Sunday, November 22, 2015

CONTAMINATION (1980)

There are many things that Italians do well: spaghetti, pizza, fashion, funneling large sums of ill-gotten cash through various channels. My personal favorite has to be sci-fi and horror films. Although, lush leather interiors runs a close second. I get nostalgic for the days when I would waltz down the aisles of the local video store and stop in the sci-fi section, looking for something that I had not seen. Well, let's pretend we're there right now, and we eyeball this VHS box cover:




"You can feel them in your blood..." is the tagline. Paragon Video was one of the major distributors of b-level genre films; names such as Psycho From Texas; Trained to Kill, USA; Angry Joe Bass. *sigh* Don't you miss VHS yet? This film looks favorable as the cover promises "a deadly hybrid of the 'Alien' and 'The Body Snatchers', only more so...". 

Contamination may also be known as Alien Contamination, which was the title for it's U.S. release by Cannon. It was directed by famed Italian sci-fi/horror guru Luigi Cozzi, shown here under the English form of his name, Lewis Coates. Cozzi was the man behind such films as Starcrash and the Lou Ferrigno version of Hercules. Cozzi also wrote the screenplay, which he undertook after seeing Alien. Of course, if this film had the budget of Alien, I probably wouldn't be reviewing it here. The behind-the-scenes story of this film is that the producers overruled Cozzi on almost everything he wanted to do, including naming the film, casting decisions and the use of special effects. 

The plot is thus: a cargo ship enters New York harbor under mysterious circumstances. When the police go aboard to investigate, led by Lt. Tony Aris (Marino Mase'), they discover mutilated bodies and coffee boxes full of......something. As described by one of Lt. Tony's compatriots: "It looks like it could be a giant squash....an avocado....or some kind of mango." Sadly, Lt. Tony's friends don't get to find out if it's edible, because someone mishandles the damn thing, causing it to erupt in an oozy mess, spraying everywhere, and causing guys to explode. Scenes like this one are what caused Contamination to end up on the U.K.'s "video nasty" list. 

At this point, the film brings in Col. Stella Holmes, played by French-Canadian actress Louise Marleau. Marleau was not Cozzi's first choice to play this character. He wanted Caroline Munro, an actress he had worked with before on Starcrash, and an actress who made her career out of horror, sci-fi and action films. The producers overruled him and felt the older Marleau fit the role of a military scientist better. Col. Holmes meets Lt. Tony while he is being decontaminated. She gets in a good line, when Tony learns she is a colonel and drops his towel to salute her, revealing himself to be naked. "At ease, Lieutenant. There's no reason to salute me.". Maybe it was unintentional, and I just have a dirty mind, I don't know. For you animal activists out there, the scientists testing the substance that came from the exploded pod inject the substance into a rat, and then they watch the rat explode. Where was PETA in 1980 to protest this film? Our heroes, Stella and Tony realize that the boat was meant to be unloaded by someone, so they go back to the docks to find these people. There is a shootout, but the guys kill themselves by shooting a pod and allowing themselves to be sprayed with pod-juice and they explode as well. I think I have set a record for the number of times I have typed the word "explode".

Stella remembers a mission to Mars, where she was the lead interrogator of astronauts Hubbard and Hamilton. She dismissed Hubbard as crazy when he told his story of what happened on that mission. A story involving a Martian cave, eggs and something coming for them. So they go to see Hubbard and tell him that the eggs are on Earth. Unfortunately, the second astronaut, Hamilton, has been presumed dead after a place crash. The team of Tony, Stella and Hubbard head to South American to investigate the coffee company that was shipping the eggs on the deserted cargo ship. It is there that they discover a conspiracy involving a coffee plantation that is not really producing coffee, an astronaut that is not really dead, and an alien being called the Cyclops. (Actual Dialogue Exchange: "The Cyclops?" "Yes....the Cyclops.").

One of the funnier moments in this film for me was a scene where Tony and Stella were brought to the Cyclops (an animatronic creation, where Cozzi wanted stop-motion), the score kicked in with some rather funky progrock synths while the Cyclops exhibited mind control over each one. The score was performed by Goblin, who were known for their soundtrack work. They frequently collaborated with Dario Argento, but here their score is pulsating with techno menace and was a welcome addition to the viewing of this film. 

I really liked this movie. The plot was Sci-Fi 101, with the heroes uncovering an alien conspiracy. The special effects were low-budget, but used in a very over-the-top manner, with people exploding in slow motion. The reveal of the Cyclops sealed the deal in terms of "so bad it's good". The acting was cheesy but part of that was the cast of voice actors used in the overdubbing, which I don't understand because most of the cast were English-speaking actors. The movie was briskly paced so it was never left without a plot mover for very long. It borrows elements from Alien but it never really felt like a clone. This movie can stand on it's own.

Score: 3.5/5




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