video on dvd and blu-ray on 6th july

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